[Ppnews] Palestine - Hunger strikes created "new sense of solidarity"

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 17 17:23:48 EST 2011

Hunger strikes created "new sense of solidarity"

Clare Murphy
15 November 2011

Palestinian political prisoner 
Makhoul recently participated in a 
strike that took place across the Israeli prison 
system in late September/early October. 
The Electronic Intifada reported last month, 
prisoners were protesting Israel’s pervasive use 
of solitary confinement, arbitrary denial of 
family visits and a recent policy to deny 
political prisoners from receiving an education.

Makhoul is serving a nine-year prison sentence 
a plea deal after a sham trial based on a coerced 
confession. Following his arrest at his family’s 
home in Haifa in the middle of the night in May 
2010, Makhoul was subjected to ill-treatment that 
his lawyers say amounts to torture before the 
state leveled 
charges of espionage based on secret evidence against him.

It is widely believed that Makhoul has been 
persecuted for his leadership in the Palestinian 
community in Israel, and his advocacy for the 
community’s political rights and support of 
divestment and sanctions measures against Israeli 
International has called Makhoul a prisoner of conscience.

During the recent hunger strike, 
was transferred from Gilboa prison to Megiddo. In 
an interview with The Electronic Intifada editor 
Maureen Clare Murphy, Makhoul’s wife, activist 
Janan Abdu, explains how this is a desperate 
attempt by the Israeli authorities to break the 
prisoners’ spirits and organizing capabilities.

Abdu also gives a frank description of what it is 
like for the families of political prisoners as 
they anxiously wait to learn whether their loved 
ones will be included in the next group of 
prisoners slated for release as part of the swap 
agreement between Israel and 
Electronic Intifada recently published Makhoul’s 
analysis of the Israel-Hamas deal.

Abdu also stresses the importance of solidarity 
activists campaigning in support of Palestinian 
political prisons and writing to individual 
prisoners to keep up their morale. Addresses for 
political prisoners can be found on the website 
of the human rights group 
<http://addameer.info/?cat=71>Addameer. Ameer Makhoul may be written at:

Ameer Makhoul
Department 2
Gilboa Jail
Gilboa, 10900

Maureen Clare Murphy: Can you give us an update on Ameer’s situation?

Janan Abdu: We are talking about a person in 
prison. Even when I say he’s good, it’s limited, 
you know. But he’s healthy and his morale is good 
and that’s the important thing.

MCM: Can you describe some of the tactics Israel 
used with Ameer and the other protesting 
prisoners during the civil disobedience campaign, 
to try to break their spirits?

JA: It was the last opportunity for the prisoners 
to express their situation and maybe to make the 
outside community out of the prison to do 
something also, to make awareness better of their 
situation. During the strike, it seems like the 
prisoners, the older ones, anticipated this kind 
of act from the prison authorities. When they are 
on strike, the prison services directly separate 
those who are on hunger strike and those who are 
not taking part, and they make a lot of 
restrictions. They get into the rooms and take 
out everything from the room except the bed to sleep on.

Even the salt ­ I didn’t know about this before ­ 
even the salt that’s important for the hunger 
striker’s health. What I understand, the person 
who is on strike needs salt water because it 
helps the body to keep the minerals inside the 
body. What I understand from Ameer, [the prison 
guards] get into the rooms with a water spray in 
case the prisoners manage to hide salt, so it 
will be damaged. This means the jail services say 
to the prisoners, if you decide to go on hunger 
strike, you can die. We don’t care.

As I understand, the prisoners decided to take 
part in the strike, but not all of them at the 
same time. They made an agreement that some will 
be on hunger strike, some will take part in the 
hunger strike later in a few days and in the 
meantime will communicate with the lawyers, with 
the media and the people outside.

But the jail services decided to separate the 
prisoners and disrupt the group connections 
between the prisoners. So Ameer was transferred 
to another jail. It was during the same days of 
the exchange deal and the prisoners didn’t know 
about the exchange. But it seems that the prison 
authorities know about it, and they decided to 
separate the prisoners so that maybe they can break them this way.

The prisoners couldn’t communicate and they 
thought that they would be separated in different 
departments ­ but later they learned they would 
be transferred to other jails. When you have a 
group and leaders and everyone has a mission to 
do and they are organized like this, when you 
separate them you can confuse them. You can manage to break the hunger strike.

