Thursday here in Palestine was Prisoners’ Day, and demonstrations of solidarity were held across the West Bank and Gaza. The annual event calls for the release of Palestinian political prisoners from Israel’s jails, and freedom from its kangaroo court system of military injustice.
As of 1 March this year, 5,224 Palestinian prisoners were held in Israeli jails, according to statistics from Addameer, a Palestinian human rights group focusing on the issues of prisoners and prisons.
The group said in a press release: “Every year Israel arrests thousands of Palestinians in an attempt to suppress any resistance to its continued occupation and colonization, the result being the imprisonment of approximately 800,000 Palestinians since 1967.”
Of these prisoners, 210 are children, 21 are women and 11 are elected members of the Palestinian Authority’s legislative organ, the Palestinian Legislative Council (not all of whom are from the Hamas bloc, which in any case was fairly elected to power in 2006).
In its propaganda, Israel likes to portray these prisoners as terrorists, and dangerous, violent criminals. Certainly, many Palestinian resistance fighters are imprisoned, but Israel’s West Bank regime of military dictatorship means that it often jails anyone for merely expressing dissent.
Take only one recent case, that of the 20-year-old student Mariam Barghouti. She was detained for almost a week and released on bail Thursday. Her “crime” was merely to attend a demonstration where she translated for journalists. Israeli soldiers proceeded to fabricate charges against her that she had thrown stones – a more-or-less standard procedure for Israeli soldiers.
Mariam’s real “crime” in the eyes of Israel was to be a vocal critic of its occupation. She has been released on bail so still faces the faked charges.
Or take Majd Kayyal, the Palestinian journalist arrested on 12 April for the “crime” of daring to travel to another Arab country, Lebanon.
Kayyal had been travelling to attend an anniversary event at As-Safir, the paper he writes for. An activist known for advocating for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Kayyal was put into incommunicado detention as soon as he arrived back from Lebanon. He was denied access to lawyers and Israel’s draconian military censor even totally banned the press from mentioning his case (the ban was only dropped after web-based and overseas sources covered the case, at the forefront of whom was The Electronic Intifada, where I am an editor).
It was at one point reported that Kayyal was being investigated by the Shin Bet (Israel’s secret police) and was under suspicion of having been “recruited by a militant organization” in Lebanon. The Associated Press reported Thursday that that suspicion had been dropped.
Kayyal has now been removed from jail and placed under house arrest, and his next court hearing is on 22 April. It should be emphasised that Kayyal is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, one of the people Israeli propaganda likes to call an “Arab Israeli”. And yet he can be placed under arbitrary detention at the whim of Israel’s spy agencies, for a “crime” which a Jewish Israeli would not be arrested for. His real “crime” in the eyes of Israel was simply speaking out for the rights of Palestinians like himself, and encouraging intra-Arab solidarity.
Kayyal, like all Palestinians with the blue Israeli ID, is not a truly equal citizen, simply because he is not Jewish in a “Jewish state”.
Barghouti and Kayyal are only two examples of many such non-violent political voices that Israel systematically imprisons and represses. An Addameer report detailed in December how Israel’s law and practice effectively criminalizes almost all forms of dissent, regardless of whether the rifle or the pen is used by the resistant.
It is for these reasons and more that the political prisoners will remain at the heart of the Palestinian liberation struggle.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.