Global solidarity builds awareness of Palestinian political prisoners

Rana Nazzal Hamadeh | April 19, 2012 | originally posted on Rabble

Tuesday, April 17 marked a global day of action for Palestinian prisoners and some 1,600 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons began an open-ended hunger strike. This past year, two prisoners in particular risked their lives in protest of their mistreatment by Israeli authorities and brought international attention to Israel’s illegal practice of administrative detention.

Administrative detention

Administrative detention is imprisonment without charge or trial, and is authorized by an administrative order rather than a judicial one. Under international law, its use is reserved for emergency situations, as a last means for preventing danger. It still requires that basic rules are followed, such as a fair hearing where the detainee can argue the basis of their detention.

Israel’s practice of administrative detention is in clear violation of international law. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been held as administrative detainees. They are not informed of the charges against them, let alone prosecuted for their alleged crimes. In many cases they are held not necessarily for an offence that they have committed, but out of suspicion that they will commit a crime in the future. The evidence against them is regarded as “secret information” and is thus not available to the accused or their attorneys.

Administrative detention sentences can be up to six months long, and can be renewed an indefinite number of times, without a trial or evidence shown. The detainee sits in prison not knowing if they will be held for another month, or for several years more.

Israel’s practice of administrative detention disregards the right to liberty and due process, the right of defendants to make a case, and the presumption of innocence.

A Palestinian woman holds a framed picture of her son, a political prisoner held by Israel, at a prisoners support rally in Ramallah, West Bank. | Rana Hamadeh 13/12/2011

Khader Adnan and Hana Al-Shalabi: Hunger strikers gain world attention

Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old father of two, began a hunger strike in mid-December after he was arrested from his home in the terrorizing style of a night raid, while his wife and young daughters looked on. He received no charge, and was not informed of the reason for his arrest. Rather than confusion, Adnan was facing a process that Palestinians have grown to be familiar with: administrative detention.

According to Addameer, a prisoners support and human rights association, Adnan was insulted and humiliated by interrogators, especially with their use of abusive language about his family. He was interrogated for six hours a day, and tied to a crooked chair during the sessions, causing him extreme pain.

Adnan was on hunger strike for 67 continuous days. Among his reasons were: his detention being a violation of his rights and identity; the ill-treatment he suffered from Israeli authorities; and the unjust system of administrative detention.

His case only became known internationally after the fiftieth day of his strike when it exploded on social networks such as Twitter, and supporters followed with fear as his health rapidly deteriorated.

After 67 days of refusing food, and on the brink of death, a deal was reached with Israel that Adnan would be released at the end of a four-month term, unless new “secret evidence” surfaced. Although Adnan was highly successful in drawing international attention to the case of administrative detainees in particular, and the Israeli occupation in general, it would be wrong to believe that with the end of his hunger strike came the end of the conditions he was protesting.

Hana Al-Shalabi then took the stage to continue the demands that Khader had nearly perished fighting for.

Al-Shalabi was an administrative detainee held for two years without a charge before she was released in October 2011 in the prisoner swap. In mid-February 2012, fifty soldiers arrived at her home in the night and she was re-arrested, again without a charge or trial, and immediately began to refuse meals.

On the nineteenth day of Hana’s hunger strike, an Israeli military court ruled to shorten her administrative detention sentence from six months to four months. Hana did not accept this deal as a valid response to her demands and she continued her hunger strike.

After 43 days of hunger striking, and in considerably bad health, Hana accepted a deal that can hardly be seen as a victory. She was released, but not to her waiting and grief-stricken family and friends. Hana was internally exiled to the Gaza Strip. For the next three years, she will live in what has commonly been described as an open-air prison due to the years of blockade and closure imposed on it, and unable to access her family living in the Northern West Bank.

Palestinian prisoners affairs minister, Issa Qaraqaa reportedly said, “she had to accept because Israel put pressure on her. But we are totally opposed to all deportation measures.”

Khader Adnan plays with his daughters on his first day out of Israeli jail. | Oren Ziv/ Activestills 18/4/2012

The price of a Palestinian prisoner

In the prisoner swap last October the sole Israeli prisoner detained by Palestinians, Gilad Shalit, was released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. While most Palestinians were glad to be reunited with family or friends, they were also reminded of an ugly reality of Israeli apartheid: one Jewish Israeli life is exchangeable with over a thousand Palestinian lives.

