17-year-old Palestinian boy Ayham Sabah was sentenced by the Israeli occupation’s Ofer military court to 35 years in prison on 17 December 2018. Ayham, from the village of Beitunia near Ramallah, was also ordered to pay a fine of 1 million NIS (approximately $300,000.) He was accused of stabbing an Israeli occupation soldier inside the illegal colonial settlement in 2016 at the age of 14. The occupation soldier, who was also himself an illegal settler in the Ma’aleh Michmash settlement, died of his injuries.
The hefty fine was labeled “compensation” for the family of the occupation soldier. Ayham was there with Omar Rimawi, who was also 14. While Omar was shot and killed by another settler, Ayham was severely wounded in his shoulder, foot and hand after being shot. Both were denied medical care for long periods of time before being removed from the scene. Ayham’s father, Bassam Sabah, spoke with Asra Voice radio, saying that the lengthy sentence reflected the racism of the occupation, that does not see Palestinian children as children. Further, the father said that the verdict did not weaken his son’s morale. “He considers the sentence to have no value, because his hope for freedom is much greater,” he said.
In addition, Ayham’s father said that his son’s sentence is not an isolated incident but a price imposed on Palestinians wherever they are and a suffering that will not end until Palestine achieves its freedom. “Steadfastness and survival is our only option,” he noted.
Ayham is one of over 200 Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel, including 41 under the age of 16. Palestinian children are even detained without charge or trial under so-called “administrative detention,” facing indefinite renewal on the basis of secret evidence. He is not the only Palestinian child facing extreme sentences: Muawiya Alqam, 14, was sentenced to six and a half years in Israeli prison; Ahmad Manasrah, 14, to 10 years in prison; Nurhan Awad, 17, to 13 years in Israeli prison. In several of these cases, including those of Ahmad and Nurhan – like Ayman – a close friend or family member, also a child, was shot down and killed in front of the surviving child.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network condemns the sentencing of Ayham Sabah and demands justice and freedom for imprisoned Palestinian children. We further call for international action to compel the Israeli state to respect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and end international military aid and assistance that funds the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children.
The imprisonment of children highlights the necessity of building the movement to boycott Israel, including economic, cultural and academic boycott and the imposition of a military embargo. The imprisonment, oppression, and killing of Palestinian children by the Israeli occupation is part and parcel of the Israeli colonial project in Palestine, and the only true freedom for Palestinian children will be achieved through the freedom of the Palestinian people and the liberation of Palestine.
Prior to the Israeli attack, he had been imprisoned since 2002 by the Palestinian Authority under U.S. and British guard. The imprisonment of prominent Palestinians like Sa’adat played a role in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections in which the legislative party associated with Hamas, the Change and Reform Bloc, prevailed. Less than a week before the new PA officials were to be sworn in, Israeli armed forces attacked the Jericho prison, killing two Palestinians.
Since that time, Sa’adat was sentenced to 30 years in Israeli prison, even though he was not charged in the assassination of Rehavam Ze’evi. The notoriously far-right Israeli tourism minister was assassinated by PFLP fighters after the Israeli army assassinated PFLP General Secretary Abu Ali Mustafa in his Ramallah office, using a U.S.-made and –provided helicopter-fired missile on August 29, 2001. Several of Sa’adat’s comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment after the raid.
Israeli officials have repeatedly demonstrated their fear of Sa’adat’s political influence. He was held under isolation for three years, an isolation that ended as part of the 2012 Karameh mass hunger strike. He writes and issues statements from prison, thanks to the creative work of fellow prisoners and their comrades in making sure that the writing and analysis of Palestinian prisoners are not isolated from the world. The interview follows below:
Q: How would you assess the current situation in Palestine and the attitude of the U.S. administration under Donald Trump?
First of all, I would like to thank you for this interview. It is absolutely crucial to communicate with Italian readers and explain the Palestinian left vision for the current situation in Palestine and in the region. We view the United States, under the Trump administration, as an extremely dangerous power, not only for the Palestinian people and for our region, but for all of the people of the world. It is often said that the only difference between Trump and previous administrations is that Trump reveals the true, ugly face of capitalism and imperialism, taking the use of plunder, hegemony and exploitation to an extreme level.
Trump’s declaration on recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli state and the transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is the natural continuation of 100 years of colonization in Palestine and the 1917 Balfour Declaration. It is part and parcel of the ongoing attempt to liquidate Palestinian rights and to accelerate the ethnic cleansing of our people, especially in Jerusalem. Palestinians across the board politically reject Trump’s attempt to eliminate the Palestinian cause. Our people are resisting and rejecting this attempt not only with words, but with action: the launch of a true, heroic popular uprising in Gaza – the Great March of Return, in the spirit of the first Intifada and with the participation of the PFLP and a broad range of Palestinian political forces.
2) What current strategy would allow for the rebuilding of a strong Palestinian liberation movement?
The main task facing us today is the project of rebuilding and reconstructing the Palestinian national liberation movement. The primary Palestinian national objective today is to place Palestine, once again, on the road of liberation by restating and reaffirming the essence of the Palestinian struggle. That is, the return of the refugees and building the liberated, democratic secular society in Palestine – not the “Palestinian state on 1967 borders alongside Israel.”
A historic and devastating rupture has taken place in the Palestinian movement after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. This has distorted the true meaning of our struggle and the essence of the conflict. An entire Palestinian generation has been born and grown up since the signing of that catastrophic document on 13 September 1993 in Washington, D.C. Since then, the Palestinian movement has been shattered, splintered and chaotic.
