on racism and prisons

i just finished composing a letter for a friend in gaza who is applying for a visa to speak in the united kingdom about besieged gaza. he had been invited last month, too, but the british consulate in al quds denied him a visa because they didn’t believe he’d return home after his lecture tour. it struck me as i was writing the letter that i felt like i was writing on behalf of a friend who was in prison. (okay, yes, gaza is a prison and that is the point.) as i wrote words and phrases kept popping into my mind like “flight risk,” phrases one uses to describe someone who is undeserving of bail. someone who deserves to be locked up. and as i wrote the other night about his online visa application, the questions about one’s criminality on the british visa application are certainly geared more towards excluding israeli terrorist war criminals who fall into the categories of having committed “war crimes” or who practice state terrorism. but the racism of the british system makes it such that it is palestinians whose travel gets excluded, who remain in the gaza jail.

nathalie abou shakra posted videos today of the damage done by israeli terrorists to palestinian fishermen in gaza waters. this is another element of the prison: fisherman can’t fish. or if they do they risk their lives or their boats which are necessary for their livelihood:

These are some footage comrades George from Greece, Andrew from Scotland and I took of the shootings yesterday and today of the fishermen’s boats. One of the fishermen, Alaa el Habil, from the Shati’ camp, was wounded in the leg before yesterday, and a boat arrived to the port of Gaza yesterday as we were there, of which was targeted by the Israelis…

The fishermen were given a limit of 20miles before the Oslo accords, then it diminished to 12, then 6 miles during the siege, then 3 miles now… it is impossible to catch good fish, a variety, and a good quantity within such a limit.This is especially devastating for the fishermen whose lives depend on fishing… whose families cannot survive without an income from this.

unlike other prisons, the gaza prison keeps people out and locks people up inside. this is one of the many reasons why it is so difficult for aid to get inside gaza:

Israel says 453 trucks entered Gaza 18-23 January, but only about half of them carried humanitarian aid – not nearly enough for 1.5 million Gazans, say UN agencies and international aid groups.

“The donors and the general public have mobilised from all over the world but the aid is stuck outside Gaza,” said John Ging, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza.

Of the 100-120 trucks permitted to enter per day, some 37-40 are for UNRWA, about half are for commercial goods such as meat and nappies, and the remainder are for other aid agencies, said Ging, who pointed out that before June 2007 Israel permitted 500-600 trucks to enter daily.

and this is why aid workers are even protesting because they are kept from getting inside gaza:

Aid agencies have been protesting about their restricted access to Gaza since the 18 January ceasefire, stressing that the full opening of crossing points is crucial for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“It is unacceptable that staff of international aid agencies with expertise in emergency response are still not given full access into Gaza, and that the crossings are not fully operational for humanitarian and commercial goods,” said Charles Clayton, chair of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), which includes 75 agencies.

here is an al jazeera report on the aid situation and the challenges posed to those sending it to gaza:

and this is why the tunnels are so vital for palestinians in gaza, why they must remain open and why it is so devastating when israeli terrorists bomb them as they did last night (see fayyad’s post on kabobfest for the racist response among israeli terrorists egging on renewed bombing in ha’aretz):

Israel says the attacks on the Rafah tunnels are aimed at stopping alleged weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip by Hamas fighters.

The tunnels are also used to smuggle food, fuel and consumer goods from Egypt and are considered a life-line for thousands of ordinary Gazans.

there are other ways this gaza prison functions to keep people locked up, including those needing life-saving medical treatment outside gaza as jonathan cook reports:

For four days running, an ambulance has driven 15-year-old Amira Ghirim from Shifa Hospital in Gaza to the Rafah border in the hope that she will be allowed to cross into Egypt and then on to France, where she has been promised emergency surgery.

Amira’s left arm and thigh were crushed and her internal organs damaged by falling rubble when a shell hit her home in the Tel al Hawa neighbourhood of Gaza City in the final days of Israel’s offensive. The attack killed her father, brother and sister, leaving her an orphan.

But, despite her urgent need for surgery, Amira has been turned away at the border each time, said her aunt, Mona Ghirim. “Each morning we arrived at the crossing and the Egyptian soldiers cursed us and told us to go away.”