For the five years that Shalit was imprisoned, his face and name were repeated in international media. Yet of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, little was heard. Seven hundred thousand Palestinians have been detained since 1967 (that is approximately 20 per cent of all Palestinians in the occupied territory, and 40% of the male population). Yet it is Shalit, an adult military soldier, arrested while serving in the Israeli Occupation Forces – an army repeatedly accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians – who was worthy of global news and sympathy while the 7,000 Palestinian children arrested since the year 2000 have largely been ignored.

In violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, all but one of the prisons holding Palestinians are inside Israel. International law states that an occupying power must detain residents of the occupied territory in prisons within their territory, the result being that often the family and/or lawyers of the prisoners are denied permits to Israel and cannot visit the prisons.

There is also repeated complaints of prisoner abuse in the hands of Israeli officials. These go largely unmentioned by the international community. Over two hundred Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 while detained by Israel, due to inadequate medical care and food, torture, or other abuse. Hundreds more have suffered serious illnesses.

Prisoners set to unite with mass hunger strikes

On Tuesday, April 17 one third of all Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli facilities, about 1,600 prisoners, began an open-ended hunger strike. Another 2,300 prisoners refused food for the whole of Tuesday. Among the demands presented are:

1. Ending administrative detention

2. Ending solitary confinement

3. Reinstating the right to education

4. Halting all invasions targeting detainees’ rooms and sections

5. Allowing family visitations, especially to detainees from the Gaza Strip

6. Improving medical care to ailing detainees

7. Halting the humiliation, and body-search of the families of the detainees

8. Allowing the entry of books and newspapers

9. Halting all sorts of penalties against the detainees

Internationally and within Palestine, actions took place in solidarity with the 4,600 some Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons, including a demonstration at the BBC Scotland headquarters demanding mainstream media coverage of the Palestinian hunger strikers. Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations also issued a call for action against G4S, the world’s largest international security corporation, which helps to maintain and profit from Israel’s prison system.

Rana Nazzal Hamadeh is a Canadian-Palestinian and one of the North American delegates who took part in the Global March to Jerusalem.

Advertisements

Hana al-Shalabi’s sacrifice: day 23 of hunger strike

Rana Hamadeh | Mar 9, 2012

Today Hana al Shalabi has been on hunger strike for 23 days.

Hana had been held for two years under administrative detention (no evidence, no conviction) but was released in the prisoner exchange last October. Many of the over 1000 prisoners that were released in this deal were shortly after given the reminder that release did not mean freedom.

Life under occupation does not include the word freedom. A Palestinian’s home can be raided at any moment, whether it be as a mother is putting her children to bed, or at 3am, waking the family. There is no warrant necessary. While walking to school or simply to the corner store, a Palestinian can be ordered to submit to search by Israeli soldiers. Military road blocks and checkpoints can be erected on highways and all following cars forced to wait hours as soldiers search or simply waste time. A Palestinian can be arrested at any moment, again no warrant is needed, even for a minor. Once under arrest they are at the mercy of Israeli soldiers most often between 18-20 years old who have grown accustomed, through practice, to not being held accountable for their actions. They can be held under ‘administrative detention’ on ‘secret evidence’ without even knowing what their charge is or when they will be released. This can continue indefinitely.

Hana al-Shalabi knows this, and has probably known it her entire life. Just a few months after being released in the exchange, soldiers raided her home and re-arrested her. Again, the evidence against her is undisclosed. She began hunger striking as soon as she was arrested on February 17th, as did her parents in solidarity, and they continue to today.

Hana Shalabi

On day 19 of her strike, an Israeli military court decided to shorten her administrative detention sentence from 6 months to 4 months. Hana did not accept these conditions and so she continues to hunger strike.

She did not accept this because she sees the bigger picture. Not only could she be re-arrested on more ‘secret evidence’ at anytime after her release, but so could any Palestinian. The even bigger picture is that the Palestinians in the occupied territories are living under military rule that controls all aspects of their lives. Bigger still, is that there are over 5 million exiled Palestinians who do not have the right to return. That there are 2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who live as second class citizens, treated as enemies in their own home. That the 1.5 million Gazans are living in an open-air prison, slowly suffocating and still subject to massacres, bombings, white phosphorous, and horrendous violence.

