on prisoners, prisons, and imprisonment

After teaching my classes today one of my new students called me on my cell phone to tell me that she had tried to go home to her nearby village at Huwarra checkpoint, but it was closed, so she returned to Nablus. It was closed because the prisoners were coming home to Nablus–and other cities in Palestine–and I guess many Palestinians had come from all directions to meet them at the checkpoint. So she came back and invited me to join her to welcome the political prisoners home. We waited in the sweltering heat for a few hours (Huwara, by the way, is at most a 10 minute drive from downtown Nablus). It reminded me of going to Samir Quntar’s welcome home festivities this summer, although Hezbollah had chairs for us and fabulous live band (though here we were not getting hit on the head by people waving their flags). But here I could get much closer to the stage, it was not sex segregated, and the crowd was much smaller (I don’t even think the entire crowd in Dahiyaa that day would be able to fit in downtown Nablus). A friend of mine later joined us and I kept hearing people complain about the heat. True, it was unbelievably hot; but I kept thinking about all the torture and living hell these men had endured–one for 32 years–and I thought the least we can do is stand here and give them a hero’s welcome.

While we waited there were many political leaders giving speeches, leading us in song, and many people holding framed pictures of their loved ones who were not coming home today or who they were waiting to welcome today. All the prisoners started off their mornings very early when they were moved to Ofer military prison in Ramallah and then there was some sort of official ceremony at the PA headquarters there before coming home so they had a long day to be sure. Of course the most famous political prisoners were not released today from their torture chambers: Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat. There was a huge poster in downtown Nablus (see below) about Sa’adat. And of course of the rest of the 10,000+ prisoners in Israeli jails must be remembered. But it also must be remembered that EVERY NIGHT Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) kidnap and imprison Palestinian political prisoners. My friend Mustafa, who lives in the old city of Nablus, tells me every day about stories of the ITF coming in with bombs and guns and terrorizing families. In a way, the old city of Nablus is kind of like a refugee camp in that way. It is one of the many sites that gets invaded nightly. Yesterday 9 Palestinians were kidnapped from various West Bank Cities, for instance.

The two prisoners everyone was most excited about came home to Nablus today, though. One was Said Al Attaba who was the longest serving prisoner: he served 32 years in one of Israel’s torture cells. The other was Hossam Khader who spent 6 years in prison. There were posters all over Nablus announcing their release today (see below).

When they arrived it was very exciting and after all the boring Fatah people finished their speeches (really, they need to take some lessons on speech making and resistance from Nasrallah), both Khader (I believe he is with Fatah from the sound of his rhetoric) and Al Attabe (DFLP) gave speeches that were far superior to their PA counterparts. Here are some of the photos of when they arrived:

It was an exciting, happy end to my day for sure. But my day from the beginning was very interesting, very rewarding. In between classes today I saw a group of my students sitting in a stairwell. One of them called me over. When I was talking about the conditions in the U.S. in class yesterday I talked about the plight of African Americans, Mexican Americans, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and Native Americans in a few different contexts. But when I mentioned African Americans, she said, “you mean ‘niggers’?” She did not mean it in an offensive way at all; this was clear. But somehow, likely through American popular culture that people here consume on various Gulf television stations, she heard that word and didn’t know that it was a deeply offensive history and a present tied to a history of violence, subjugation, and oppression. I sat down with my students and talked to them about how language gets used against them by the ITF, and of course they understood the parallels immediately. I talked about lynching, for instance, as a peculiar American form of racist violence as compared to the ITF forms of violence (murder, bombing, shooting, bulldozing, kidnapping, etc.) as well as the recent case of an Israeli who tied a Palestinian man to the back of his truck a week or so ago (I posted this story and a link at the time it happened).

The group of students, all women, started talking to me about specific localized frustrations–issues related to gender (female friends or neighbors who are married off too early)–and most particularly the situation of fighting among Palestinians. I asked them why they didn’t consider organizing something as students, or even better, as women. I said: what if Palestinian women as wives, daughters, sisters, mothers got together and wrote a statement and published it in Palestinian newspapers. Or took to the streets and had marches in their various Bantustans all coordinated on the same day? I offered examples of Um Khalil, Leila Khaled, Dalal Moghrabi as Palestinian women who have worked publicly in various modes of resistance. Or the women and children of Shatila refugee camp who took to the streets to fight Lebanon’s repressive Maktab Thani laws in the 1960s. It was interesting because throughout this conversation they were surprised by the specific historical examples I offered from Palestinian and Arab history more generally. They told me about the frustration with their textbooks–that there is very little modern history, that most of it is connected to things that are not useful. That they are not exposed to Nabulsi, Palestinian history in any real sense. That is work they must do on their own. But they seemed intrigued about exploring the possibility of organizing something like this as women. I think that if they did it would be so powerful. I believe that it could actually make a difference–as women in men’s lives asking them to save their bullets for the ITF.

