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Ramona Wadi

How the Palestinian Authority exploits the cause of prisoners

Palestinian prisoners have been nothing but a bargaining tool in the Palestinian Authority's schemes [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 30 July, 2016

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Comment: Despite Rami Hamdallah’s rhetoric of solidarity, the PA has regularly exploited the plight of Palestinian prisoners and contributed to the violation of their human rights, argues Ramona Wadi.

Occasionally, the PA indulges in a show of purported solidarity with Palestinian prisoners - the latest being during a sit-in organised by activists in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails. The activity, which was held in front of Bethlehem’s nativity church, was attended by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

According to Ma’an news agency’s quoting of an activist for Palestinian prisoners’ rights, Hamdallah stated that the PA has "always treated the prisoners’ issue as a top priority."

The use of the term "priority" is debatable and contentious.

In recent years, Palestinian prisoners have been subjected to oblivion precisely due to the PA’s collaboration with Israel in ensuring Israeli jails are never short of inmates, as well as the tendency to exploit the rights of Palestinian prisoners during negotiations.

Palestinian history is replete with references of how resistance was partly shaped in prison cells and prisoners were regarded as an integral part of anti-colonial struggle.

The PA’s aversion towards resistance is a major, negative contribution that has shaped plight and perception of Palestinian prisoners, particularly as regards external observers and the shaping of international acquiescence towards the perpetual cycle of human rights violations as regards administrative detention and torture in Israeli jails.

Palestinian prisoners have been subjected to oblivion precisely due to the PA’s collaboration with Israel in ensuring Israeli jails are never short of inmates

Media and PA sensationalism

Periodically, the media pays attention to Palestinian hunger strikers when their health shows signs of deterioration. Now highlighted through the hunger strike of Bilal Kayed, it is a trend that has shaped the narratives of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, notably since the case of Samer Issawi, who was catapulted to prominence and subsequently obscured.

More recently, the case of Mohammed Al-Qeq, another Palestinian political prisoner who embarked upon hunger strike as a form of protest, became a media sensation following footage of him writhing in pain on a hospital bed.

The focus upon the immediate and sensational details in both Issawi’s and al-Qeq’s case highlight the detachment between media and anti-colonial struggle in the same manner that the PA and Israel dissociate the political from the humanitarian consequences.

Kayed was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 14 and a half years imprisonment. Since 2015 he had been placed in solitary confinement and an administrative detention order was issued against him to coincide with his scheduled release in June 2016.

Now that Kayed has been transferred to Barzilai Hospital, finding himself shackled to the bed like other Palestinian hunger strikers before him, the PA has deemed it pertinent to make a semblance of an intervention.

Such allegedly supportive intervention, however, is only a facade to divert attention away from the reality of security coordination which has wreaked havoc upon Palestinian families. Particularly prominent during Operation Brother’s Keeper in 2014, which was the prelude to Operation Protective Edge, security coordination is the ultimate expression of PA corruption, given its role in aiding Israel select its victims for arrest, torture and interminable administrative detention sentences.

The PA's intervention, however, is only a facade to divert attention away from the reality of security coordination which has wreaked havoc upon Palestinian families

PA exploitation of Palestinian prisoners

The disregard for Palestinian political prisoners was most evident during the last round of US-brokered negotiations in 2014. Throughout the negotiations, Israel capitalised upon the release of Palestinian political prisoners by furthering settlement expansion, to which the PA expressed little aversion.

Israel’s refusal to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners was met with mild indignation, with the PA threatening it would resort to international institutions if its demand for their release was not met.

Palestinian prisoners, however, were nothing but a bargaining tool in the PA’s schemes; a convenient subject through which to articulate diluted threats. Two years later, despite filing evidence at the ICC, Palestinian prisoners have not edged closer to having their rights safeguarded.

On the contrary, international alienation has increased and prisoners protesting administrative detention through hunger strikes have become the sole responsibility of human rights organisations, thus creating a reversal of roles while ensuring that there is also a lack of avenues to which such organisations can resort to.

In a way, the PA is acknowledging its collaboration in human rights violations regarding Palestinian political prisoners, given its absence of political will to intervene away from the duplicitous schemes of negotiations.

Palestinian prisoners, however, were nothing but a bargaining tool in the PA’s schemes; a convenient subject through which to articulate diluted threats

Marginalising history

The oblivion enforced by the PA as regards Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails is also an exercise in marginalising history and the role which prisoners played as a central component of anti-colonial struggle. Far from being removed and isolated from the rest of the population, Palestinian political prisoners were at the helm of organised struggle and education, building not only cooperation and unity between Palestinian political factions but also ensuring that the educational process and consciousness were disseminated.

While the Oslo Accords resulted in a mass release of Palestinian prisoners, the agreements also paved the way for new arrests through security coordination. The decline in consciousness and awareness as regards anti-colonial struggle can be attributed to several factors stemming from the Oslo Accords, including the formation of the PA which led to the disintegration of previous movements sustaining anti-colonial struggle.

The PA is well aware of the centrality of Palestinian prisoners to the struggle for liberation, hence its efforts to not only marginalise this important aspect of history, but also to ensure there is no recapitulation.

Administrative detention serves this purpose well while the media embarks upon the usual selective reporting that highlights individual cases as opposed to hunger strikes as a form of protest in the wider anti-colonial struggle. For the PA, it is an ideal situation, as long as the media focuses its attention upon the physical deterioration, rather than the conspiracy behind the obvious manifestations.


Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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