As for the immediate tasks, it is critical to reestablish the Palestinian national liberation front, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) if you will, in order to provide the necessary conditions for a renaissance of the Palestinian movement and the Palestinian revolution. We come from a different perspective than both Fateh and Hamas, and we are committed to a real national unity that includes our progressive framework and which must be based on popular representation and participation. All Palestinian classes must be a part of this process, and the popular classes must not be excluded from the leadership of the movement as they have been for the past 40 years. The freedom of Palestine will be won by the people, not the elites.
3) What alternative political direction does the PFLP suggest?
We think that the main premise of change is popular participation that allows Palestinians to participate in the struggle and in political decision-making, in a manner that is effective and meaningful. This not only requires struggle against occupation, but also struggle to regain those Palestinian rights to participate in our own movement. For example, in Jordan, there are over four million Palestinians whose demands, needs and calls to action may seem to be absent. However, they must be heard. The same is true for Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, as well as those in Palestine.
Popular participation and leadership is necessary for rebuilding the resistance movement against Zionist colonization and implementing a strategy for the liberation of Palestine. This must also take place in the diaspora as well as in Palestine, in Europe and elsewhere in the world where there are Palestinians. If our communities are always threatened by all kinds of criminalization, repressive laws and right-wing attacks, then our tasks will be more difficult. The cornerstone of our vision lies upon this – people’s right to participate in developing their future. This is the most advanced, democratic process of participation which we are fighting for, unlike those who have imposed an elite hegemony on the Palestinian people.
4) The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has marked the fiftieth anniversary of its founding. How do you evaluate the situation of the Front today?
The Front concluded its seventh convention in early 2014, and we are now approaching the eighth convention of the Front. This will be an opportunity for all of our comrades inside and outside Palestine to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our Front and evaluate its advances and retreats.
In the last five years, we can say that the Front has faced tremendous difficulties and challenges that have manifested political and financial siege: repression, mass arrests of its cadres, the killing of cadres. Yet we have advanced in our military capabilities in Gaza because we do not face the same conditions that we do in the West Bank under occupation and Palestinian Authority security coordination. Several comrades – including myself – are imprisoned precisely because of this security coordination between the PA and the occupier, but we are not alone in this regard. Hundreds of cadres have been subject to oppression and arrests as well.
In terms of the Front organizationally, we also have made progress in terms of youth participation and renewal in various different aspects of our work. It is always challenging to accumulate achievements due to our circumstances, so we are always engaged in a process of building and rebuilding.
5) How has the PFLP changed since its foundation until now?
The Front has changed tremendously in that time – we are talking about half of a century. There are four stages in the life of our party. The first, which could be identified as the “Jordan era,” from 1967 until 1972; the second, the experience of the Palestinian Revolution and the PFLP in Lebanon, from 1973 until 1982; the third, the first great Palestinian popular uprising from 1987 until 1993; and, since then, we have been living the stage of the so-called Oslo process.
Now, these changes have affected the Front on many levels: political, theoretical, organizational. These have affected us as they have others: the wars in the region, the peace pacts between Arab regimes and Israel, the fall of the Soviet Union and the larger socialist bloc and the liquidation process (also labeled the “peace process.”) All of these factors and many others have affected the Front, its strength and its analysis.
Certain positions which we took in a time of retreat made the Front look more “realist,” but that was due to internal contradictions in the Front. We discussed this publicly in our documents from the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Conventions. The Front always engages in self-criticism and we do not hesitate to point out our shortcomings. But the conclusion to which we have arrived, from 1992 until today, is that the party, like our people, is living through a comprehensive crisis, theoretically, politically, financially and otherwise, and this crisis can only be overcome through resistance and struggle at all levels.
6) How do you see the role of the prisoners’ movement inside Israeli prisons?
The prisoners’ movement inside Israeli jails has, historically, played a major and central role in the fight against Zionist oppression. This comes not only in our daily confrontation of the occupier and prisoners’ responsibility as the first advanced rank of the revolution but also in our role in the overall political scene in Palestine.
We must remember that the national consensus agreement for Palestinian national unity has been called the Prisoners’ Document. It was drafted inside prisons and formed the basis of all later discussions for the Palestinian movement’s national unity. The prisoners’ movement has lived through various experiences of campaigns, hunger strikes, and prisoners lives’ being taken under torture.
We political prisoners have been called the vanguard and the heart of the Palestinian revolution. This is because Israel always targets the Palestinian movements and their leaders for imprisonment – student movements, women’s movements, labor movements, youth movements. In essence, prisons have been a place where all of these aspects of our movement meet and engage in thorough discussions. That is why Palestinians often call prisons “the schools of the revolution.”
We are not separated from the liberation movement outside prison. Palestinian prisoners are from all of Palestine – the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, the Triangle, the Naqab, Galilee, all of our land. We also consider Palestinian political prisoners in American and French jails as part of our movement, particularly Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, imprisoned in France for over 34 years.
The two were held under harsh interrogation for 44 days at the Moskobiyeh interrogation center, during which Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported that they were subject to torture and ill treatment, including sleep deprivation, lengthy interrogation sessions, the use of stress positions and threats against themselves and their families. In addition, occupation forces seized Haitham’s mother and brought her to the interrogation center in order to put further pressure and attempt to extract confessions from him.
Failing to do so despite these tactics, the occupation military commander over the West Bank ordered Haitham Siyaj to six months in administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial, on 21 October. On 24 October, Seif al-Idrissi received the same detention order, and they have been held without charge or trial since that time. The military court confirmed both of their administrative detention orders on 4 December.
Both al-Idrissi and Siyaj have been detained on multiple occasions. Neither has been charged or tried; instead they have been ordered to administrative detention without charge or trial. Administrative detention orders are indefinitely renewable, and Palestinians have spent years at a time jailed under these orders, which are used especially against leading activists and political figures like Palestinian legislator and feminist Khalida Jarrar.
