[Pnews] Dying alone: When we stopped caring for Palestinian prisoners

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 13 11:32:32 EDT 2020

alone: When we stopped caring for Palestinian prisoners
Ramzy Baroud - October 13, 2020

“No one cares about the prisoners.” Over the past few years, I have heard
this phrase – or some variation of it – uttered many times by freed
Palestinian prisoners and their families. Whenever I conduct an interview
regarding this crucial and highly sensitive topic, I am told, repeatedly,
that ‘no one cares.’

But is this really the case? Are Palestinian prisoners so abandoned to the
extent that their freedom, life and death are of no consequence?

The subject, and the claim, resurfaces every time a Palestinian prisoner
launches a hunger strike or undergoes extreme hardship and torture, which
is leaked outside Israeli prisons through lawyers or human rights
organizations. This year, five Palestinian prisoners died
in prison as a result of alleged medical negligence, or worse, torture.

Even international humanitarian aid workers, like Mohammed el-Halabi, are
not immune to degrading treatment. Arrested
in August 2016, el-Halabi is yet to be charged for any wrongdoing. News of
his plight, which originally received some media attention – due to his
work with a US-based organization – is now merely confined to Facebook
posts by his father, Khalil.

As of October 1, el-Halabi has been paraded
<https://www.facebook.com/halabikhalil/posts/3643085185713401> before 151
military trials, yet unaware what the charges are. The cherished
Palestinian man, who has played a major role in providing cancer medicine
to dying children in Gaza, now holds the record of the longest military
trial ever carried out by the Israeli occupation.

Desperate for some attention, and fed up with cliches about their
‘centrality in the Palestinian struggle’, many prisoners, whether
individually or collectively, launch hunger strikes under the slogan:
‘freedom or death’. Those who are held under the draconian and illegal
policy, demand their freedom, while ‘security prisoners’, who are held in
degrading conditions, merely ask for family visitations or food that is
suitable for human consumption.

Health complications resulting from hunger strikes often linger long after
the physical ordeal is over. I have interviewed families of Palestinians
who were freed from Israeli prisons, only to die in a matter of months, or
live a life of endless pain and constant ailments for years following their

According to some estimates
over 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned in Israeli jails since the
Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in June 1967.

Maher al-Akhras is currently writing the latest chapter in this tragic
narrative. At the time of writing this article, he has just concluded
77 days of uninterrupted hunger strike. No medical opinion is necessary to
tell us that al-Akhras could die any moment. A recent video released of
al-Akhras on his Israeli hospital bed conveyed a glimpse of the man’s
unbearable suffering.

[image: Gaza's Ministry of Prisoners held a protest outside the
headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City
in support of hunger striking prisoner Maher Al-Akhras who is now on the
78th day of his strike on 12 October 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East

Gaza’s Ministry of Prisoners held a protest outside the headquarters of the
International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City in support of hunger
striking prisoner Maher Al-Akhras who is now on the 78th day of his strike
on 12 October 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

With a barely audible voice, the gaunt, exhausted-looking man said that he
is left with only two options: either his immediate freedom or death within
the confines of Israel’s “phony justice system.”

On October 7, his wife, Taghrid, launched
her own hunger strike to protest the fact that “no one cares about” her

Once again, the lack of concern for the plight of prisoners, even dying
ones, imposes itself on the Palestinian political discourse. So, why is
this the case?

The idea that Palestinian prisoners are all alone in the fight for freedom
began in the early 1990s. It was during this period that the various Oslo
Accords were signed
dividing the Occupied Territories into zones governed by some strange
Kafkaesque military system, one that did not end the Israeli occupation,
but, rather, cemented it.

Largely dropped from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations agenda at the
time, but permanently, eventually, were several pressing issues fundamental
to Palestinian rights and freedom. One of these issues was Israel’s brutal
system of incarceration and imprisonment without trial.

Certainly, some Palestinian prisoners were released in small batches
occasionally, as ‘gestures of goodwill’; but the system, itself, which gave
Israel the right to arrest, detain and sentence Palestinians, remained

To date, the freedom of Palestinian prisoners – nearly 5,000 of them are still
held <https://www.btselem.org/statistics/detainees_and_prisoners> in
Israel, with new prisoners added daily – is not part of the Palestinian
leadership political agenda, itself subsumed by self-interests, factional
fights and other trivial matters.

[image: Lives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails - Cartoon

Lives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails – Cartoon [Alarabya]

Being removed from the realm of politics, the plight of prisoners has, over
the years, been reduced to a mere humanitarian subject – as if these men
and women are no longer political agents and a direct expression of
Palestinian resistance, on the one hand, and Israel’s military occupation
and violence, on the other.

There are ample references to Palestinian prisoners in everyday language.
Not a single press release drafted by the Palestinian Authority, its main
Fatah faction or any other Palestinian group fails to renew the pledge to
free the prisoners, while constantly glorifying their sacrifices.
Unsurprisingly, empty language never produces concrete results.

There are two exceptions to the above maxim. The first is prisoner
exchanges, like the one that took place
in October 2011, resulting in the freedom of over 1,000 Palestinian
prisoners. And, second, the prisoners’ own hunger strikes, which are
incremental in their achievements, but have, lately, become the main
channel of resistance.

Sadly, even solidarity with hunger strikers is often factional, as each
Palestinian political group often places disproportionate focus on their
own striking prisoners and, largely ignores others. Not only has the issue
of prisoners become depoliticized, it has also fallen victim to Palestine’s
unfortunate disunity.

While it is untrue that ‘no one cares about Palestinian prisoners’,
thousands of Palestinian families are justified to hold this opinion. For
the freedom of prisoners to take center stage within the larger Palestinian
struggle for freedom, the issue must be placed at the top of Palestine’s
political agenda, by Palestinians themselves and by Palestinian solidarity
networks everywhere.

Maher al-Akhras, and thousands like him, should not risk their lives to
obtain basic human rights, which should, in theory, be guaranteed under
international law. Equally important, Palestinian prisoners should not be
left alone, paying a price for daring to stand up for justice, fairness and
for their people’s freedom.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not
necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.
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