Ms Ghirim said Amira’s condition has been deteriorating because of the long periods out of hospital. Yesterday, after hearing news that the border would remain shut, they decided to abandon the journey. “She is very ill and these futile trips are not helping.”

Amira is one of four children who have been offered potentially life-saving surgery by a team of doctors in France. But she and the other children appear to be victims of a bureaucratic wrangle involving the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Egypt.

but of course the biggest culprit, at the root of this conflict, is always the israeli terrorists. to be sure, they have far too many partners in their war crimes, but their crimes are at the center, which are fueled by their racism. just check out this graffiti from the inside of palestinian homes in zeitoun, gaza:

israeli terrorist graffiti
israeli terrorist graffiti
israeli terrorist graffiti
israeli terrorist graffiti

this is not isolated racism (also see eva bartlett’s newest post for more photographs, films, and descriptions of racist graffiti and destruction in gaza). anyone who saw inside lebanese homes in south lebanon after the israeli terrorist invasion in 2006 saw the same kind of graffiti (though we also found many homes where they also shat on the living room floor, on beds, in pots and pans). rampant, just look at how yigal bronner and neve gordon describe what israeli terrorists chant at futball games:

Israeli soccer matches were suspended during the assault on Gaza. When the games resumed last week, the fans had come up with a new chant: “Why have the schools in Gaza been shut down?” sang the crowd. “Because all the children were gunned down!” came the answer.

Aside from its sheer barbarism, this chant reflects the widespread belief among Israeli Jews that Israel scored an impressive victory in Gaza – a victory measured, not least, by the death toll.

for the record, i’m told that the old chant is “death to arabs.”

likewise the racism of the israeli terrorist army’s chief rabbi, avichay rontzki, has magnified this racism by producing a booklet from the army’s “jewish awareness department” as jacky rowland reports on al jazeera:

supposedly rontzki was “severely reprimanded” today (in israeli terrorist terms, this means he was treated to a bottle of champagne).

but there are other ways racism works internally here in palestine and in the region. sometimes it is also militarized as when the lebanese army besieged the palestinian nahr el bared refugee camp in the summer of 2007. until now only a small fraction of the palestinians from this camp have been allowed to return to it. those who live there now and who are working to rebuild their lives with little help from the outside world, including the lebanese government, live in a prison, too. one cannot get inside without permission from the army–this applies to those who live there and those who wish to visit their friends and loved ones who live there. now the rumors of a lebanese naval base which have circulated for over a year now appear to be valid and in response the people of the camp wrote an open letter to prime minister fouad siniora, which reads in part:

Mr. Prime Minister and Ministers,

You, who are opposed to the siege of Gaza and the crazy war launched on it, why don’t you support this same people [the Palestinian] in Lebanon by granting it a dignified existence without military constraints and laws prohibiting the right to work or own or even bequeath property to one’s descendants.

We thought we were partners and refused to believe in a conspiracy theory that claimed the destruction of the camp was intended to allow for the building of naval and land military bases. However, we have no choice but offer a negative reading of the situation of inhumanity and humiliation we live in.

Having expressed our opinion and spoken of our reality and the unbearable conditions being forced upon us, we shall assume that you are now aware of it. And so we kindly urge you to review the condition of this camp and to remove all military manifestations on its ground. We also urge you to remove the barbed wire and barriers and to facilitate the movement of people and the return of normal civilian life to its former state.

We also hope that you revisit the decisions issued in relation to Nahr al-Bared camp after its destruction in light of the difficult times that all Palestinians are going through, and we beseech you to place military and naval bases far from Palestinian and Lebanese schools and neighborhoods.

there is also the kind of racism here in palestine of a more personal level. i ate lunch yesterday with an african palestinian colleague who is originally from yaffa. he lived in the u.s. for a while and was comparing the racism there to the racism here. he was telling me that here he has been unable to find a wife because he is darker in complexion than other palestinians and as a result no family, as of yet, has allowed him to marry their daughter. racism, unfortunately, is universal. for those who are unaware, there is a community of african palestinians who live all over palestine, including al quds:

Currently some forty African Palestinian families live inside the old city, many of whom reside within 50 feet of the center. Upon talking with Adam, the center’s young director, one gets a sense of how proud the community is of its identity. “Many of our ancestors were pious Muslims who came from across Africa to defend Al-Aqsa from military conquest,” I was told by Adam and others in the center. “They stayed and married and their children grew up here. “We are as Palestinian as anyone else but we also remember and our proud of where are great grandfathers came from and sometimes visit or stay in touch with our other family members in Africa.” Aside from the various wars which brought Muslims from Africa to safeguard the sanctity of its Muslim Holy Sites, other Africans settled in Palestine after spiritual pilgrimages to the land’s various holy sites, including of course the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Many Palestinian Africans have heroically managed to retain their presence in this incredibly important and highly symbolic space even while the oppressive closure policies of the Israelis makes life increasingly difficult in all kinds of ways. “They don’t want us to live,” said one of the community leaders. “They go around telling the world that we are savages and want to kill them all. This is ridiculous. Here I am telling you that I am Muslim, Palestinian and African and I have no problem living peacefully with the Jewish community and I condemn suicide bombings. But these people don’t even give us a chance. They make life impossible because they want us to leave Jerusalem but we will never leave. We will die here before we leave.” The sprawling growth of Israeli settler housing outside and within Jerusalem’s Old City seems to be in line with a policy that the city’s old Israeli mayor ten years ago dubbed as the “Judaization of Jerusalem.” The harsh realities of a population under military occupation punctuate the daily lives of these Palestinians who are often cut off from being visited or supported by Palestinians elsewhere in the West Bank or Gaza. Many of the first and second generation leaders of this community like most Palestinians have spent considerable time languishing in Israeli jails for offenses as minor as being rumored to have been at a protest.

my colleague and i continued our discussion about racism in the united states and the way it works on the state level, too. this is seen most clearly in the discourse about the closure of guantánamo as mickey z reports on dissident voice:

Waiting a year to close a single prison is nothing to celebrate. Transferring those illegally detained humans is not change anyone can believe in. Public promises about not torturing have been heard before and even if we could trust such dubious assurances, why are we so goddamned appreciative when a US president merely declares his theoretical intention to think about adhering to fundamental international law?

The Chairman of Change has made no secret of how he wholeheartedly adores the bogus war on terror. Closing Gitmo (an act which still falls squarely into the believe-it-when-you-see-it category) is at best a strategic sidestep by a cautious and calculating new president.

A related New York Times piece began oh-so-cleverly: “Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed coming to a prison near you?” In the Jan. 24, 2009 article—“Guantánamo Detainees? Not in My State,”—journalists (sic) Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane wrung their hands over the 245 remaining inmates being “released into quiet neighborhoods across the United States.” It’s illustrative of the utter depravity we tolerate as normal in the home of the brave that war criminals like Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Dick Cheney, Wesley Clark, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, etc. etc. walk freely among us while the newspaper of record preys on gullible readers with sensationalism and xenophobic fear mongering.

In that same Times article, Mazzetti and Shane inadvertently offered another manifestation of America’s cultural rot when they mentioned a discussion of reopening San Francisco’s Alcatraz Prison specifically for the assumed terrorists detained (illegally) at Gitmo. But a spokesman for California Senator Diane Feinstein was quick to clarify that Alcatraz was a “national park and tourist attraction, not a functioning prison,” and that the senator “does not consider it a suitable place to house detainees.”

americans seem to be oblivious to the racist/xenophobic discourse surrounding the closure of guantánamo: where are the reparations? why is it that these men who have been illegally detained for years now are not being offered u.s. citizenship? why are they being forced to seek refuge elsewhere when the united states is responsible for their detention and torture over the last several years?

but this is how the u.s. treats its own prisoners, too. american indian movement leader and political prisoner leonard peltier, who should have been pardoned decades ago was recently beaten up in canaan federal penitentiary:

I am so OUTRAGED! My brother Leonard was severely beaten upon his arrival at the Canaan Federal Penitentiary. When he went into population after his transfer, some inmates assaulted him. The severity of his injuries is that he suffered numerous blows to his head and body, receiving a large bump on his head, possibly a concussion, and numerous bruises. Also, one of his fingers is swollen and discolored, and he has pain in his chest and ribcage. There was blood everywhere from his injuries.