It is difficult to do such political organizing when people are confined to their prison-like Bantustan areas. Of course, I know from friends that none of this–anywhere in the West Bank–comes anywhere near to the world’s largest open-air prison that is Gaza. A friend of mine who was on the Free Gaza boat was on Al Jazeera’s “Inside Story” talking about the boat and the conditions of Gaza. Unfortunately, Al Jazeera English seems to have a habit of putting on the most horrible, racist Zionist people on air possible. I can’t figure out why that is. Is it because they lie through their teeth so convincingly? Or is it because they are so transparent in their deceit? Or is it because their deception is so easy to pick apart? Take, for instance this episode, which I’ll post in below for people to watch. My friend was debating some Israeli named Ranaan Gissin (and Huwaida did an amazing job of tearing his lies apart, by the way) and here are some of the most outrageous lies he tried to forward:

The people of Gaza are “under a reign of terror and siege because of Hamas.”

“They [Hamas] prevented people, against the Geneva Convention, from receiving medical attention. They came to Israel for medical treatment. We left Gaza in 2005.”

“People are starving because of Hamas, not because of us [Israelis].”

“There is no restriction on humanitarian relief into Gaza. They don’t need to come through the sea, they can come through our passage.”

“We are the only country today that supplies Palestinians with aid. It is Hamas that prevents people from working, living a normal life.”

If you watch the program you’ll see Huwaida responding beautifully to his ridiculous claims, all of which, of course, are false. But For specifics here are some links to materials that actually contain facts rather than Zionist, racist rhetoric. Since Huwaida quoted the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem I’ll post some of their findings here:

On medical aid: The siege that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took over control of the security apparatus there in June 2007 has greatly harmed Gaza’s health system, which had not functioned well beforehand. Many services and specialist and life-saving treatments are not available to Palestinians inside Gaza, and since the siege began, access to medical care in hospitals outside Gaza has decreased. In addition, as clashes between the army and armed Palestinians escalate, treatment of chronic patients, among them cancer and heart patients, is postponed, and the supply of medicines and medical equipment to Gaza is delayed. Furthermore, Palestinian internal disputes following Hamas’s intention to replace the heads of the health system and of the hospitals have led to labor strikes.

Israel has cut back on issuing permits to enter the country for the hundreds of patients each month who need immediate life-saving treatment and urgent, advanced treatment unavailable in Gaza. The only crossing open to patients is Erez Crossing, through which Israel allows some of these patients to cross to go to hospitals inside Israel, and to treatment facilities in the West Bank, Egypt, and Jordan. Some patients not allowed to cross have referrals to Israeli hospitals or other hospitals. Since Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip, the number of patients forbidden to leave Gaza “for security reasons” has steadily increased.

From the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza, we get this additional picture of the Israeli-imposed siege–and this is just for one week, but you may click on the link and read reports from any other given week and find much of the same thing:

The continued Israeli ban on fuel supplies required for civilian life in the Gaza Strip has led to the paralysis of the educational sector. In addition, the health sector is on the verge of collapse due to the stoppage of many ambulances from operating for lack of fuel. Healthcare facilities have registered a 25% drop in clients due to the transport crisis, and hundreds of healthcare professionals have been unable to reach their work places. Furthermore, the transportation sector has almost ceased functioning throughout the Gaza Strip, resulting in massively reduced essential services, including the delivery of drinking water delivery, sewage water disposal, and garbage collection.

The closure of border crossings deprives the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip of their right to freedom of movement, education and health. IOF have continued to impose severe restrictions on fishing in the Gaza Strip. Following the attack on IOF on 25 June 2006, IOF prevented fishing. Approximately 35,000 people in and around Gaza’s coastal communities rely on the fishing industry, including 2,500 fishermen, 2,500 support staff and their families. Fishermen have been subjected to intensive monitoring by IOF, which use helicopter gunships and gunboats to monitor the fishermen. The Oslo Accords allow Palestinian fishermen to go fishing up to 20 nautical miles away from the Gaza seashore.

From the International Middle East Media Center, based in Beit Sahour, Palestine, we get an even larger picture of how the Israeli-imposed siege is killing Palestinians:

The number of patients who have died in the Gaza Strip due to the year-long Israeli siege has reached 237, as one more patient dies today.

Medical sources reported that Ramada Ghalayini died of cancer as he was banned from leaving the Gaza strip to get the needed medical treatment.

Hundreds of patients in Gaza are liable to die if they do no get immediate life-saving treatment. As the siege continues there remains a serious shortage of medical supplies available.

It’s hard for me to grasp how these racist lies can go unchecked by Al Jazeera. For me, on some level, I would think that the television show would need to bring in the equivalent of print journalism fact checkers for these shows. At the same time I wonder if the Zionists are getting desperate because of the sort of rhetoric they are returning to now. Complete unfounded lies that twist everything around to its opposite. At least the reporter–I forget her name, but you can see it for yourself below–set the record straight and confirmed, with specific facts, what Huwaida was saying. Here are the videos of “Inside Story”:

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3 thoughts on “on prisoners, prisons, and imprisonment

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