Sahar Francis on connecting Israeli jails, Guantanamo and US mass incarceration

Palestinian women demonstrate in front of the Red Cross in Gaza City to demand the release of prisoners in Israeli jails held without charge or trial, 13 May. 


Ashraf Amra APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Transcript: Sahar Francis of Addameer speaking in Berkeley

Sahar Francis: It means a lot for us, at Addameer, to meet you, all of you here as activists and to have a discussion. This is why I’ll do a little brief about the prisoners’ issue, and I would like to hear more what you think, how we can develop these campaigns that we are trying to do in the name of the prisoners to support them and offer them more protection, and at the long term to bring their release and their freedom.

Actually, Addameer is a Palestinian organization that was founded 20 years ago in Jerusalem at first, but then we were forced to move to Ramallah because the Israelis took [away] the license for the organization. So currently we’re based in Ramallah, and since 20 years, we’re concentrating on the issue of the Palestinian political prisoners under the Israeli occupation but as well in the Palestinian Authority side. Unfortunately we don’t have access to Gaza since 2000, so we try to coordinate with the Palestinian NGOs in Gaza on the issue of human rights violations and prisoners’ rights.

I will move to the main issue of the prisoners and give some statistics about the children, the hunger strike, the administrative detention. I know some of you would be aware of the prisoners and maybe you heard a lot in the last two years about the Palestinian prisoners, so it’s good to highlight some important — we think that these are important issue to cover so we can mobilize on them.

Currently, there are still 4,900 prisoners in the Israeli prisons, out of them, 14 female and 236 children who are under 18. 39 of them are under 16 years old as well, and there are 168 administrative detainees, who are arrested without charge or trial. All of the prisoners are held inside Israeli prisons, not in the occupied territories but inside Israel, which means this complicates relations with the families, with the outside world — because the families need to get special permits in order to enter to Israel, and this is where the Israeli system actually restricts and bans, in hundreds of cases, the family relations, because they don’t offer all the families permits for “security reasons,” mostly. And you would have hundreds of prisoners who don’t meet their families for several years.

Also there’s the problem of child detainees, we think lately there’s an increase in attacking children, especially in the Hebron area and in other villages where there’s a weekly demonstrations against the wall and the settlements. We reported a serious increase in the last three months. The number at the beginning of the year used to be 170, 180. Now it’s 236, as I said. Also the serious issue is that they’re attacking young children as young as 12, and in some cases as young as 10 and 9, but because they cannot keep them in detention legally, so they take them, interrogate them, harass them and then release them after a couple of hours.

Of course, there is lots of discrimination in the treatment when you compare it with the Israeli system. And I think there’s a good report that was issued lately by UNICEF, the UN organization for children, and also there was a report before issued by a special jurist committee from the UK that visited the occupied territories and visited the military courts, and they had very good detailed report about the case of the children with very well-detailed recommendations for the UK government, actually, how to pressure Israel to change these discriminating policies and laws toward the Palestinian children.

Of course the children don’t get any protection under this military system. I will not go into the legal details, but there is no rehabilitation programs, no special education offered for them. The real imprisonment is the only sentence that they would be facing under this system.

Imagine a 12-year-old, 13-year-old boy who was arrested after midnight, terrified and tortured, and then sentenced for one year, or eight months, or one year and a half for throwing stones. How harsh this experience would be on him, and how it would be affecting the whole of his life even after he is released.

Also female prisoners suffer from bad treatment. The most serious issue for the females is the interrogation and the strip searches that … the humiliation, the sexual harassment that they face in this process. And it’s also [the same] for the children. It’s not ending up with physical sexual attacks, but it’s accompanied with lots of bad wordings, threatening to rape, and … sometimes it can be very serious, like it happened with Hana al-Shalabi, the Palestinian administrative detainee who was re-arrested in the Shalit deal.

She was arrested four months after her release. And on the first day of the arrest she was strip-searched by a [male] soldier, which is illegal according to the Israeli law. And when we complained — she was on a hunger strike for 42 days and was deported to Gaza — they answered us just after her deportation, a couple of months after, claiming that now physically she is not there, so they cannot investigate her, so we cannot continue investigating the case. And they decided to close the case, where they can easily know who’s the man — because we gave them the place, the detention center name, the time, when she was brought there, the date, and it’s easy for them to locate who was involved in arresting Hana al-Shalabi, and to investigate them.