Write to your congressional representatives, and write or e-mail President Obama to call on them to insure that Leonard is receiving medical attention for his injuries.

We feel that prison authorities at the prompting of the FBI orchestrated this attack and thus, we are greatly concerned about his safety. It may be that the attackers, whom Leonard did not even know, were offered reduced sentences for carrying out this heinous assault. Since Leonard is up for parole soon, this could be a conspiracy to discredit a model prisoner.

He was placed in solitary confinement and only given one meal. This is generally done when you won’t name your attackers; incidentally, being only given one meal seriously jeopardizes his health because of his diabetes. Prison officials refuse to release any info to the family, but they need to hear from his supporters to protect his safety, as does President Obama. His attorneys are trying to get calls into him now.

if you want to help peltier here is what you can do:

Call Canaan Federal Prison at 570-488-8000 to register your concern that Leonard was severely beaten and to ask what steps are being taken to insure his safety and take care of his medical needs. You must give Leonard’s prison identification number–89637-132–to have your call recorded.

and this is not an isolated case either. racism and the prison industrial complex go hand in hand in the u.s. jordan flaherty recently reported on torture used in angola prison in louisiana:

The torture of prisoners in U.S. custody is not only found in military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. If President Obama is serious about ending U.S. support for torture, he can start here in Louisiana.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is already notorious for a range of offenses, including keeping former Black Panthers Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox in solitary for over 36 years. Now a death penalty trial in St. Francisville, Louisiana, has exposed widespread and systemic abuse at the prison. Even in the context of eight years of the Bush administration, the behavior documented at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola stands out both for its brutality and for the significant evidence that it was condoned and encouraged from the very top of the chain of command.

In a remarkable hearing that explored torture practices at Angola, 25 inmates testified last summer to facing overwhelming violence in the aftermath of an escape attempt at the prison nearly a decade ago. These 25 inmates – who were not involved in the escape attempt – testified to being kicked, punched, beaten with batons and with fists, stepped on, left naked in a freezing cell and threatened that they would be killed. They were threatened by guards that they would be sexually assaulted with batons. They were forced to urinate and defecate on themselves. They were bloodied, had teeth knocked out, were beaten until they lost control of bodily functions and beaten until they signed statements or confessions presented to them by prison officials. One inmate had a broken jaw, and another was placed in solitary confinement for eight years.

all of this racism of the u.s. mixed with israeli terrorism and their war crimes, prison and torture systems make for great partners in crime it would seem. michael hureaux perez draws out some of these connections in the black agenda report:

There is the reality of the working class world, which is the reality of the Gaza Strip, and the urban black working class reality of Sean Bell, murdered on his wedding day by New York City cops, and Oscar Grant, who was murdered by the Oakland Transit cops on New Year’s Day. The Gaza Strip is the reality of the inner city in the United States, writ large.

Then there is the pseudo-reality of race and class justice that the corporate sponsors of Barack Obama – and his programmatic petty boojwah supporters of whatever racial and class background – want us all to absorb. Well, I been there, and I done that. Only back in my starry-eyed youth, Barack Obama was named David Dinkins, or Norm Rice, or Coleman Young (reservation cops all), or some other sad clown who was arrogant enough to run interference for a ruling class so venal and crazy it doesn’t even care that its ass is on fire. And it doesn’t take a stellar political economist to realize that if the problems of race and class or workplace and cultural empowerment can’t get solved at the regional level using the political schematics of the capitalist system, those problems sure as hell aren’t going to get solved at the national level by a charming rogue who uses the same schematic. Trust me on this, even as the trumpet and rose petal spectacle of the inaugural continues to ring in our ears: Obama’s United States is still the Western Imperium, which means it’s the tyranny of race, class and commodity, but now it’s parading at the national level in blackface. (Talk about stale ideas!)

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