No one cannot expect to carry all these burdens on their back. The Palestinian struggle progresses step-by-step. Hana admirably decided to take one step further than the shortening of her sentence. She is now on day 23, and her will remains strong. For international woman’s day, women and men across the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets honoring the many Palestinian women such as Hana for their steadfastness and strength.

The sacrifice that Hana al-Shalabi is making is monumental. Palestinian prisoners have used hunger strikes as a means to demand their basic human rights  (though they are still fighting an immense battle) to the extent of people dying in demands for mattresses to be thicker or the presence of books in prisons. The international community should be ashamed that they are allowing Palestinian prisoners to have to sacrifice their lives for these basic rights, for lack of other tools to fight Israeli oppression. As long as the international community stands idly by in the face of obvious human rights violations by Israel, the blood of Palestinians is on both parties’ hands.

Ma'an News Agency

Our [mis]understanding of history on day 12 of Hana al-Shalabi’s hunger strike

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 27, 2012

Hana Yahya al-Shalabi was among the Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Gilad Shalit in October 2011. When she was released she had been under administrative detention for two years already. On February 16th she was arrested again and given another detention order for six months. She began a hunger strike immediately, and continuing what Khader Adnan began, she is fighting against the illegal practice of administrative detention, and her cruel treatment at the hands of Israeli forces. Today is day 12 of her hunger strike.

Drawing connections in our understanding of history

Hana Al-Shalabi has reminded me of Black Panther activist Assata Shakur. After six attempts by American intelligence at framing her with various bank robberies and murders, all of which were dismissed in court, Assata was charged with the murder of two policemen. Her eventual conviction was the result of an unfair trial which ignored evidence in her favour in order to ensure her guilt. Records that have now surfaced show that a “counterintelligence campaign was conducted by the FBI in cooperation with state and local law enforcement agencies designed to criminalize, defame, harass, and intimidate Assata.” The FBI systemically targeted black groups and individuals, Martin Luther King being among the first targets, but including thousands of less prominent ecivil rights activists. Assata experienced among the worst treatment of any woman prisoner in the US, even being jailed for a period in a men’s prison. After about two years, she escaped from prison and took exile in Cuba. [Assata: an autobiography]

In her own words, “although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.”

The name 'Assata' means 'she who struggles' - one reason I was reminded of hunger striking Hana al-Shalabi

What really perplexes me is that the dominant impression in the West is that of ‘racism has been abolished due to an evolution in human goodness’. The reality of racial oppression, to many in the West (not including visible minorities), is a thing of the past that could not return. Two things must be understood:

Slavery did not end in the United States due to a realization of human beings as equals, it was rather quite unimportant how many people were in support or against the cause. In reality, the North fought for the end of slavery because they could not economically compete in the cotton industry with the South who had slaves working without pay. The figure of the abolition of slavery, Abraham Lincoln was de facto an avid racist:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races; that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.. there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.” – Abraham Lincoln, Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate September 18, 1858

Second, that while most people will be quick to outcry the crimes of racial segregation in North America in the 60s and 70s, they remain silent in the face of current crimes. One major difference between Assata and Hana, is that Israel did not have to frame Hana – it simply arrested her on ‘secret evidence’ and just skipped the trial. There is a common view that the worst evils (often considered to be Hitler) are in the past. Rather than studying history to avoid repeating the same crimes, history has been used to distance genocide and oppression from the present. Subconsciously, we cannot comprehend that the very crimes of the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples in North America, the slavery of blacks, or the holocaust of millions by the Nazis, are continuing today in different forms – such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

This is what brought me to unlearn my history education and realize that change did not come about necesssarily through a collective understanding of humanity and equality. As long as there is a group that has something to gain from the oppression of another, those ‘winners’ will not denounce their privilege unless they are economically or militarily forced to. The reality is that if the people’s armies were to try to go up against governments of the world with military might, they would be crushed. Economically, however, we can force powers like Israel to conform to humanitarian law.

