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(Ismael Mohamad / United Press International)

Developing campaigns in support of Palestinian political prisoners

The book Threat, Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel is an excellent resource for activists who want to shed light on the situation of Palestinian political prisoners. The editors, Abeer Baker and Anat Matar, have extensive experience in the area of prisoners’ rights. They told me that they published the book in response to a lack of written material, especially in English, on Palestinian political prisoners in Israel. The editors aimed to combine a human rights approach, legal analysis, personal testimonies, political understanding, and perspectives from the past and the present. The selected contributions are written by authors of diverse backgrounds: Jews and Palestinians, women and men.

Personal involvement

Abeer Baker represents prisoners as a private human rights lawyer and runs the Prisoners’ Rights Clinic at Haifa University’s Law Faculty. She became personally involved with Palestinian political prisoners through Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, where she worked for ten years. Her first case dealt with a prisoners’ petition for permission to study at the Israeli Open University. After her exposure to the life of Palestinian political prisoners, she realized that numerous cases can be brought to court.

Anat Matar is a senior lecturer at the Department of Philosophy of Tel Aviv University. She has been active for many years in the “Refusal Movement” (refusal to serve in the Israeli army). She serves on the steering committee of “Who Profits?”, a project of the Coalition of Women for Peace, and she is the Chairperson of the Israeli Committee for the Palestinian Prisoners. Matar became personally involved with Palestinian political prisoners through “Open Doors”, a small organization which campaigned for the release of all administrative detainees during the 1990s. In addition, she learned more about prison when her son refused to enlist in “an army of occupation”. He was sentenced to serve two years in a military prison. After his release, she wrote me ,“I looked for activities related to the much harder cases, those of Palestinian prisoners”.

Political prisoners movement

According to the editors, several Palestinian solidarity organizations were active in Israel before the establishment of Open Doors. They informed me that the most important and well-known organization, Ansar Al-Sajeen, was closed down several years ago. The defense minister issued a decree to that end based on the allegation that the organization was “supporting terror”. Other organizations are Youssef al-Sadiq and the Friends of the Detainees. They usually focus on humanitarian aid, prison conditions, contact with families, and legal representation. 

The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is different. There is a Ministry in charge of prisoners’ issues and there are legal organizations and support groups, write Baker and Matar. “Needless to say, we have been in contact with most of them. We exchange advice and information and held several meetings in Ramallah with representatives of these organizations.

Recommendations of international campaigns

The book offers such a wide variety of information that it is difficult to know where to start. I have challenged the editors to identify key issues for international campaigns in support of Palestinian political prisoners. According to Abeer Baker and Anat Matar, the most immediate campaign should focus on acknowledgement of the political character of the arrest, trial and detention of Palestinian political prisoners. They suggest that the following issues should be included in campaigns: 

First of all, the release of administrative detainees. The idea should be, “Stop using this undemocratic tool completely”. Currently, there are over 200 detainees held without a trial, some for years. 

Tamar Pelleg-Sryck wrote an excellent essay on administrative detention for the book which offers the background information that is needed for such a campaign.

Video on administrative detention produced by Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association based in Ramallah.

Abeer Baker and Anat Matar continue:

A second goal should be the criticism (mainly by international legal experts) of this legal system, bringing to light its apartheid-like logic.

Sharon Weill clarifies the apartheid logic in her essay. In his review of Threat for The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstantley wrote:

She [Sharon Weil] proves that because of the separate and unequal legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians there — civil courts for Israeli Jews but military courts for Palestinians — the occupation of the West Bank is best understood as a system of apartheid. 

In addition, Abeer Baker and Anat Matar suggest:

Other burning problems are the arrest and trial of children, the arrest of political activists, like those organizing protests against the Apartheid wall, the transfer of prisoners into Israel, and one issue that is particularly painful – the special situation of the Palestinian prisoners who are Israeli citizens.

The editors are convinced that the Israeli Government cannot halt resistance to the occupation and the denial of rights of Palestinians by detaining Palestinian leaders and activists. “No, we don’t believe this result can be achieved through these means.”

The book Threat, Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel and the recommendations of the editors are excellent tools for designing and planning campaigns in support of Palestinian political prisoners.