Last year, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day was marked by the initiation of a mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, led by Marwan Barghouti. Today, the occasion is marked by reminders and statistics of the violations incurred by Palestinians as a result of Israel’s colonial violence. According to NGO Addameer, the number of Palestinian political prisoners stood at 6,050 on 1 March.
This is also an occasion for the Palestinian Authority to attempt to make a superficial connection with the Palestinian cause. The heroic symbolism associated with Palestinian prisoners is so tangible that the PA is ready to flaunt its hypocrisy and join in the condemnations of Israel, while conveniently overlooking the fact that its own security coordination with the occupation authorities has contributed to the Zionist state’s ability to kidnap, torture and incarcerate so many Palestinians.
Last year, while Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike were clamouring for their basic rights, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas remained silent, and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah marked the occasion by stating, “The Israeli occupation has transformed our homeland into a large prison.”
Behind such cosmetic statements lies a disparity which the PA refrains from articulating. If Palestinian Prisoners’ Day were to be a true collective remembrance, it should not merely focus upon the outcome, but also the process which led to their incarceration. Testimonies giving details of torture at the hands of the PA; of the authority funnelling prisoners to Israeli jails; of PA security coordination with Israel leading to mass arrests; and the bargaining over prisoners’ lives in the context of negotiations rather than asserting their rights, are all well documented. Why should remembrance, on this occasion, be tarnished by oblivion?
The PA has employed a simple formula to retain its power in order to fragment Palestinian society further, to the point that Palestinians run the risk of being isolated within their immediate environment. To enjoy the vestiges of power allowed by Israel and the international community, it has established its illusion of security by placing Palestinians in jeopardy. As the chasm between the people and the supposed “authority” increases, Abbas diverts attention from the violations of Palestinian rights by the PA which he controls. By consistently imparting the bureaucratic aspect of negotiations, for example, or the reconciliation process, the PA has generated an exclusive impunity for its hierarchy.
Palinfo reported yesterday that the Palestinian National Council (PNC) has demanded the prioritisation of submitting the file on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The PNC also reminded us all that 215 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have died either as a result of extreme torture or medical neglect.
Commemoration embedded in contradictions is shallow. We should allow symbolism to retreat and liberate the spaces throttled by glorification to see the process of creating Palestinian prisoners for what it is: an agreement between Israel and the PA which benefits them both. Putting Palestinian prisoners on a pedestal is contributing to their isolation, while empowering the coloniser and its accomplices in Ramallah. It is easy to associate statistics with the need to remember, yet such remembrance is dependent upon the generation of even more violations, which is another reason why the individual stories which create such a furore in the beginning all follow the same acquiescent path with regards to support. The individual adds to the statistics and thus remembrance is weakened.
Away from Palestinian Prisoners’ Day and the hype and hypocrisy it generates, depending upon the underlying intent, there are 6,050 individuals in Israeli jails and thousands of family members with interrupted lives, for whom remembrance is different from ours. From a distance, the disseminated information determines what we clamour for. Israel’s colonial violence and Palestinian Authority collaboration, on the other hand, have combined to determine their lives.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.