Basil al-Araj was assassinated by Israeli occupation forces on 6 March 2017 after being pursued for monthsby these occupation soldiers. He was known as a youth leader and intellectual who wrote prolifically about the Palestinian cause, participating in protests, demonstrations and transnational mobilizations for boycott and against Israeli apartheid. In April 2016, al-Araj and five other Palestinian youth, including Siyaj and al-Idrissi as well as Mohammed al-Salameen, Mohammed Harb and Ali Dar al-Sheikh, were seized by Palestinian Authority forces in what was then hailed as a victory for security coordination between the PA and Israel.
During their time in PA prison, they were subjected to torture and ill-treatment and launched a hunger strikeafter almost six months held behind bars. They were detained without charge for most of that time. Shortly after their release, four of the youth – Siyaj, al-Idrissi, Harb and al-Salameen – were seized by Israeli occupation forces and ordered to administrative detention. Throughout this time, al-Araj remained outside their grasp, although armed occupation forces repeatedly invaded his family home in the pre-dawn hours.
When occupation forces attacked the apartment where al-Araj was staying in El-Bireh, he resisted their attack for two hours and refused to turn himself over to them. He was shot by at least 10 bullets, in his heart, back, chest, rib cage, abdomen, liver and spleen. Thousands of Palestinians marched in his funeral, and Palestinians and solidarity activists around the world organized protests to demand an end to PA security coordination with Israel. Outrage against the PA only deepened when the five surviving youth – and even al-Araj – were charged with dubious political charges in PA courts while being held in administrative detention, charges that were eventually dropped after mass protests.
Since that time, the al-Araj family and Basil’s comrades have been repeatedly subject to persecution and attacks by occupation forces; these administrative detention orders and the arrest of Said al-Araj are part and parcel of these same repressive tactics.
The following statement was co-authored by the Palestinian Youth Movement, the daughters of the Holy Land Five, and the Coalition for Civil Freedoms on the 10th year anniversary of the Holy Land Five’s unjust convictions. Below the statement is our call to action. It is republished here from the PYM website; Samidoun is an endorser of this important statement and call to action.
Ten years ago today, five Palestinian-Americans who were pillars of their communities were convicted on false charges of “providing material support for terrorism.” They ran the largest Muslim charity in the United States, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). As George W. Bush waged the domestic “War on Terror,” in December 2001, he designated the HLF as a “terrorist” organization, stating that the government would seize their assets and close them down. The U.S. government acknowledged that all financial support HLF sent to Palestine went to charities that support widows and orphans living under Israeli occupation, and were the same ones that the U.S. government itself sent money to. Not a single dollar was used for any violent activities, yet five key members of the HLF—Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammed El-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh, known as the Holy Land Foundation 5 (HLF5)—were unjustly convicted in 2008.
The HLF trial is considered the largest “terrorism” financing case in U.S. history, and yet prosecutors did not argue that the charity or any of its officials funded any violence. Instead, they told jurors that the schools, hospitals, and social welfare programs the charity sent money to were under Hamas’ control. Since money is “fungible,” prosecutors argued that those donations freed up other funds for Hamas to use in violent attacks. The irony is that these same Palestinian charities also received donations from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is funded by the U.S. government and the International Red Cross.
After failing to convict them in the first trial, the case was retried. It featured the testimony of an anonymous Israeli intelligence agent whom the defense team was unable to adequately question— the first time in legal history that a court had allowed an expert witness to testify under anonymity. An outfit run by notorious Islamophobe, Steven Emerson, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, supplied fabricated testimony central to the criminalization and indictment of the HLF5. They were given sentences of up to 65 years in prison, and were put in Communication Management Units (CMUs), often dubbed the “Gitmo North” due to the severity and discriminatory nature of their conditions.
The closure of the HLF and the conviction of its five most prominent members was meant to have a chilling effect on the Muslim and Arab communities in this country and to hinder their ability to mobilize around social justice issues, such as Palestinian self-determination. The case was one of the most egregious attempts by the government to stretch the definition of “material support for terrorism,” going as far as vilifying legitimate charitable works. This strategy is part of a long tradition of the U.S. government using incarceration to criminalize black and immigrant communities and to silence political activism and dissent.
Today, we continue to honor the HLF5, to fight for justice on their behalf, and on behalf of the other political prisoners that languish in the U.S. prison system as an attempt to intimidate and further marginalize our communities. We affirm that the only reason the HLF5 were targeted by the U.S. government is because their mission was explicitly rooted in community empowerment and worked to alleviate the conditions caused by Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine. We stand by the HLF5, their families and their communities, and salute their struggle in their firm resistance against Zionist repression and aggression in all its forms. We stand by their work and will continue to build institutions that serve our community as part of our larger commitment to the Palestinian national liberation movement.
Former Palestinian prisoner Taysir Suleiman has lived in Turkey since his 2011 release from Israeli detention as part of the prisoner swap deal negotiated by Hamas and occupation forces.
As a Jerusalemite, Suleiman’s release was conditional on his being sent into exile. He has been living in Istanbul since.
In Jerusalem, Suleiman tells MEMO at the Palestine Media Forum in the Turkish city, “there was a large number of Israeli occupation controls and we lived under their grip”.
After a couple of years of carrying out resistance operations which saw them take control of a number of weapons from Israeli forces, Suleiman was arrested and handed a life term.
Over a period of 18 and a half years, he was transferred between 24 prisoners across Israel and the occupied territories. He says during this time occupation forces worked to break the prisoners’ morale. “Life in prison is built on morale. In prison, the occupation works to break your morale which led you to resist it. It doesn’t want you to be a revolutionary or to rebel against the occupation’s actions.” But the Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement operates in every prison, he explains, and its purpose is to “raise people’s morale so when prisoners are released they become like we are now, fighting by every means available to us in the countries that we are in to regain our rights as Palestinians and to continue our armed struggle in our Palestinian lands because if we are not strong on the ground we will not be able to free it.”