And we had a very well-detailed statement from her that we submitted, but they refused to take it into consideration and they wanted to meet her, and of course they offered to meet her alone — they would not allow us to be with her in interrogation, and they wanted to do it at Erez checkpoint. So Hana said no way, I’m not going to go back to Erez by myself, alone, to be interrogated for this issue. We didn’t decide yet how we want to proceed with appeals or the other legal options that we will have.

But Hana’s case reflects the lack of accountability, proper accountability on the legal system of these violations. [8:00] The Committee Against Torture, the Israeli organization that specifies on torture, submitted 700 complaints in the last 10 years. Not one single complaint ended up with real prosecution against any soldier, any interrogator, whatsoever. So there’s a serious lack of accountability in the system when it comes to the Palestinian prisoners.

Addameer launched an administrative detention campaign lately — actually we have this campaign continuously, but last month we tried to do more [with an] electronic booklet that includes profiles, cases, short videos that would enable international activists to be more involved in such campaigns, in writing letters — whether to the detainees themselves or to the Israeli government, or to international bodies, or to your local political people in order to [make them] aware, or to request them to condemn the use of administrative detention.

We also have a campaign for the human rights defenders — these are the people who are defending the settlement cases, for people who are arrested at demonstrations against settlements and against the wall. Or people who work for human rights organizations — my colleague was arrested last October, Ayman Nasser, he was the field researcher at Addameer, and they claimed that his work in supporting the political prisoners, was done in the name of the political party the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], and not Addameer. So this is how they “illegalize” the legal work that we are doing — by connecting it to a Palestinian political party, because all of the political parties are illegal, and now he’s facing charges in the military court.

And others like the activist from Stop the Wall, Hassan Karajah as well, he was arrested and they claimed that he has relations with Hizballah, spying for Hizballah, where it was so ridiculous in Hassan’s case. They didn’t even prove that they had concrete material to show that he was spying. And we don’t know how it will end up, in Hassan’s case, the trial. But actually they’re targeting, systematically, the people who work in advocacy, lobbying, and issues like BDS or Stop the Wall, or other civil campaigns that we work in in the Palestinian occupied territories.

And we have also campaigns for these people, where you can find special information, profiles about each one, and ways to demand their release. I think the new thing that would be good to discuss is that in the last couple of months, we’re trying as NGOs working on the issue of the prisoners, to coordinate between ourselves back in Palestine to have a joint international campaign for the political prisoners. It would be similar in some ways to the South African campaign that demanded the release of Mandela and all the political prisoners, kind of a similar campaign where we can invite all the international activists to be joining and active, so we are in the level of building this point.

It’s important because now with the new development on the political level with the new status in the UN, we want to discover what it can help us on the legal level, on advocacy. What new tools we can use as Palestinians now in the international level, so I think it’s good to be in touch and to be updated later on which way we will launch this campaign and how you can join us in this campaign.

The Electronic Intifada: I know tomorrow you’re speaking at San Francisco State on the connections between prisoners in Guantanamo, Pelican Bay and Palestine. Can you talk a little bit more about these connections, this culture of mass incarceration by the US and Israel, working together and how you see that connection.

SF: I think if you think about the statistics, and the targeting of a wide-range of communities that’s similar. When you take the case of the US and you discover that the majority of the prisoners are coming from certain backgrounds or communities, and it’s also similar especially with the Guantanamo case, especially with the military courts and the secret information and the indefinite detention — this is very similar to the cases of administrative detention and indefinite, arbitrary detention, and using secret information to justify that you are a threat to the security.

And I think this is why it’s important to connect, in order to think about how we can change these realities. Because I also believe this is why we always feel the US is supporting Israel when it comes to discussions at the UN level — whether it’s in the human rights council, in the different working groups, you will find always that the only state that is defending the way Israel behaves, contradicting the international law, violating the international law, is the US.

Because they are doing the same, actually, and this is why I think we should do this connection in order to find ways how we can work against [it].




A must see documentary, "The House I Live In" by Eugene Jarecki. Reported on TV the morning of January 1, 2013 before the Rose Parade. Not only identifies the profiling of African Americans and the War on Drugs but also explains how poor white Americans are being profiled for incarceration. Also included is a segment on how the systems may be challenged in non violent ways. Jarecki's office has programs which makes showings in communities affordable. Definitely grass roots orientated. Thanks Nora for speaking out!

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).