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The pain of the prisoners - Palestinians mark 'Prisoners' Day'

May 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Before the latest phase of the Oslo negotiations began in July 2013, President of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was promised the release of 104 prisoners by Israel, all of whom have been incarcerated since before the ironically named ‘Peace-process’ began over 20 years ago. With a clear lack of grassroots Palestinian support for the negotiations, this promise alone was enough to get the PLO back to the negotiating table despite the fact that such a move had only the backing of sections of the Fateh movement, with other national and Islamic parties opposing it. Few Palestinians have any belief in this process following twenty years which have only deepened Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine.

When Israel yet again reneged on its promises recently, few were surprised. The final group of prisoners was not released according to the agreed schedule and the PA has made moves to join some of the international treaties by way of a response. But even without this latest broken promise, the context must be examined in more depth. Since the start of the current phase of negotiations Israel has only released 78 of the agreed upon 104 pre-Oslo political prisoners – during the same period Israel has arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians according to the PLO. Even without looking at other statistics during the current negotiating period – 60 Palestinians killed, more than 950 injured, more than 3770 military raids, thousands of settlement developments and extension agreements – the release of 78 pre-Oslo prisoners compared to the arrest of more than 3,000 shows clearly the fallacy of a peace process and its negotiations which, according to current reports, may yet still be extended beyond this month’s deadline despite endless promises by the PA that there would be no extension.

Palestinian political prisoners have always been at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle and they possess grassroots support that can move the Palestinian street in ways that the factions can only dream about. Since 1967, an estimated 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned. There remains hardly one Palestinian family that is personally untouched by this tool of oppression within the Zionist settler colonial apparatus. With 5,224 Palestinians incarcerated (as of March 1st, 2014) within the Israeli prison system, tens of thousands of children are growing up without family members ensuring that the pain of the prisoner issue continues to be passed on through the new generations as it has been for many decades.

With all this in mind, April 17th is a day that is marked annually in the national calender as ‘Prisoners’ Day’. It is a day on which families of prisoners, and many amongst the wider public join events to support the struggle of Palestine’s political prisoners. Events this year are being held across Palestine following tradition, with Ramallah hosting some of larger events in the ‘West Bank’. A Palestinian Authority event was held marking the 12th anniversary of the arrest of PLC member Marwan Barghouti, a man sometimes referred to as the ‘Palestinian Mandela’, outside al-Bireh municipality on April 16th. The early evening solidarity event was attended by PA Prime Minster Rami Hamdallah and Issa Qarake, the PA Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs. A larger event was held on April 17th – Prisoner’s Day – in central Ramallah which filled the central ‘Clock Square’ in the city. Other events were also held in cities across 1967 occupied lands.

MEMO Photographer: Rich Wiles

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