Since his release, Suleiman has been working to keep the stories of the resistance in the media. “The resistance needs a media arm to defend it,” he says.
“As long as there’s an occupation then there must be resistance,” Suleiman adds.
“If there are those in the world who wish to free the Palestinian people without spilling a drop of blood then we are with them, but we hope that a cascade of Palestinian blood will not continue while such efforts are being exerted,” he says of the criticism levelled at Palestinian fighters who are battling Israel’s army. “We in Palestine have been forced to use weapons because the occupation is killing us with its weapons.”
The following article, by Charlotte Kates, the international coordinator of Samidoun, initially appeared in Arabic in Al-Adab magazine, published on November 2, 2018. The Arabic text can be read online at the Al-Adab website. The article appeared in an issue with a special focus on Palestinian prisoners, including testimonies from current and former political prisoners and their families.
Ghassan Kanafani’s quote that “Palestine today is not a cause for Palestinians only; it is the cause of every revolutionary, the cause of the oppressed and exploited masses in our era” has not dulled in its accuracy over time. Perhaps it resonates more clearly than ever before, when U.S. imperialism and its European partners appear as an ongoing threat to Palestinian existence and self-determination as well as to any form of Arab unity or even truly independent policy.
There are many campaigns that capture the attention of the international solidarity movement, all of them worthwhile and challenging some aspect of the Zionist project in occupied Palestine – from the campaign to break the siege on Gaza, to building boycott campaigns against Israeli corporations, state entities or academic and cultural institutions, to working with Palestinian communities in countries of exile to fight back against racism and repression. The struggle to defend Palestinian political prisoners and seek their freedom is central to building solidarity with the Palestinian people, their national liberation movement and their revolution.
The Zionist movement and state certainly recognize the centrality of this issue; it should be noted that Gilad Erdan, the minister who carries the file of “public security,” including the Israel Prison Service, is also responsible for the “anti-boycott” initiatives of the Israeli state in his role as the Minister of Strategic Affairs. The Zionist campaigns against the Palestinian prisoners – both the propaganda campaigns in international media and the campaigns of repression and misery that aim to break the spirit of the prisoners – recognize just how central these men and women, children and elders are in the struggle for Palestinian liberation.
Palestinian prisoners, both to the occupier and to the occupied, to those who would build solidarity and those who would criminalize, represent the implacable will of Palestinians to resist occupation and oppression, by all means necessary. The very act of posting on social media about Palestinian armed resistance has been labeled incitement; hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested and jailed for their statements on social media in support of Palestinian resistance. And any involvement at all with the organized liberation movement – from the most common charge of membership in a prohibited organization to those who directly take up armed struggle – can be met by years and decades behind Israeli bars.
Defending the Palestinian prisoners and campaigning for their freedom is an inseparable aspect of defending the Palestinian resistance and the right to armed struggle. Even in the cases of Palestinian child prisoners, the most common charge is “throwing stones” – direct resistance to the occupier. The imprisonment of Palestinians is an attempt to isolate the Palestinian resistance; thus, the defense of Palestinian prisoners is a means to break that isolation and turn it instead toward the isolation of Israel.
There are, of course, many organizations on the ground in Palestine doing excellent and important work to defend the prisoners legally and politically and seek their freedom. However, this work has not been exempted from the framework that Oslo has imposed on the Palestinian movement as a whole. Increasingly, the political aspect of Palestinian prisoners’ cases has been replaced with a purely humanitarian or human rights-based approach. The prisoners’ cause, like many other aspects of the Palestinian struggle, has been professionalized into an area of work and commentary for lawyers and other legal experts. Palestinian prisoners are addressed primarily and mainly as victims rather than protagonists in a revolutionary struggle for liberation.
In reality, every Palestinian prisoner’s case is far less of a legal battle than it is a political one; yet our strategies are increasingly directed toward legal defense, even while acknowledging politically that the entire system is invalid and illegitimate. It is not possible to win the freedom of Palestinian political prisoners by presenting the perfect legal argument, as – whether they face military courts or Israeli “civil” courts – they face a system that is based on the complete negation of their existence and, particularly, their organization and resistance.
This situation is also reflected in the violent response of the prison system to any and all attempts by the Palestinian prisoners’ movement to exert their intellectual and political leadership in the Palestinian national liberation struggle. It has been said that the Palestinian leadership that is not compromised or liquidated in the Oslo process can best be found behind bars. In response to their statements and interviews, conveyed through secret messages, smuggled cell phones and other technologies that defy Israeli isolation, Palestinian prisoners are subject to raids, violence, forced transfers and isolation. The recent interview of Palestinian political leader, PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat, published in El-Masry al-Youm, sparked harsh raids and repression against Palestinian prisoners in Ramon prison. Veteran prisoner and struggler from ’48, Walid Daqqa, was thrown into solitary confinement when he published a new children’s book; this followed the defunding of a Haifa Palestinian theater that exhibited a play based on his work.
The international aspect of the Palestinian prisoners’ struggle is not one that can or should be relegated to the corridors of the United Nations and international legal bodies. It must be noted that this is something that the Zionist movement clearly recognizes as well. The imperialist countries like the United States, France and other states of the European Union are full partners in the imprisonment of Palestinians and the legitimation of the charges against them through their campaigns against the resistance.
