Prisoner's Day

Monday, April 18, 2011

The olive and citrus trees were blooming all over Palestine on Prisoners’ day. Pink irises, red puppies, and yellow flowers weave interesting patterns among the endless green carpet underneath the fruiting almonds, fig, and loquet trees. Green almonds are eaten with a pinch of salt and are addictive. There are already some ripening loquots. We harvest new green grape leaves (waraq dawali) to make a most amazing dish. Amid this beauty and abundance of nature, there is also beauty and abundance among those of us humans who are still connected to nature and partially free. But we remember the nearly 7000 political prisoners (see below). They cannot be forgotten especially since 750,000 of the Palestinians on the outside have been on the inside! We visited with a poor family in Hebron area whose father spend some time in jail. Their immediate concern was that the family donkey has a problem with his leg; the white and fairly large donkey is after all the only source of transport for the children who walk to school 7 km (nnearly 5 miles) each way. A nice veterinarian in Beit Sahour gave us the medicines free and hopefully we can help the family of 8 (6 children ages 5-16) buy a goat which can provide them with milk and cheese.

On Palm Sunday, we visited Jerusalem (even though I do not have a "permit" from the occupiers). This even commemorates the entering of Jesus, the Palestinian who spoke Aramaic (the precurser of Arabic), into Jerusalem; then under foreign occupation knowing that his liberty and his life were at stake. The acts of civil resistance by Jesus continue to inspire Palestinian Muslims and Christians. My colleague and dear friend Lubna Masarwa, an amazing activist, introduced me to an old women who has been selling used cloths on the side of the street and having to run away each time the occupying authorities show up. She is a strong women with big hands, piercing determined eyes, a wrinkled face that tells a thousand stories of suffering but also of persistence and resilience. She has no family here, all her children and grandchildren and other relatives are in the besieged Gaza strip. We met with the staff and employees of the Al-Quds community action center (see www.cac-alquds.org) and learned of the amazing work they do to help people on the ground. Also on Sunday in Ramallah we met with members of Al-Hiraq Al-Shababi (the youth movement), amazing and inspiring activists who had just done a demonstration in front of the Ofer prison on Prisoners day. We remembered and held vigils for prisoners and for murdered activists (including our heroes Juliano and Vittori). The people I chose to associate with are those flowers of Palestine, full of positive energy, willing to sacrifice, willing to believe that the future can only be better than this reality of colonialism, racism, oppression, incarceration, and murder. One of those is Faris Badr, a 19 year old who was captured when there was a peaceful demonstrations by families and friends of prisoners on prisoner day on Sunday. It was sad to see mothers and brothers and sisters tear-gassed and pushed back and attacked for wanting their loved ones freed. It is sadder yet to see one more youth added to the growing list of political prisoners.

Two years ago, Israeli occupation forces attacked the people of the Gaza strip putting as one of their goals to retrieve the one and only Israeli prisoner held by the Palestinian resistance (tank crewman Gilad Shalit is by definition a war criminal engaged in acts of an occupying army). Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are in Israeli jails, prisons, and concentration camps. Some are guerrilla fighters. Some are elected parliamentarians. Some are women. Some are children. Many have been held without charges and without trial in “administrative detention.” All are prisoners of an unjust colonial power that has no right to hold even one of those comrades in struggle. There is no freedom struggle without a struggle to free those who pay the heavy price of being held by the colonizers. Liberation movements worth their metal understand the significance of emphasis on political prisoners.

We do have some notorious political leaders in Israeli jails. Here are just three of the most recognized names:
-Marwan Barghouti: led the Tanzim activist group under the umbrella of Fatah and member of the Palestinian Legistaltive Council (PLC) (http://www.freebarghouti.org/)
-Ameer Makhoul: director of Ittijah network of NGOs inside the Green Line (1948 areas) (
http://freeameermakhoul.blogspot.com/)
-Ahmad Saadat: General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also member of the PLC
(http://www.freeahmadsaadat.org/)

In Israeli jails is the longest serving political prisoner (Nael Barghouthi, nearly 34 years in jail) who is already in the Guinness book of world records. Recently, a video surfaced on Israeli TV showing prisoners being beaten and shot in a most inhumane way by the criminal military unit named "Masada" (after the mythological story that was weaved by Josephus but that has no historical evidence). Many prisoners died for lack of access to medical care. Relatives of prisoners from Gaza were denied visitation rights for years. For those from the West Bank, visitation is rare, sporadic and associated with many restrictions.

Israeli forces also continue to target political dissidents who happen to be Israeli. Mordechai Vanunu servbed his time for exposing Israel's nuclear secrets but even though released from jail, he was and continues to be targeted . And Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak is in Israeli prison as punishment for his political activity.

Thus it is fitting for all of us who work for freedom of Palestine whether outside of Palestine or in the large open-air prisons (the concentration areas we live in like Bethlehem and Gaza) to remember all those who are held by the apartheid system in the smaller prisons scattered throughout Palestine. We must demand loudly for their release so that they get to enjoy tehir family and the smell of the lemon blossoms and the feel of the growing olive and grape leaves.

During the siege, time becomes a space
That has hardened in its eternity
During the siege, space becomes a time
That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow
(Mahmoud Darwish, A State of Siege)
For more on the seige see http://gazasiege.org/