But the hunger strike didn’t continue ­ because 
of the exchange and because the jail authorities 
started to transfer those who were supposed to be 
freed. The jail authorities in some of the jails 
negotiated with the prisoners and promised to 
make a solution [to meet their demands]. In 
Gilboa jail, where Ameer is jailed, the strike 
started on a Monday and it was stopped on a Thursday.

MCM: Are they planning on resuming the campaign 
of hunger striking and civil disobedience?

JA: For now there are no plans to resume the 
hunger strike. First, they need to prepare. It’s 
not easy to be on hunger strike. And second, the 
jail authorities, in general, not in specific 
prisons, say they already negotiated with the 
hunger strike leaders and announced they are 
going to meet some of the demands. We know that 
some of the leaders and prisoners who were held 
in solitary confinement for a long time, the jail 
authorities decided to not hold them in isolation 
any longer. But some of them, like [Popular Front 
for the Liberation of Palestine leader] 
Saadat remain in isolation for security 
considerations for at least one more year.

Part two of the exchange now is supposed to 
happen in less than two months. All of this 
affects the prisoners directly and they need to 
prepare for this situation. No one knows who will 
be among the 550 prisoners who will be released, 
and there is a hope that some of them will be 
from ‘48 territories [what is now considered “Israel”].

As you can imagine, one who was in prison and 
sentenced to life, or the older guys, they have 
expectations but no one knows who will be 
released and no one knows who will decide this. 
This situation is complicated and I think they 
need some time; after the second part of the 
exchange finishes, it could be a new situation in the prison.

I think the hunger strike succeeded. Most of 
their goals were met. But the political prisoners are waiting now.

MCM: Do you have any hope that Ameer might be 
released with the next phase of the prisoner 
swap? Can you describe what it is like for the 
families of political prisoners, not knowing 
whether their loved one will be amongst those released?

JA: I’m realistic, and so is Ameer. I would like 
it if Ameer would be part of this deal. But I 
know his position as a leader from ‘48, his 
position as general director of [the 
nongovernmental organization network] Ittijah and 
the chairperson of the Committee for Freedoms; 
he’s part of the international and local 
community [advocacy] for human rights defenders. 
He has a lot of history of working for the 
Palestinian case, for the prisoners’ case, for 
human rights. I would like for him to be part of 
the deal but I don’t know who are deciding who is 
released ­ is it Hamas, is it Israel, is it the Egyptians? Nobody knows.

If it is Israel who decides, we don’t know for 
sure who in Israel is deciding; it is not the 
political level, it is the security level, the 
Bet], the GSS. Whether they think that Ameer is 
still some kind of threat to Israel or not, I 
will do my best to have Ameer released. Whoever 
is released, it is a success for the political 
issue and for the Palestinians and for the whole political prisoners issue.

When I visit Ameer, I meet other families of 
prisoners. All of them are happy for those who 
are released and hope that every political 
prisoner is released. We families understand most 
the prisoners’ suffering, and it’s important to have them released.

I saw families who have been friends for years, 
visiting their sons in prison, and one was 
released and the other wasn’t released, and you 
can see that it was arbitrary who would be 
released. So this makes the families confused. 
But still they are happy for the others. If you 
ask any family, they will say every family wants their prisoner to be released.

If I think of the other five to seven years that 
Ameer needs to serve, since he was sentenced to 
nine years, it can make us crazy. He’s 53 years 
old already. I’m not worried at all about his 
morale and how he feels because he is in good 
hands from the side of the prisoners. They are 
all like family. But I am worried about Ameer and 
the others because the situation in the prisons 
is so bad ­ the food is so bad, they lack basic 
things like vegetables and fruits. I received a 
letter today from Ameer talking about how for two 
weeks the jail hasn’t offered a potato or an 
onion. Prisoners are not allowed to have 
vitamins. I tried to buy Ameer vitamins with my 
own money but the prison wouldn’t allow him to 
have it. Some medical tests, like for cancer, 
which the health ministry recommends for people 
more than fifty years old, aren’t offered.

Even after the hunger strike, they don’t have 
Arabic newspapers, they are not allowed to return 
to their studies, they don’t have Arabic TV 
channels. You can imagine that the prisoners are 
living in the minimum situation for survival. 
This is what makes me worried about Ameer and the 
others. It’s so important to have a campaign and 
to publish about the Palestinian political 
prisoners, to expose the situation, to let other 
people know about it. Israel is trying to black 
out about the situation, not talking about the 
political prisoners as humans, describing them as 
terrorists, and describing the situation in the 
Israeli prisons as good and suitable to a state 
that’s part of the first world. But it’s not like that.

