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Israel's military dictatorship jails peaceful Palestinian activists

January 30, 2014 at 1:42 am

Media coverage of the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners last week, such as it was, tended to focus on their alleged crimes. Especially in the Israeli media, the reader is called to sympathise with Israeli victims and understand what a great sacrifice Israel is supposedly making for peace.

Palestinian prisoners, in this narrative, are terrorists that Israel releases with a heavy heart. But like the rest of the peace process sham, this is a veil of deceit.

Israel’s system of racist political imprisonment does not care about the methods Palestinians use to resist Israel, so much as the fact of resistance to Israel. Anyone who lifts a fist of protest or a pen of dissent are as guilty in the eyes of Israel’s kangaroo military courts system as one who lifts the freedom fighter’s rifle.

As a proof of this, take Hassan Karajah, a 29-year-old worker with the campaign group Stop the Wall. He was arrested in the middle of the night in January of this year.

What is his crime, according to Israel? One charge was “distributing flyers and organizing protests,” according to a translation European Union’s officials managed to obtain. It is no secret that Karajah was active in advocating for prisoners’ rights, but why should that be a crime?

While Israel does seem to find it easy enough to invent charges against activists like the baseless accusation that he “met” a “Hezbollah operative” in Beirut, the naked contempt for democracy that renders “distributing flyers and organizing protests” a crime, is enough to categorise Israel with the worst of the Middle Eastern dictatorships.

But the Western media’s racist understanding of Israel generally prevents that obvious connection being made. Most correspondents seem to agree with Israel’s colonial self-image of itself as a “villa in the jungle,” as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak put it.

From prison, Karajah recently managed to publish a defiant and poetic letter, but you’re unlikely to hear about it on the BBC in its jaundiced coverage of the Palestinian prisoners.

He concluded in the letter: “we are far from being brought to our end. We are stronger than they are able to weaken us. We are deeper than they are able to cut us. We are boundless. Let me say finally, I will see you soon. I will emerge as you have always known me and better yet, and I will meet you at the behest of a single word: freedom.”

Ahmad Qatamesh

Or take another name you probably have never heard, that of the writer and activist Ahmad Qatamesh, who has been in and out of Israeli jails for decades.

He has been held without charge or trial since April 2011. Israel calls this dictatorial practice “administrative detention”, and 135 other Palestinians are currently held under the same despotic terms, according to Addameer.

One can’t even ask what Israel accuses Qatamesh of – no one knows for sure because “administrative detention” means there are no charges. But Amnesty International stated in April it believes he is being interned “to deter political activities by other Palestinian left-wing activists”.

His daughter Haneen wrote a searing account at the time of how Israeli army thugs broke into his home, pointed guns at his family, and held them hostage – ordering her father (who was at a relative’s home) over the phone to “surrender yourself or we’ll destroy the house”.

Qatamesh’s abduction by Israel could stretch out for years more. With administrative detention, there is no release date, renewals can be made indefinitely. Qatamesh was previously detained without charge for six years.

Campaigning groups ransacked

In December last year, Israeli army hooligans ransacked their way into the offices of several Palestinian human rights groups, including prisoners’ rights group Addameer.

Aymen Nasser, one of their researchers, was also held under administrative detention that October. Human Rights Watch says the Israelis “questioned him about radio interviews he gave about prisoners and his membership in a youth organization. At military court hearings on October 18 and 24, military judges extended his detention on the basis of evidence he was not allowed to see”.

Jamal Juma’, the director of Hassan Karajah’s group Stop the Wall told The Electronic Intifada that such Israeli repression is systematic. The group’s office was raided twice in 2012, and their activists are routinely harassed by Israeli secret police, often on the way back from organising support abroad.

“We’ve all been arrested,” Juma’ said. He has been arrested twice, but was freed after international campaigns mobilised for his release. During his interrogation, he told The Electronic Intifada, the Israelis asked him about names of activists involved in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. Another non-violent movement that Israel apparently considers a “security threat”.

Israel’s military dictatorship in the West Bank needs to end immediately. These injustices should not stand.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

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