26 April 2017

Full Support to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Hunger Strike

Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian Mandela, on why the prisoners have no other option

On April 16th 700 Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike.  Israel reacted in the way that you would expect a State of Terror to react.  It declared that the hunger strike, a weapon of last resort used by prisoners the world over to fight against their jailers, was an act of ‘terrorism’.  This comes from a State which butchered 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza two years ago when the latest F-I5 airplanes unleashed high explosive missiles at schools, clinics, hospitals and above all peoples’ homes.

But ‘terrorism’ in the world of Trump and May is never perpetrated by states unless those states have fallen out of favour with the West.  The actions of Israel and the United States, however horrific are ‘peace making’, proportionate and designed to quell terror.  The bombing of civilians is an accident, collateral damage to use the jargon.

Palestinian prisoners are incarcerated for most of their natural lives in horrific conditions, denied access to contact with the outside world, mobile phones or the most minimal conditions that a civilised society accords to those incarcerated.  Their only crime has been the international law recognised right of opposition to a military regime.  Most Palestinian prisoners were convicted in Military Courts that have a conviction rate of 99.7%. 
Marwan Barghouti
The leader Marwan Barghouti was convicted in an Israeli court which he refused to recognise.  Israel is a colonial power and it metes out colonial justice.  Barghouti is accused of killing Israeli soldiers.  Even were this is true then that is not a crime.  Resistance to an occupying power is never a crime.  The treatment of Barghouti contrasts with that of Israeli soldiers who kill.  On the rare occasion that they are convicted, then like Elor Azaria, who was recently convicted of manslaughter, not murder, for shooting a prone Palestinian prisoner in the head at short range, he received 18 months imprisonment, most of which he will never serve.

Israel's accusation that Marwan Barghouti is a 'terrorist' should carry as much weight as Apartheid South Africa's accusation that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist.  It is the accusation that was levelled by Britain against all Africa's colonial leaders, from Nkrumah to Kenyatta.  European colonial powers who were bathed in blood always characterised their opponents as 'terrorists'.  The Nazis too described armed opposition from the Serbs, Greeks and others as coming from terrorism so Israel's charges should carry just about as much weight as their Nazi predecessors.

Below are 3 articles including one in the New York Times by Marwan Barghouti.  Needless to say Israel’s defenders in the United States screamed about the fact that he was able to present the prisoners views.  So the NYT added at the end a short postscript about the fact that Marwan had been convicted of 5 counts of murder and belonging to a ‘terrorist organisation’.  Suffice to say that belonging to the main terrorist organisation in Israel, the Israeli Army, is not a crime.

Tony Greenstein
Palestinian boys take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Nablus, 20 April.  Ayman Ameen APA images
Thousands of Palestinian prisoners have threatened hunger strike over past several weeks in campaign spearheaded by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti
Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury 
Ha'aretz Apr 17, 2017 9:27 AM

700 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israel announced the start of a indefinite hunger strike in prisons on Sunday, according to a statement released by Israel's Prison Service. Imprisoned Fatah official Marwan Barghouti spearheaded the campaign, though Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners held at Hadarim prison will join the campaign largely associated with Fatah.

The hunger strike is expected to expand Monday morning, with over 2,000 prisoners participating. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced his support of the strike, as did leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Qadura Fares, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Club and an ally of Barghouti, told Haaretz that the Prisoners Club, the prisoners and their families will work to bring the prisoners' cause to the forefront over the next few days. According to Fares, Israel could have prevented the hunger strike had it entered into real negotiations with the prisoners and not ignored the situation.

Nearly 2,900 Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel and affiliated with Fatah have threatened to launch a hunger strike over the past several weeks. Barghouti, the campaign's organizer, has often been floated as a possible successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The fate of more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, whose number has grown considerably in the past 18 months due to the wave of stabbing and car-ramming attacks (the “lone-wolf intifada”), affects nearly every family in the territories. A hunger strike, if it is widely observed and well managed, could immediately turn up the heat in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. If down the road a threat to the strikers’ lives develops, it could lead to another wave of violence.

The April 17 date was originally chosen with an eye on the start of Ramadan, which is toward the end of May. A full hunger strike during Ramadan, when Palestinians fast by day and break their fasts at night, could be religiously problematic. Setting a potential strike period of a little over a month will allow the struggle against Israel to escalate, but also limits it in time so as to prevent a total loss of control. It also marks the annual Palestinian prisoners day anniversary.

