A tale of two prisoners of Israel’s occupation

Israeli jails have affected countless Palestinian families

When time isn’t on your side, it doesn’t matter who is. Abu Ahmed, a man in his 80s, lies semi-conscious on his bed in Gaza’s Shifa hospital.

His heart and other organs are failing; his chances of getting out of hospital alive are slim. By his side are a few doctors discussing possible ways to get around strict criteria needed to get him transferred out of Gaza or, at least, admit him to intensive care.

This is not typical doctor behaviour, especially when resources are scarce, but they have good reason: The man’s son, who has been in the Israeli prisons for 14 years, is to be released in 29 days. Will time be kind enough to be on his side?

Palestinians marked 17 April as Prisoner’s Day, dedicated to those who are or were imprisoned by the Israeli occupation – the Palestinian prisons ministry says that 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested since 1967, many of whom have been jailed for a significant time.

Keeping track of the exact number of Palestinian prisoners is not a task for the weak. Standing now at around 6,500, the figures are ever changing, and regular night raids and arrests are the norm in Palestine.

On Tuesday the Israeli forces grabbed six Palestinians from their houses in the West Bank. Eight were taken the day before, and 17 the night before that. Who is to know how many will be taken today?

Israeli prisons affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. No political deal has been able to stop Israel’s imprisonment policy, not even Oslo, and so far no swap deal has either.

Palestinian prisoners from modern-day Israel represent an especially tormented sector, and one case illustrates this perfectly.

Lina al-Jarbouni, 39, will this week have spent 14 years in prison. She was accused of assisting the Palestinian resistance during the early days of the Second Intifada, a charge for which the sentence is usually less than three years – she got 17.

The release of all women prisoners was part of the swap deal for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. Lina was prepared for her release when, just before zero hour, her jailers said she was excluded due to her Israeli citizenship.

Other Palestinians with Israeli citizenship were released as part of the deal.

Her Israeli citizenship, the cited reason for her staying in prison, also grants her the right of early release on terms of good behaviour. She has been denied that right.

And like most Palestinian prisoners, she has been subjected to interrogation, abuse and medical negligence. Unlike other prisoners, she cannot complain to the IRC or benefit from the Palestinian prisoner societies.

Lina comes from Arraba, a town in occupied Galilee. Arraba, like Lina, has had its share of torment. The town was under Israeli military rule from its occupation in 1948 to 1966.

In 1976, Arraba participated in the marches of 30 March, now commemorated every year as Land Day, and one of the town’s residents was killed in the clashes that ensued.

In 2000, two youths were killed in the clashes with the Israeli police at the beginning of the Second Intifada.

Neither protest could stop the Israeli land expropriation plan, and the 2000 protests were quelled by the police, successfully pushing forward the Israeli policies of division and isolation.

Lina al-Jabouri has been held in an Israeli prison for 14 years.

Palestinians, however, refuse to yield to these policies. This week, Palestinian activists launched an online campaign in solidarity with Lina.

Thousands of messages were written in Arabic and English on Twitter to introduce Lina’s story, bringing it back from the oblivion inflicted by the struggles of daily life under occupation.

Thousands of Palestinians live in Israeli prisons, forgotten, awaiting their release. The world may regard them as numbers, but they aren’t.

Behind each and every one of them is a story, a family, a dream expecting to be fulfilled and a homeland waiting to be freed.

I don’t know whether time will be on Abu Ahmed’s side, but I know for sure that it will be on Palestine’s. Abu Ahmed’s frail heart may give out before his son is released, but nations never die – they always outlive their occupiers.

This article was first publish on April 23rd on al-Araby al-Jadeed, here

The ghost of Palestine past

With Egypt’s Rafah border crossing almost permanently closed, Erez has become the only portal into Gaza for the few vistors that Israel allows in.

A few days ago I was there, to greet an English doctor who was visiting Gaza.

When entering the Palestinian side, he had to get his papers stamped twice – once by the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, and again by the Gaza police.

But, when I held his passport I noticed something peculiar: the Israelis had pasted a sheet of paper on the passport with the exit stamp.

No recognition

This small piece of paper was a way of denying the Palestinian territory an iota of recognition from Israel.

To them the man was leaving “Israel” and entering a vague entity. They call it the Palestinian “territories”, but if they call it the Palestinian “reservations” then it wouldn’t make much difference.

Every year in May, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba and the creation of the state of Israel. Palestinian leaders indulge in discussions, even spats, on the path they imagine will achieve a Palestinian state.

For 67 years, Palestinian leaders have failed to identify a national agenda, or how their goals could be achieved.

At first, we dreamed of liberating all of Palestine. Then we aimed for a portion of Palestine to establish a state and move to liberate what else of the land remained. Finally, we settled just for the lands occupied from 1967.

It is worth noting that the people never followed their leadership on this downward spiral.

Even after four generations living as refugees, we still long for the day to return to Palestine, no matter where the original towns are now.

Sixty-seven years later, we have arrived at a point where we have the shell of a ghost state, and all the liabilities of a real one.

Ghost state

We now have governments, ministers, a sophisticated security apparatus. We collect taxes and we spend them. We quarrel over power and we fail to share it. But we lack the most essential requirement of a state: sovereignty.

Palestinians seem to have adopted an order of priorities which no successful revolution has followed.

As a result, we have ended up with a lot we fear losing, but with no real gains to show.

The path of armed resistance is refused by some Palestinian leaders due to a fear of what Israeli retaliation might do to “Palestinian institutions”.

Even when popular resistance is praised by the PA, in reality it is discouraged, and sometimes suppressed. The same logic justifies the PA’s past reluctance to join the International Criminal Court.

We now have a power station in Gaza, but we don’t have power. We spend half a billion dollars annually on health referrals from Gaza and the West Bank, but our health services are collapsing.

These are still praised by the old guard as accomplishments extracted from the occupation. But without sovereignty what are these “accomplishments” other than to provide the occupation relief from responsibility.

Palestinians rejoiced when the Palestine Liberation Organisation declared an independent state in 1988 on the lands of 1967. Then six years later at Oslo it conceded to much less than that.

When negotiations proved to be at a dead-end, we pitched for statehood at the UN Sescurity Council and, when that failed, at the UN a year later.

After a series of confused, seemingly desperate moves, a Palestinian state is still illusive.

Even resistance groups such as Hamas have found themselves entangled in this unholy equation.

Hamas won general elections and promised to reform the PA’s faulty body. But it found itself trapped having to provide salaries or work for Palestinians under occupation and resisting the combined Israeli and international extortion to turn their back on armed resistance.

Willingly or not, Hamas appear to have fallen into the same trap.

After 67 years of exile, is all we Palestinians deserve is a ghost state, and more importantly, is it all we could achieve?

It seems that some long, deep, and hard self-criticism is what is really needed.

This article was first published on 18 May, 2015 on al-Araby al-Jadid, here