Today’s “anti-terrorism” laws have various legal precedents – most commonly in the laws used to suppress anti-colonial and liberation movements in the Western powers – but they stem directly from laws that were passed in the United States in the mid-1990s. Those laws were then exported around the world with the 11 September 2001 attacks. The original U.S. laws were explicitly justified as a means of supporting the “Middle East peace process,” i.e. the Oslo process, and criminalizing all of those parties that rejected Oslo. Thus, we see the “terror lists” of the United States, Canada, the European Union, the UK, Australia, packed with the names of Palestinian organizations seeking national liberation, who rejected the trap of Oslo – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Hamas; Islamic Jihad; and even those fighters of Fateh who resisted pacification.
These “anti-terror” laws are used to justify the persecution of Palestinians inside these countries – see, for example, the case of the Holy Land Five, five Palestinians serving sentences of up to 65 years in prison in U.S. jails for their fundraising and charitable work for Palestine. Reflecting the fact that these are only the newest gloss on an existing strategic alliance, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah has been jailed for 34 years in France for his involvement in actions to support the Palestinian and Lebanese liberation struggles. In Palestine itself, U.S. and British guards – including those previously stationed in the colonized north of Ireland – surrounded the Palestinian Authority’s Jericho prison where Sa’adat and his comrades were held from 2002 to 2006. Those guards moved aside in a coordinated fashion to allow for the violent assault of the Israeli military in March 2016.
Just as upholding the Palestinian prisoners, their names, lives and politics, is a contribution to the defense of the resistance in the battle of ideas, the European Union and the Zionist state have also recognized the importance of this battle from the opposing perspective. Thus, we have seen the defunding of Palestinian schools that bear the names of martyrs and strugglers who gave their lives for Palestinian liberation by participating actively in resistance. From Dalal Mughrabi (targeted by Norway and Belgium) to the campaigns against schools and squares honoring Shadia Abu Ghazaleh and Khaled Nazzal, there is not only a battle over the names of schools and institutions but a battle for Palestinian memory and history. It is our responsibility to fight back by upholding Palestinian resistance leaders as the international social justice leaders for which they should be recognized.
This very battle of ideas is the reason why Erdan, in his campaign against the growing boycott movement, included Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network among dozens of other international groups in his latest propaganda alert against international solidarity with Palestine. Erdan connected Samidoun and others with a “red line” on his graphic to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The illustration is not a random choice but reflects the Zionist project’s concern about a closer linkage between what the Reut Institute, a Zionist strategic center, referred to as the “delegitimization” network and the “resistance” network.
Through public exhortations and campaigns about dubious alleged linkages with resistance organizations, Erdan and the Israeli state aim to spread fear and intimidation among solidarity organizations. These attacks aim to push such organizations to alter their rhetoric, polices and campaigns in an attempt to avoid such allegations and their potentially criminalizing consequences. It is not simply propaganda against Palestine solidarity – this project aims to undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian resistance and its association with global struggle and, therefore, to isolate the issue of the prisoners from its political context.
In the struggle of the Palestinian prisoners for freedom – an indivisible aspect of the Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation – we can find the seed of connection that holds the potential for building the type of deep alliances – those most feared by Erdan and the forces he represents – that can truly challenge Zionism, imperialism, capitalism and their reactionary-regime allies.
The Palestinian prisoners’ liberation cannot be disconnected from global struggles for liberation, nor from the struggle to liberate the political prisoners in the Philippines, Turkey, Egypt, the United States and elsewhere. Building the struggle for their freedom reflects the common interest of revolutionary movements fighting for justice and liberation, on the front lines of confrontation with repression, racism, exploitation and fascism.
Charlotte Kates is the International Coordinator of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.
Al-Adab cover art by former Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud Safadi:
Palestinian women in HaSharon prison are continuing their protest against the imposition of surveillance cameras on 5 September in the prison yard. The placement of surveillance cameras also cover the collective kitchens, washing machine areas and prayer areas. Since that time, for 56 days, the women have refused to go out for recreation or enter the areas under surveillance until the cameras are removed.
The imposition of the surveillance cameras was one of the latest repressive actions initiated by Israeli minister Gilad Erdan‘s committee, charged with rolling back the accomplishments of the Palestinian prisoners won through years of struggle. Erdan, who is the Minister of Public Security responsible for the Israel Prison Service, is also the Minister of Strategic Affairs responsible for international campaigns against Palestine solidarity activists and the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
In addition to the activation of the surveillance cameras, the Israeli prison administration confiscated thousands of books and cut the amount of water that prisoners could access. Since the prisoners began their protest, the repression has only increased.
Women prisoners have been denied family visits; the hot water was cut off to the women’s section. Arab TV channels were removed from their television access. Women prisoners have been fined, excessively searched and the amounts of meat and vegetables they receive have been significantly reduced, prisoner advocates have reported. The surveillance cameras had previously been imposed several years ago, but were covered and deactivated after extensive protest.
Now, the prison administration is threatening to move all of the women prisoners to Damon prison. Palestinian women political prisoners are held in two Israeli prisoners – HaSharon and Damon prisons. There are approximately 31 women and girls in HaSharon prison and 20 in Damon prison. While the conditions in both prisons are difficult and repressive, Damon is even more notorious because of its distant location from the military courts in which the women are tried. Women prisoners have frequently cited the use of the “bosta” – a vehicle used to transport prisoners, where they are shackled throughout the journey which often takes hours upon hours due to repeated stops, security checks and other delays.