According to the Israel Prison Service regulations, it is an offense for a prisoner to refuse his or her meal and the striking prisoners will be subect to disciplniary measures accordingly. "Prisoners who decide to [hunger] strike will face serious consequences," the Prison Service said in a statement. "Strikes and protests are illegal activities and will face unwavering penalization." The statement added that "In accordance with the policy set by the minister of public security, the Prison Service does not negotiate with the prisoners."

The prisoners drafted a list of demands approximately two weeks ago, which includes the revoking of detention without trial and solitary confinement. The hunger strikers also demand the reinstatement of a number of rights that had been revoked, in addition to demanding the installation of a pay phone in each wing, more frequent family visits and the possibility of being photographed with family members during visits.

MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) called on the government to meet the prisoners' demands. "The prisoners agree to have their calls monitored by the Prison Service, so that the alleged security reasons given by the Prison Service and the Shin Bet against installing telephones are void." He said. "Israel is holding prisoners within its territory, breaching the rules of the Fourth Geneva Convention. One of the immediate circumstances of this violation is a perpetual difficulty with family visits to the prison. The delivery of mail is also limited and hardly takes place. Keeping in touch with one's family is an essential matter for every

Last year, about 260 Hamas prisoners went on hunger strike for two days in response to the Prison Service dispersing the wings in which they were imprisoned, while 40 Prisoners of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) went on hunger strike in solidarity with the administrative detainee Bilal Kaed, who had been in captivity for 70 days.

Peter Beinart, Forward, April 19 2017

In the April 16 New York Times, Marwan Barghouti announced that he and 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners were launching a hunger strike. It’s easy to understand why.

West Bank Palestinians are colonial subjects. Even though the Palestinian Authority has some power, it is not a state, and the Israeli military can freely enter the West Bank and arrest anyone anytime it wants. The prisoners now refusing food were mostly tried in military courts where proving your innocence is nearly impossible. As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem noted in 2015, “A Palestinian charged in a military court is as good as convicted.”

Israeli officials, and their American Jewish allies, responded to Barghouti’s op-ed with fury. The reason: Initially, The Times did not say why Barghouti sits in an Israeli prison. (It appended the information later). He was convicted in 2002 — in a civilian court not a military one — of murder. Thus, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren tweeted, Barghouti is not the Palestinian Nelson Mandela, as he’s sometimes described. He’s actually the “Palestinian Dylann Roof.”

Oren’s implication is clear: Because Barghouti was convicted of terrorism, his cause is illegitimate, even monstrous. The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t only explain why Marwan Barghouti isn’t Nelson Mandela. It explains why Nelson Mandela isn’t Nelson Mandela either.

Barghouti denies the specific charges on which he was convicted. (He did not defend himself on the grounds that the proceedings were illegitimate). But at the time of his trial, he did support violence. A decade earlier, when the Oslo Peace Process began, he had declared the era of military resistance over. “The armed struggle,” he claimed in 1994, “is no longer an option for us.

But when Israel kept entrenching its control of the West Bank during the Oslo years, Barghouti changed his mind. “How would you feel if on every hill in territory that belongs to you a new settlement would spring up? he declared. “I reached a simple conclusion. You [Israel] don’t want to end the occupation and you don’t want to stop the settlements, so the only way to convince you is by force.”

Barghouti’s shift, which led him to play an active role in the second intifada, constituted a tragic mistake, even a crime, against both Palestinians and Israelis. I’m not justifying it. But he’s not the only national leader to have embraced armed struggle after losing faith in non-violence. Mandela did too.

For a half-century following its birth in 1912, the African National Congress practiced peaceful resistance to white rule. That resistance culminated in 1952 in a “defiance campaign” — partly inspired by Gandhi — consisting of mass protests, boycotts and strikes. When South Africa’s newly elected government responded with even harsher apartheid laws, however, Mandela demanded a different strategy.

As detailed in the book, “The Road to Democracy in South Africa”, Mandela began advocating armed resistance in 1953, and was reprimanded by ANC leaders. But when South African police murdered 69 protesters in the township of Sharpeville in 1960, and its government declared the ANC illegal, Mandela began pressing his case more aggressively. He met substantial internal resistance, especially from longtime ANC leader Albert Luthuli, who found it awkward that the ANC was considering violence when he had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, Mandela, backed by other young militants, won the day.
One can imagine how Oren might describe Mandela’s actions today. Mandela did not merely support violence. In 1961 he became the head of the ANC’s new military wing, and began receiving funds from the Soviet Union. At the famed 1963 Rivonia trial, he was convicted of “recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage,” as well as of supporting communism.

Was Mandela a terrorist? The U.S. government thought so. As late as the 1980s, it still classified the ANC as a terrorist group.

A critic might object that the circumstances under which Mandela and Barghouti turned to violence were different. Mandela argued for it in the early 1960s, after the South African government declared the ANC illegal. Barghouti advocated it in the early 2000s, after Israel had accepted the PLO as a legitimate negotiating partner.

The problem with this distinction is that Mandela kept supporting violence even when South Africa’s government grew more conciliatory. Six different times the authorities in Pretoria offered to release Mandela from prison if he accepted conditions including the renunciation of violence. Six times he refused. When President P.W. Botha asked him to renounce violence in 1985, Mandela shot back, “Let him renounce violence.”

A year later, the ANC detonated a bomb that killed three, and injured 69, at a bar in Durban. It did not suspend its armed struggle until after Mandela was released unconditionally from jail.
Israel isn’t the equivalent of apartheid South Africa. Inside the green line, where Palestinians enjoy Israeli citizenship and the right to vote, it certainly is not. Nor am I claiming that Barghouti is Mandela’s equal. After leaving prison, Mandela brilliantly stewarded South Africa toward reconciliation. Barghouti, by contrast, remains an enigma. He has long supported the two-state solution. But who knows what he would do as a free man?

My argument isn’t really about Barghouti at all. It’s that acts of violence, even horrific violence, don’t necessarily invalidate the cause of the people who commit them. America firebombed Dresden and dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; World War II was still a just war. In 1938, Irgun leader David Raziel detonated bombs in Haifa’s Arab Market, killing 21 people. His crimes didn’t invalidate the struggle for a Jewish state. (Oren’s government certainly doesn’t think so; Raziel’s face adorns an Israeli postage stamp).

Palestinians deserve to be citizens, not subjects. And against an Israeli government that rejects a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines, and every day entrenches its brutal and undemocratic control of the West Bank, Barghouti and his colleagues have the right to resist. I’m glad that they’ve chosen a hunger strike, which inflicts violence only upon themselves. I hope they never take up arms again. But to the extent that they still desire what Barghouti demanded the year he was convicted — “the end of the occupation” and “peaceful coexistence” between Palestinians and Jews — their cause is just.

I was called a terrorist yesterday,” Mandela once said, “but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists.”

Do you hear that, Michael Oren? He’s talking to you.

Peter Beinart is a Forward senior columnist and contributing editor. Listen to his podcast, Fault Lines with Daniel Gordis here or on iTunes.

The Opinion Pages New York Times Op-Ed Contributor

Photos of prisoners during a demonstration demanding the release of the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, in Ramallah, West Bank, this month. Credit Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images
HADARIM PRISON, Israel — Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.

Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.

Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions. It has committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people; the prisoners, including men, women and children, are no exception.

I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.

A few years later, I was again in an Israeli prison, leading a hunger strike, when my first son was born. Instead of the sweets we usually distribute to celebrate such news, I handed out salt to the other prisoners. When he was barely 18, he in turn was arrested and spent four years in Israeli prisons.
The eldest of my four children is now a man of 31. Yet here I still am, pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world. What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.

Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.

Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel’s policy of imposing collective punishments.

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Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses.

Over the past five decades, according to the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel — equivalent to about 40 percent of the Palestinian territory’s male population. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.

How to account for this unbelievable state of affairs?

Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent.

Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.

Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.

Israel has tried to brand us all as terrorists to legitimize its violations, including mass arbitrary arrests, torture, punitive measures and severe restrictions. As part of Israel’s effort to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers.

Israel is not the first occupying or colonial power to resort to such expedients. Every national liberation movement in history can recall similar practices. This is why so many people who have fought against oppression, colonialism and apartheid stand with us. The International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners that the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada and my wife, Fadwa, inaugurated in 2013 from Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island has enjoyed the support of eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, 120 governments and hundreds of leaders, parliamentarians, artists and academics around the world.

Their solidarity exposes Israel’s moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace.

Editors’ Note: April 17, 2017

This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.
Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.

See also Israel punishes hunger strikers for demanding their rights

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