MCM: What was the mood like amongst 
in Israel with the release of some of the 
political prisoners? Were there celebrations in 
1948 Palestine like in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

JA: One prisoner, called Ali, from a village near 
Haifa where we live, he’s now 46 years old. He 
was imprisoned when he was 23, and he spent 23 
years in jail. So how can he not be happy, and 
the family, of course for them ­ I even can’t 
describe it. It’s like a wedding. It’s the 
happiest thing that can happen for a family, to 
suddenly get back someone who was held for 23 
years. The Israeli prison rules don’t allow 
extended family to visit their relatives in prison.

The released prisoners are reborn. When I visited 
Ali to welcome him and congratulate him, a small 
kid cried near us. Ali he was so happy and he 
said to me, “You hear his cry?” He was so anxious 
to hear a cry of a baby. The things that for us, 
the ones outside the prison, that we take for 
granted ­ for them it’s [amazing] to hear the 
ring of a phone, the cry of a baby. I asked him 
how he was related to the crying child, and he 
said, “I don’t know yet.” He’s learning his 
family all over again because this child was born 
when he was in jail, and they were not allowed to 
visit him. So suddenly he met a lot of family he doesn’t know.

The prisoners who were released also feel sorrow. 
For example, Ali was jailed for 23 years with his 
friend Samir, and Samir wasn’t released. Ali was 
shocked and felt bad ­ why am I leaving and Samir 
is not? I heard this questioning from a lot of 
prisoners, because those who were released felt 
bad that the others are still in the prison. But 
I told Ali, it’s not your responsibility. Be sure 
that Ameer and the others still in the prison 
feel good for you. And even if they don’t feel 
good, it’s not because you were released, it’s 
because they’re still in jail and it’s not 
connected to you or your decision, it was part of the deal.

The most important thing in the end is to have a 
campaign to have awareness, to keep the issue of 
Palestinian political prisoners the agenda of the 
international community, in the local community 
and to connect it to the change happening in the 
Arab world. We need to believe that the situation 
is changing. Who could imagine that apartheid [in 
South Africa] would end? But it ended! And who 
could imagine the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia 
would end, but [they fell] in the end. When you have a will, you have a way.

We need to believe in our rights. There is a 
price that we pay, and the prisoners and their 
families pay the highest price. But we need to 
believe in our rights and our homeland and we 
need to believe that one day all the political 
prisoners will be released. This is what allows 
us to continue to live and continue to struggle.

MCM: I didn’t read about any rallies in ‘48 for 
the prisoners release. Was there any celebrating?

JA: Yes. And during the hunger strike, there was 
a new kind of solidarity and struggle outside the 
prisons; that was unusual. Usually the Arab 
parties have demonstrations, statements and so 
on. But there was a new kind of struggle by 
younger groups. There was a group at Haifa, at 
Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm, Shafa Amr ­ these other 
Arab cities that usually the youngest groups 
decided to take part in the hunger strike. 
call themselves “Hungry for Freedom.” This kind 
of struggle, using the electronic media while 
being in the streets, it’s amazing. They even 
have an effect on the Arab parties. You can see 
there is a lot of awareness [about political 
prisoners]. I was exposed to this during Ameer’s 
jailing; the political prisoners issue is part of 
the agenda of our community and even in the 
media, more so than it was before. This is good and this needs to be continued.

It’s so important, as part of the campaigning, to 
send a postcard to the prisoners themselves, 
because you can imagine how they feel. I remember 
when Ameer wrote his article 
tastes different inside prison.” It’s true. We 
need campaigning to release the prisoners and 
meanwhile [letter writing] is a small thing to do, but it’s effective.

The prisoners have the right to appeal for a 
reduced sentence during the last third of the 
sentence. After two-thirds of the sentence has 
been completed, the prisoner may be released. The 
jail authorities say release depends on good 
behavior. You can imagine the political prisoners 
have the best behavior in the prison. They are 
not criminals. But statistically, if we look at 
the political prisoners who are granted a reduced 
sentence, it’s almost zero who are released. The 
vast majority who request the sentence decrease 
get a negative answer from the jail authorities.

We need to campaign around a lot of things ­ the 
bad situation inside the prisoners, the food, 
solitary confinement. The families are tired. We 
need this kind of solidarity to keep us, the 
families and the prisoners, strong and continue. 
When you struggle alone, you feel alone. The 
prisoners’ issue is also a political issue and 
part of the solution of the Palestinian question.

Maureen Clare Murphy is managing editor of The Electronic Intifada.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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