With a movement like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, raising awareness about Palestine has become more valuable. Awareness in itself cannot end oppression, it requires action alongside it. Hana al-Shalabi is raising awareness about the illegality of administrative detention, but what Israel fears is not the loss of her life to a hunger strike – it is the loss of a reputation and the investors that come along with it.

Administrative Detention

Administrative detention is a process that permits Israel to arrest and detain Palestinians on ‘secret evidence’ without charging them or allowing for a trial. Military Order 1591 authorizes military commanders to detain someone with “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” The 6-month detention orders can be renewed indefinitely and are often renewed on or just before the expiry date. This leaves detainees not knowing why they were arrested nor for how long they will remain. The “security” grounds Israel cites are used frequently, and sometimes administrative detention is used as a form of collective punishment (a war crime). For example, from March- October 2002, during the second Intifada, Israeli Occupying Forces arrested over 15,000 Palestinians during mass arrest campaigns, rounding up males in cities and villages between the ages of 15 to 45. [IAK] Administrative detention, by international law, is allowed only in emergency situations, and detainees are still entitled to a trial and to defend themselves. Israel’s practices are thus evidently in violation of international law.

Gender-based sexual abuse and humiliation

HanaAl-Shalabi’s report with Addameer, a prisoner support association, gives the following details of her first arrest on 14 September 2009. At 1:30 am, a dozen Israeli military jeeps surrounded her house and ordered the entire family outside. They entered the house and searched it. One soldier, removed framed pictures of Hana’s brother Samer, who was killed in 2005 by the Israeli army, tore them apart, and walked over the pieces in front of the family. Soldiers began to curse at Hana and her family. When her father tried to intervene, a soldier assaulted him with the butt of his gun. Hana’s mother fainted and soldiers placed Hana under arrest.

As Hana was being transferred, her traditional Muslim dress worn over her home clothing came upon, uncovering parts of her body. She was handcuffed and could not prevent it. Male soldiers took pictures of her, “consciously exploiting her situation, knowing she would feel offended and humiliated by such photos.”

Hana was put in solitary confinement for 8 days, in a cell without any natural light. She could not differentiate between day and night. Since it was the month of Ramadan, Hana refused all meals and water throughout the 8 days in order to respect her fast.

Not unlike other Palestinians in Israeli custody, Hana was subject to sexual and physical abuse. During her questioning, one of the interrogators called her “habibti” (“my darling”) in a provocative manner. “Feeling humiliated and angry at the interrogator’s offensive use of an intimate term, Hana started shouting at him. The interrogators responded by slapping her on her face and beating her on her arms and hands. The guards then took her back to her cell where they tied her to the bed frame and continued humiliating her by taking pictures of her laying in that position.”

Addameer states that they are ” greatly concerned by the verbal abuse Israeli detaining authorities display towards Palestinian female prisoners by directing sexual threats towards them and using inappropriate, vulgar language. Addameer contends that this behavior is done in a deliberate effort to exploit Palestinian women’s fears by playing on patriarchal norms as well as gender stereotypes within particular customs of Palestinian society.”

Hana spent 17 days in Kishon Detention Center, and for the entire time was not given a change of clean clothes. After her administrative detention order was issued, she was moved to HaSharon Prison. Due to overcrowding, she was kept in the same area as female Israeli criminal offenders. It is a direct violation of Isralie Prison Service Regulations for administrative detaineees to be held with prisoners who have been convicted of a crime. “Moreover,” says Addameer, Palestinian female prisoners “detained in the same sections as Israeli criminal offenders… are almost always discriminated against, enjoy fewer recreation hours and are often subjected to humiliation and abusive language from Israeli prisoners, who threaten them of physical attack. As a result, Palestinian women live in constant fear and often experience insomnia, and other psychological problems for the entire time they are detained in the same sections with Israeli women.”

Freedom for hunger striking prisoner, Hana al-Shalabi

The price of a Palestinian prisoner and Hana Al-Shalabi – continuing the fight

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 26, 2012

Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike last Tuesday, wherein he protested against his administrative detention – that is, arrest without charge or evidence for an indefinite period of time. The final deal reached essentially just shortened his detention order by a few weeks, stating that Israel would not renew the detention – unless, new ‘secret evidence’ surfaces. Thus, although Adnan was highly successful in drawing international attention to the case of administrative detainees in particular, and the Israeli occupation in general, it would be wrong to believe that with the end of his hunger strike came the end of the conditions he was protesting. As of February 1st there were 309 Palestinians under administrative detention, but even in the past few weeks this number has increased.

