[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"
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 Israels 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 familys
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
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
communitys 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, Makhouls 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 Makhouls
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:
Maureen Clare Murphy: Can you give us an update on Ameers situation?
Janan Abdu: We are talking about a person in
prison. Even when I say hes good, its limited,
you know. But hes healthy and his morale is good
and thats 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 didnt know about this before
even the salt thats important for the hunger
strikers 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 dont 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 didnt 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 couldnt 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 didnt 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. Its
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: Im 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;
hes 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 dont 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 dont 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 its 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 wasnt 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. Hes 53 years
old already. Im 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 hasnt 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 wouldnt allow him to
have it. Some medical tests, like for cancer,
which the health ministry recommends for people
more than fifty years old, arent offered.
Even after the hunger strike, they dont have
Arabic newspapers, they are not allowed to return
to their studies, they dont 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. Its 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
thats part of the first world. But its 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, hes 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 cant
describe it. Its like a wedding. Its the
happiest thing that can happen for a family, to
suddenly get back someone who was held for 23
years. The Israeli prison rules dont 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 its [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 dont know yet. Hes 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 doesnt know.
The prisoners who were released also feel sorrow.
For example, Ali was jailed for 23 years with his
friend Samir, and Samir wasnt 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, its not your responsibility. Be sure
that Ameer and the others still in the prison
feel good for you. And even if they dont feel
good, its not because you were released, its
because theyre still in jail and its 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 didnt 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, its 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 Ameers
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.
Its 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. Its true. We
need campaigning to release the prisoners and
meanwhile [letter writing] is a small thing to do, but its 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, its 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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews