Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Prisoner's Day in the West Bank

Last Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 was Prisoner's Day for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel arrests more than nine Palestinians (of all ages) per day on average. As of 2011, 4,489 Palestinians are being held as political prisoners. Of those, 320 Palestinians are being held in prison by Israel under administrative detention, which means that they are being held without trial. 183 prisoners are minors (under the age of 18). The people I interviewed in one village I visited yesterday said that 16 children were arrested or detained in a one week period in March, the vast majority on suspicion of stone throwing. In the same village last summer, a six-year-old was arrested and detained by Israeli forces; he was eventually released 24 hours later. As one father expressed, "Imagine if that was your child! What would you do?"

Detainees face an increased use of solitary confinement of prominent leaders, a ban on reading materials and television, a halt of transfer of funds from family members for prisoners to purchase many basic food products, and the discontinuation of academic studies for distance learning. To protest the prison conditions, 3,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails fasted last Tuesday as part of the Karameh (Dignity) Strike. 1,200 declared that they will continue to fast, joining several administrative detainees. Two detainees who have been on hunger strike for over 40 days--Bilal Diab (27) and Tha’ir Khekhle (34)--have been admitted to the hospital and their condition is deteriorating. Diad has been in detention for eight months, and Khlekhle has been in detention for more than two years. He has not yet seen his 22-month old baby, born after his detention. The two are examined regularly by doctors from Physicians for Human Rights doctors, and the NGO has expressed concern over their condition, calling for their immediate release.

There were several demonstrations throughout the West Bank to show solidarity with the prisoners and call for their release. En route to Al Azariyah, my research assistant and I stumbled upon a peaceful protest in Ramallah. Elderly mothers were holdings framed photos of their beloved sons who are being held in detention. Children of prisoners waved Palestinian political party flags. Fatah leader Abbas Zaki proclaimed, “There will be no peace and no safety without releasing all prisoners from Israeli jails.” After the central demonstration in Ramallah and after my assistant and I were on our way to Al Aazariya, hundreds of people went to protest near the Ofer military prison, were political prisoners are held. They were dispersed by the Israeli army with tear gas and the “skunk” water canon (a high-pressured hose that sprays foul smelling water).

Israeli's detention of Palestinians is not only punishment for the individual, but also collective punishment for Palestinian families, who face increased economic hardship and targeting by Israeli forces as a result of the imprisonment of their fathers, sons, and brothers. Due to the illegal transfer of prisoners outside the occupied territories, more than 3,000 prisoners cannot be visited by their families. This is a major challenge for Palestinian families. This week, I interviewed one family in a village near Bethlehem whose father has been imprisoned for the past ten years. The family is unable to visit their father, because of the recent Israeli restrictions on family visits. Even if they were allowed to visit, the journey would be nearly impossible considering the permits needed for Palestinians to cross into Israel as well as the travel costs that this family cannot afford. I asked the 11-year-old son to draw his dream place, and it was a picture of his mother, father, older sister, and younger brother going for a picnic in the park. His family responded by saying, Inshallah (God willing).

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