Dr. Raafat Hamdouna of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies said that this action reflects the fact that the Israeli prison administration cannot handle the women’s protest for the past 54 days. By transferring the prisoners, the prison administration seeks to circumvent the protest and create a situation of confusion and instability. He noted that a mass transfer and the opening of new section requires substantial effort from the IPS in order to deny the women prisoners’ struggle. He called for widespread action to work to release the Palestinian women prisoners. h
In support of the women prisoners in HaSharon, male prisoners in Hadarim have announced a program of struggle for their demands. They have joined the women of HaSharon in refusing to go out to the prison yard. Two prisoners, Kifah Hattab and Khalil Abu Aram, launched an open hunger strike on 24 October; they are now on their 8th day without food. The ill prisoners in Hadarim have rejected medicine and clinic visits. In response, the prison administration has isolated five prisoners in solitary confinement cells, closed the kitchen and “canteen” (prison store) and threatened to transfer the prisoners collectively to isolation.
The protest was also sparked by repressive actions in Hadarim that began around 20 October, including the removal of all chairs and tables from the prison yard and forcing all prisoners to leave their rooms during a so-called “security check.” These actions also came as part of Erdan’s escalation against Palestinian prisoners.
As the women prisoners have continued their protests against repression, Khalida Jarrar, the Palestinian leftist leader and parliamentarian, was once again ordered to administrative detention without charge or trial. Jarrar has been jailed since July 2017 under repeated administrative detention orders
Asiya Kaabneh, 41 and the mother of nine children, was also sentenced to 42 months in Israeli prison; she has been jailed since 24 April 2017 when she was seized by Israeli occupation soldiers. She was charged with attempting to stab an occupation soldier at the Qalandiya checkpoint, and she was brought back to military court 15 times before being sentenced by the Ofer military court on 30 October.
In addition, Wafaa Mahmoud Mahdawi, 45, the mother of Ashraf Na’alwa, who is currently being pursued by occupation soldiers, was ordered detained again for an additional eight days on 30 October. The entire Na’alwa family has been subject to collective punishment and repeated arrests in order to attempt to pressure Ashraf to turn himself in. Wafaa, who is held in the Jalameh interrogation center, has been detained since 17 October along with her son Amjad Na’alwa aand her daughter Fairuz.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network stands in solidarity with these women prisoners on the front lines of the resistance to repression and the battle for freedom. We urge broader international solidarity with their steadfastness and dedication in confronting occupation and oppression, to achieve their demands and to win their liberation.
Comrade Georges Abdallah is a rare revolutionary figure amid the conditions of our time. I would almost say that he belongs to history and not to our present era, that of Bin Salman, Mahmoud Abbas and Sisi, the era of surrender and the time of normalization, which has become a “national choice” for the defeated classes, the merchants of sectarianism and reaction, the kings, sultans and tyrants of our stage.
This enemy stands at the opposite point from the prisoner, Georges Abdallah. He recognizes clearly the serious, catastrophic state of the Arab world today, especially in this imperialist, colonial era. He asks us wholeheartedly and with conviction: Who wants his freedom? Even from among the Arabs? No, the genie must stay in the bottle and not emerge into the world or see the light and the people. If you approach him, you may catch the disease of revolution, the madness of rejection and adherence to rebellion and resistance. That is why Condoleeza Rice, more than once, and then Hillary Clinton, expressed their shared and common goal: Georges Abdallah should be kept away from his hometown of Qubaiyat, from Ain el-Helweh, from Birzeit, Tangier, Aswan, and all of the Arabs. Instead, he must remain there, locked up in the remote prison of Lannemezan!
Lebanon’s successive governments have pretended for 35 years that they do not see Georges Abdallah. This official silence constitutes an active complicity in the process of arrest and imprisonment, a blatant and open reality that is difficult to hide. If Georges Abdallah were a dealer of arms and drugs like Samir Geagea, he could become a great leader in his country. Georges’s return to his homeland frightens the princes of oil and war and exposes the entire sectarian system that has brought us only death, ruin and racism.
He has learned well the lessons of history. The Arab people who were colonized by the Ottoman Empire found themselves 500 years later under Western colonialism. In confronting the Zionist movement, they have a great, just cause called Palestine. Freedom, liberation and the exercise of the right to self-determination, from the ocean to the Gulf, begins and ends in Palestine.
Georges believes more than ever that Arab liberation can only renew itself in a revolutionary manner if our leftist and popular currents leave behind “traditional” and reactionary mechanisms and approaches. This is because Georges belongs to Palestine first, and Palestine does not belong to a sect, religion or race. Palestine’s people are half under occupation and the other half in exile. Palestine is the cause of the oppressed Arab classes who have been deprived of everything, including awareness of their own fundamental rights and their central cause.
Every time Georges Abdallah stands before French “justice” and is asked for remorse, for repentance (if he wants to return home), Georges says: I am an Arab, Palestine is my cause, and I do not regret this. To be Arab is, for Georges, a choice to be human or nothing, to be revolutionary, not reactionary. It does not mean formalism, sectarianism or narrow, awkward exclusivity.
And from the very first moment, from the first weapon, Georges Abdallah realized that he no longer is responsible solely for himself, that his decision is not solely his own, that he represents hundreds of millions of oppressed people. Every Arab struggler imprisoned by the Zionists, the Arab reactionaries or the French and other imperialists is no difference. Freedom, like Palestine, is the cause of all; it is a land that cannot be divided. He refuses compromises, ending all of his letters with an indelible statement, like a tattoo: Comrades, it is a shame to retreat. We will be victorious together, and only together.
Georges Abdallah began his 35th year in French prison on 24 October 2018; despite being eligible for release since 1999, he has been denied release repeatedly by the French state, in accordance with repeated pressure by the U.S. State Department. The video was released as part of the international week of action for Georges Abdallah’s freedom.
Participants in the video came from Yafa, Birzeit, Dheisheh, Yarmouk, Haifa and Saida, reflecting the unity of Palestinian strugglers standing with Georges Abdallah.