One notable case is that of Hana Yahya al-Shalabi, a woman who was released in the prisoner exchange last October, but was arrested on 17 February 2012 with a six month administrative detention order. Upon her arrest she began a hunger strike, and continues now on her 10th day. For other notable cases under administrative detention see here.

In the recent prisoner swap the sole Israeli prisoner detained by Palestinians, Gilad Shalit, was released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. While most Palestinians were delighted to be reunited with family or friends, they were also reminded of an ugly reality of Israeli apartheid. One Jewish Israeli life is worth over a thousand Palestinians. And so it has been and continues to be.

For the five years that Shalit was imprisoned, his face and name were repeatedly splattered across global media. Yet how many of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners can we recall?

There were two phases to the prisoner release, the first which occured in October, led to the release of 477 Palestinian political prisoners. In the two months until the second group of prisoners were released, 470 more Palestinians were imprisoned, essentially making up for those released. Those arrested between October 18 and December 12 included 70 children and 11 women.

Regardless of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, and their cruel treatment at that, it was the Israeli captive that made international news continually for five years. Despite that 700,000 Palestinians have been detained since 1967 (that is approximately 20% of all Palestinians in the occupied territory, and 40% of the male population), it is Shalit who was invited to Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential palace in Paris where Sarkozy praised Israel for its effort with Shalit, claiming it as a sign of Israel’s democracy “because in a democracy we attach importance to one life.” In the case of Israel, a self proclaimed Jewish nation, that importance appears to be attached exclusively to Jewish lives.

The arrest of an adult military soldier while serving in the Israeli Occupational Forces – an army repeatedly accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians – was worthy of global news and sympathy while the 7,000 Palestinian children arrested since just 2000 went ignored.

The crimes of Israel’s occupation go largely ignored by the international community.

For example, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, all but one of the prisons holding Palestinians are inside Israel (international law states that an occupying power must detain residents of the occupied territory in prisons within their territory). The result of this violation is that the family and/or lawyers of the prisoners are often denied permits to enter Israel and thus cannot visit the prisons. This goes largely unmentioned by the international community. Instead, we read about the inhumanity of Hamas not allowing visits to Shalit.

Many aspects of Palestinian life have been criminalized under broad military orders. Examples given by Addameer are, for instance, that the political parties comprising the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are considered “illegal organizations” despite that they have been in peace negotiations with Israel since 1993. The raising of a Palestinian flag is a crime. Participating in a demonstration is a disruption of public order. Even “pouring coffee for a member of a declared illegal association can be seen as support for a terrorist organization.” Thus, imprisonment has also become a common aspect of Palestinian life.

To the families, friends, and supporters of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners, the repeated talk of prisoners as numbers can be sickening. Each and every prisoner has a life and story as worthy as Shalit’s was to the world and despite the unequal representation in the media, we can vow to empower as many voices as possible by our own means.

Urgent Action Alert for Hana Al-Shalabi

As Hana al-Shalabi is attempting to remind us that even the prisoners released in the exchange are not safe from harassment. Many have received threatening raids from the IOF in the middle of the night, with a reminder that they should not feel free just because they have been released. Others have had prices put on their head by illegal Israeli settlers, offering money in exchange for their murders.

Al-Shalabi was an administrative detainee held for two years without a charge before she was released last October. Last Friday the 17th, she was re-arrested without a charge or trial and since then she has refused food. She has been given a 6-month detention order which can be renewed indefinitely.

On day 10 of her hunger strike, she needs international support to amplify her voice. Act now for Hana al-Shalabi – sign the letter and/or send a fax!

Also, tweet:

Demand Israeli occupation release Hana al-Shalabi immediately! #FreeHana #Palestine http://samidoun.ca/?p=327

Three years, no charge? no trial? Free Hana al-Shalabi now! #FreeHana Take action: http://samidoun.ca/?p=327