Former prisoners say payments end as PA comes under US pressure

A protest in solidarity with Palestinians held in Israeli jails, in front of Red Cross office in Gaza City on 5 June.

Mohammed Asad APA images

Two days after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly refused Israeli and American demands that he stop paying families of Palestinian prisoners, his security forces in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah raided a protest camp of former political prisoners who no longer receive their salaries.

On Monday, Ma’an News Agency reported that 277 former political prisoners abruptly stopped receiving their stipends at the beginning of June.

The development comes as Israel and the US are pressuring the PA to stop paying prisoners, calling it a form of incitement.

During Abbas’ meeting with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, on 23 June, Kushner demanded the PA stop paying monthly salaries to the 600 Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences in Israeli prisons.

Abbas reportedly rejected the demand, calling it a pretext for Israel to avoid negotiations.

But the former prisoners who have stopped receiving their payments believe they are casualties of mounting pressure on the PA from Israel and the US.

The 277 former prisoners were reportedly all released during the 2011 prisoner exchange Israel negotiated with Hamas, which saw more than 1,000 Palestinians released from Israeli prisons in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier.

While the PA has not made any official statements, one former prisoner told Ma’an that a PA representative confirmed to protesters that an agreement had been made to cut their salaries.

Former long-term prisoner, Abdullah Abu Shalbak, told media, “today we are here, but tomorrow we might be inside (Palestinian) jails on criminal charges for bounced checks or defaulted loans that we cannot pay because our salaries were cut off.”

Sunday’s protest refuted initial reports that the pay cuts were exclusively affecting former prisoners in the occupied Gaza Strip, most of whom appear to be affiliated with Hamas.

The PA has been intensifying its pressure on Hamas authorities in Gaza to capitulate by cutting the salaries of people there and dramatically reducing electricity payments and medical supplies.

Held without charge

Meanwhile Israel is indefinitely holding approximately 500 Palestinians without charge, according to prisoners rights group Addameer, including prominent writers, journalists and activists.

Several Palestinians have launched hunger strikes to protest their unjust detention.

Prominent Palestinian writer Ahmad Qatamesh has remained in administrative detention since his arrest on 14 May during an Israeli military raid on his home.

On 13 June, an Israeli military judge ordered Qatamesh held for three months of administrative detention – imprisonment without charge or trial. The military can renew administrative detention indefinitely every six months.

According to Addameer, the judge determined that Qatamesh had participated in activities with an “illegal organization,” though no specifics were revealed.

Most Palestinian political groups are banned by Israel.

The judge also claimed that Qatamesh had been exploiting his position as an academic to incite political activities and promote his political beliefs, Addameer said in a press release.

Qatamesh founded the Munif Barghouti Research Center in the School of Humanities at Al-Quds University.

An Israeli military court also renewed the administrative detention of 26-year-old journalist and human rights defender Hassan Safadi until December 2017. Safadi was working as the media coordinator for Addameer at the time of his arrest.

Safadi was arrested on 1 May 2016, as he crossed into the occupied West Bank from Jordan, returning home from a human rights conference in Tunisia.

He was held incommunicado for the first 10 days of his 40-day interrogation in Jerusalem, during which he was deliberately deprived of sleep and placed in stress positions, according to Addameer.

Safadi was allowed to see a lawyer after 10 days of interrogation, but Israel concealed news of his arrest with a gag order, allowing prosecutors to hold closed hearings.

An Israeli judge initially ordered his release on 10 June after his family paid bail, but defense minister Avigdor Lieberman signed an administrative detention order the same day, preventing Safadi’s release.

This month, the Israeli military also renewed the administrative detention of prominent activist Hassan Karajah, who was first detained on 12 July 2016.

Karajah is an activist with the Stop the Wall Campaign and a leader in the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

New hunger strikes

Two Palestinian prisoners and former long-term hunger strikers have launched new hunger strikes.

Muhammad Allan entered his 20th day on hunger strike on Monday, while Thaer Halahleh entered his 10th.

Allan spent a year under administrative detention and was released in November 2015 after he waged a 66-day hunger strike.

Allan launched his hunger strike on 8 June, the same day he was rearrested during an early morning raid on his home near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.

Allan’s father accused the Israeli military of wanting to “take revenge” on his son since the day he had been released. According to his father, Allan was charged with “incitement” on Facebook.

Thaer Halahleh launched his hunger strike on 18 June to protest the assault and transfer of three detained leaders of the Palestinian movement Islamic Jihad.

Halahleh is demanding they be returned to Ofer prison, according to Samidoun, a Palestinian prisoners support group.

Two days after Halahleh launched his hunger strike, he was put in solitary confinement.

Allan is also being held in isolation in Megiddo prison, according to Samidoun.

Halahleh, 35, was arrested on 28 April, and is being held without charge. The 36-year-old has spent 12 years of his life in Israeli prisons, the majority without charge or trial.

In 2012, Halahleh spent 77 days on hunger strike, winning an agreement from Israel that it would not renew his administrative detention. Though he was released, he has been arrested three times since.

Palestinians have increasingly been targeted for their social media activity by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In April, the Tel Aviv-based newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel and the PA have together arrested approximately 800 Palestinians for their social media activity over the last year.

Israel has expanded its monitoring of Palestinian activity on social media, according to Haaretz, and often shares information with the PA.

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.