Bir Zeit University students also released a new song highlighting the case of Georges Abdallah, with the following lyrics:
“Georges, our salutes
You’re still present in us, your comrades
Your shipmast has never bowed
You are the mountains, and you are the wind
You are the struggle, and you are the weapon
You remain the voice of revolutionaries.”
The students at Birzeit also engaged in a poster campaign throughout the university and organized a lecture with the cultural committee of the Faculty of Arts, featuring Dr. Ahmed Qatamesh and Ismat Mansour, moderated by Waseem Abu Farha on Thursday, 25 October.
“But the salutes of steadfastness that come from behind bars always reach the strugglers.” – Georges Abdallah
“Inside prison, the highest peak of struggle is to continue to insist on asking questions.” – Walid Daqqa
“Palestine will surely be victorious, because of the steadfastness of its prisoners and the struggle of its people.” – Georges Abdallah
On 15 October – the anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party – we salute the profound legacy and ongoing struggle of the Black Liberation Movement, on the front lines of confrontation against U.S. racism, imperialism and capitalism. Sa’adat’s article, published in English for the first time here, elucidates the common struggles and revolutionary alliances of the Palestinian and Black movements. It focuses particularly on the struggle against racist and colonial imprisonment:
It is an honor to write an introduction to this book by a great leader of the Black liberation struggle in the United States, Huey P. Newton. From inside the occupier’s Ramon prison, on behalf of myself, my comrades and the Palestinian prisoners’ movement, we extend our clenched fists of solidarity and salute and arms of embrace to our Black comrades whose struggle for liberation in the belly of the beast continues today against fierce repression.
From Ansar to Attica to Lannemezan, the prison is not only a physical space of confinement but a site of struggle of the oppressed confronting the oppressor. Whether the name is Mumia Abu-Jamal, Walid Daqqa or Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, political prisoners behind bars can and must be a priority for our movements. These names illustrate the continuity of struggle against our collective enemy – their legacies of organizing that reach back to the anti-colonial, liberation movements of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s to today. Political prisoners are not simply individuals; they are leaders of struggle and organizing within prison walls that help to break down and dismantle the bars, walls, and chains that act to divide us from our peoples and communities in struggle. They face repeated isolation, solitary confinement, cruel tortures of the occupier and jailer that seek to break the will of the prisoner and their deep connection to their people.
So when we witness the escalation against our movement as we see today in the Philippines, as we see the murderous and orchestrated attacks on our Palestinian resistance, as we see the criminalization of Black people and movements, it is clear that we are still facing the situation that Huey Newton identified and confronted. We are still seeking to defend our peoples from the relentless assaults of capitalism, Zionism and imperialism and their police and military forces. We have not yet been able to realize our dreams and transform the prisons into museums of liberation. Revolutionaries across the world struggle and dream for this future, in every movement of oppressed people. Indeed, when we speak of the prisoners’ movement, we are in essence speaking of Resistance.
Prisons exist for a reason, for the needs and interests of those with power. And when there are prisons to lock up the people, when there is occupation, colonialism, oppression; where there is occupation and colonization, there will be prisons and all of the laws and legal frameworks erected to legitimize exploitation, oppression and injustice and criminalize resistance and liberation. From the Fugitive Slave Acts of the 1800s to the “terrorist lists” that seek to criminalize and isolate the resistance movements of the peoples of the world, these are reflections of a war on the people. We salute sister Assata Shakur, still struggling and free in Cuba, while facing renewed threats and “terrorist” labeling to justify hunting down this global symbol of freedom.
This also illustrates clearly that the struggle, the cause, and the movement of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Movement are not a closed file. It is an open file, an ongoing struggle and a continuing movement for justice and liberation. As I write today, the revolutionary Palestinian Left, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is marking its 50th year of struggle, a time for both celebration and review of this legacy in order to sharpen and strengthen our march toward revolutionary victory. Similarly, we have just passed the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, whose vision for revolutionary change continues to be just as relevant today.
This is a legacy that is carried on both with ideas and with people themselves whose histories of struggle continue to animate and inspire their communities. You could pass by the first prisoner of the PFLP somewhere on the streets of Berlin, still organizing Palestinians. You could feel the legacy of the Black Panther Party and the continuing Black struggle on the streets of Chicago, Oakland and Harlem. There are people who carry within them the legacies of struggle as a human treasure. The experiences of the elders of our movement, especially those who have come through prison, stand alongside the ideas passed down through writing, books and literature in carrying on, from one generation to another, the trajectory and path of struggle toward a future in which youth are coming forward to lead Black and Palestinian revolutionary struggles for liberation.
Every political prisoner, whether they are currently in prison or not in prison, carries within them the dream and reality of liberation and what it can and must mean in practice. Today, when we look at the Black Liberation movement or the Indigenous and Native struggle in the United States and Canada, we are talking about the same camp of enemy that we confront in occupied Palestine. The bullets that assassinated Malcolm X or Fred Hampton could have been used to kill Ghassan Kanafani or Khaled Nazzal or Mahmoud Hamshari, and today we see the same tear gas and bullets shipped around the world for use against the people. We see corporations like G4S profiting from the attacks on our movements and the mass imprisonments of our people and U.S., European and Israeli police forces exchanging training with one another to escalate racism, “counter-insurgency” and repression on the streets of our cities, camps and villages.
In our circles here in prisons, we always hope and wish to communicate to movements elsewhere and political prisoners everywhere. We want to share our experiences with one another to strengthen all of our movements for liberation and the movement to free our prisoners. The political prisoners have a firsthand experience of confrontation, and the experience of the prison can be a transformative one for a political prisoner. It is not an individual experience but a collective one; the heroism of a prisoner is not simply to be in prison but to understand that they carry with them the leadership of a movement and a continuing struggle in a new location that continues to have international reverberations. Georges Ibrahim Abdallah today is struggling in Lannemezan prison just as Mumia Abu-Jamal is struggling in Mahanoy. The heroism also does not come simply in that one has spent years in prison and now has been released; but in being a veteran of struggle who continues to carry the message of liberation for those who remain.
The political prisoner is not weak and is not broken, despite all of their best efforts. The responsibility of the political prisoner is to safeguard the flame. This is not a role that we have sought out or worked for. But now that we are in this position we must hold our position to set an example, not to our people, who are rooted and steadfast, but to the enemy, to show that imprisonment will not work to defeat us or our people. We carry a cause, not simply an individual search for freedom. Israel or France or the U.S. would free us, or Georges Abdallah, or Mumia Abu-Jamal, if we were willing to become tools of the system or betray our people. But instead, the prisons have generated striking examples of a culture of resistance, from art, to literature to political ideas.
Today, our movements and the revolutionary movements around the world are facing very difficult times. However, these difficult times can also hold value if we look more closely; we are paving the way for new generations of revolutionaries around the world who can still carry the demand for socialism, for people’s democracy, for an alternative world. In the era in which Newton wrote, movements and prisoners shared experiences and communicated through letters, books and art, often smuggled out of or into prisons, past censors and iron walls. Today, with all of the great revolutions in technology, political prisoners are struggling to have their words heard at all, denied access to even telephones to speak with our families and loved ones.
Why do we still consider and read and reprint the writings of Huey Newton today? Fundamentally, because his analysis and that of the Black Panther Party was right and continues to be right, valid and essential. Today, when we see the ravages of U.S. imperialism, the threats of Trump against the world and the shooting down of Black people on U.S. streets by cops, then the fundamental correctness and necessity of the Black Panthers’ work is underlined. Today, when popular movements are under attack and liberation struggles labeled as “terrorist” and criminalized, we see a massive coercive attack on our peoples. Prisons are only one form of coercion in the hands of the occupier, colonizer, capitalist and imperialist; stripping the knowledge of the people and imposing new forms of isolation are yet more forms of coercion.
The imposition of consumerism, the stripping of peoples from their humanity, the isolation of peoples are all forms of coercion alongside the prisons that act to undermine our movements, our peoples and our visions of liberation. They want to see all of our movements isolated from one another, through the terror of the “terrorist list” and the silence of solitary confinement. Capitalist and imperialist media blankets the world, so even here in Israeli prison we hear about the latest technologies in the U.S. while the repression of Black people is rendered invisible. But the reality today is that every day, a little Huey or Assata or Khalida or Ishaq is being born that can carry forward the vision of their people.
Huey Newton and the Black Panthers stood for socialism, for social justice, against racism, imperialism and war, from the streets of Oakland to the refugee camps of Lebanon. Huey Newton said, “We support the Palestinians’ just struggle for liberation one hundred percent. We will go on doing this, and we would like for all of the progressive people of the world to join our ranks in order to make a world in which all people can live.”
Of course, I cannot speak as an expert about incarceration in the United States today. But just looking at the numbers is a stunning illustration of what is deeply wrong with the system. As Palestinians, we also face an experience of negation, of attack on our existence, as being treated as lesser or non-humans for our designated racial identity. We understand through our own experiences how occupation and capitalism are all about profit and the example that U.S. prisons are creating for the world, where prisons are seen as a source of cheap and coerced free labor and a profit for capitalism. We see how incarceration is used to control, divide and threaten communities and peoples under attack. Incarceration means a lot of money for corporations at the same time that it means a direct threat to Black children and their futures. And this is the “security solution” that Trump and U.S. imperialism is marketing to the world as a solution to the crisis of capitalism, a solution built on bloody and brutal exploitation.
Here in our cells, we can feel the reverberations of these attacks and the physical impact of them in the invasions and inspections of the special repressive units of the occupier. We also see the potential and indeed, the necessity, for movements to rise inside prisons together with those on the outside. We see thousands of people sentenced to massive sentences of 20, 30, 40 years in prison and even more, stripping people’s freedom and taking people’s lives. Resistance is critical and it must have a real impact on people’s lives. Our sacrifice in prison has meaning when it can lead to fruits for the poor and liberation for our peoples. Our struggle must impact people’s lives in a material way.
From Ireland to the United States to France to Palestine, political prisoners continue to be leaders in movements fighting racism, imperialism and colonialism. We also see the prisoners of the Palestinian movement facing political imprisonment around the world in the jails of the enemy – from the heroic Rasmea Odeh forced from the United States to the Five prisoners for Palestine, called the Holy Land Five, held in extreme solitary confinement alongside Black strugglers, for engaging in charity work for our people, to our dear comrade Georges Abdallah who has suffered for 34 years in French prisons.
The prisons and the political prisoners are also an example of the power and necessity of “breaking the law.” The law – the law of the imperialist and the colonizer – is used to steal the rights and resources of our people and also to justify our imprisonment and repression and criminalization. Through the collective “breaking” of the law and its power to define justice and injustice – when people, collectively, confront and “break” the law, not merely as individuals but as a collective power, it loses its claim to legitimacy. Breaking of the law must become the norm, and not the exception – the law of capitalism, imperialism and exploitation.
Political prisoners are jailed because they fear our actions and they fear our ideas, our power to mobilize our peoples in a revolutionary way against their exploitation and colonization. They fear our communication and they fear the powers of our people. They fear that if we come together that we will build an international front for the liberation of oppressed peoples. They know, and deeply fear, that we can truly build an alternative world. For them, this is the terror of defeat, but for us, and for our peoples, this is the hope of freedom and the promise of victory.