40% of Palestinian Males have been Imprisoned by
Israeli Government to Maintain its Brutal Military Occupation of
By Ramzi Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May
Marwan Al-Barghouthi, a symbol of Palestinian political
prisoners on hunger strike, April-May 2017
The Prisoners’ Revolt: The Real Reasons behind the
Palestinian Hunger Strike
Gaza is the world’s
largest open air prison. The West Bank is a prison, too, segmented into
various wards, known as areas A, B and C. In fact, all
Palestinians are subjected to varied degrees of military restrictions.
At some level, they are all prisoners.
East Jerusalem is cut
off from the West Bank, and those in the West Bank are separated
from one another.
Palestinians in Israel are treated slightly
better than their brethren in the Occupied Territories, but subsist in
degrading conditions compared to the first-class status given to Israeli
Jews, as per the virtue of their ethnicity alone.
'lucky' enough to escape the handcuffs and shackles are still trapped in
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon's Ein
el-Hilweh, like millions of Palestinian refugees in ‘shattat’
(Diaspora), are prisoners in refugee camps, carrying precarious,
meaningless identification, cannot travel and are denied access to work.
They languish in refugee camps, waiting for life to move forward,
however slightly - as their fathers and grandfathers have done before
them for nearly seventy years.
This is why the issue of
prisoners is a very sensitive one for Palestinians. It is a real and
metaphorical representation of all that Palestinians have in common.
igniting across the Occupied Territories to support 1,500 hunger
strikers are not merely an act of 'solidarity' with the incarcerated and
abused men and women who are demanding improvements to their conditions.
Sadly, prison is the most obvious fact of Palestinian life; it is
the status quo; the everyday reality.
The prisoners held captive
in Israeli jails are a depiction of the life of every Palestinian,
trapped behind walls, checkpoints, in refugee camps, in Gaza, in cantons
in the West Bank, segregated Jerusalem, waiting to be let in, waiting to
be let out. Simply waiting.
There are 6,500 prisoners in Israeli
jails. This number includes hundreds of children, women, elected
officials, journalists and administrative detainees, who are held with
no charges, no due process. But these numbers hardly convey the reality
that has transpired under Israeli occupation since 1967.
According to prisoners' rights group, ‘Addameer’, more than
800,000 Palestinians have been
imprisoned under military rule since Israel commenced
its occupation of Palestinian territories in June 1967.
That is 40 percent of the entire male
population of the Occupied Territories.
jails are prisons within larger prisons. In times of protests and
upheaval, especially during the uprisings of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005,
hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were subjected to prolonged
military curfews, sometimes lasting weeks, even months.
military curfews, people are not allowed to leave their homes, with
little or no breaks to even purchase food.
Not a single
Palestinian who has lived (or is still living) through such conditions
is alien to the experience of imprisonment.
Palestinians in that large prison have been granted VIP cards. They are
deemed the 'moderate Palestinians', thus granted special permits from
the Israeli military to leave the Palestinian prison and return as they
While former Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat was holed
up in his office in Ramallah for years, until his death in November
2004, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is free to
While Israel can, at times, be critical of Abbas, he
rarely deviates far from the acceptable limits set by the Israeli
This is why Abbas is free and Fatah leader, Marwan
Barghouti, (along with thousands of others) is jailed.
current prisoners’ hunger strike began on April 17, in commemoration of
'Prisoner Day' in Palestine.
On the eighth day of the strike, as
the health of Marwan Barghouti deteriorated,
Abbas was in Kuwait meeting a group of lavishly
dressed Arab singers.
The reports, published in ‘Safa News
Agency’ and elsewhere, generated much attention on social media. The
tragedy of the dual Palestinian reality is an inescapable fact.
Barghouti is far more popular among supporters of Fatah, one of the two
largest Palestinian political movements. In fact, he is the most
popular leader amongst Palestinians, regardless of their ideological
or political stances.
If the PA truly cared about prisoners and
the well-being of Fatah’s most popular leader, Abbas would have busied
himself forging a strategy to galvanize the energy of the hungry
prisoners, and millions of his people who rallied in their support.
But mass mobilization has always scared Abbas and his Authority. It is
too dangerous for him, because popular action often challenges the
established status quo, and could hinder his Israeli-sanctioned rule
over occupied Palestinians.
While Palestinian media is ignoring
the rift within Fatah, Israeli media is exploiting it, placing it within
the larger political context.
Abbas met US President
Donald Trump on May 3.
He wants to leave a good
impression on the impulsive president, especially as Trump is decreasing
foreign aid worldwide, but increasing
US assistance to the PA. That alone should be enough to understand
the US administration’s view of Abbas and its appreciation of the role
of his Authority in ensuring Israel's security and in preserving the
But not all Fatah supporters are happy with Abbas’
subservience. The youth of the Movement want to reassert a strong
Palestinian position through mobilizing the people; Abbas wants to keep
Amos Harel argued in ‘Haaretz’ that the hunger strike, called for by
Barghouti himself, was the latter's attempt at challenging Abbas and
“rain(ing) on Trump's peace plan.”
However, Trump has no plan.
He is giving Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, carte blanche
to do as he pleases. His solution is: one state, two states, whichever
‘both parties like.’ But both sides are far from being equal
powers. Israel has nuclear capabilities and a massive army, while Abbas
needs permission to leave the Occupied West Bank.
unequal reality, only Israel decides the fate of Palestinians.
On his recent visit to the US, Netanyahu articulated his future vision.
"Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire
area west of the Jordan River," he said.
Writing in the
‘Nation’, Professor Rashid
Khalidi expounded the true meaning of Netanyahu's statement.
By uttering these words, "Netanyahu proclaimed a permanent regime of
occupation and colonization, ruling out a sovereign independent
Palestinian state, whatever fiction of 'statehood' or 'autonomy' are
dreamed up to conceal this brutal reality," he wrote.
subsequent silence amounts to the blessing of the US government for this
grotesque vision of enduring subjugation and dispossession for the
Why then, should Palestinians be quiet?
Their silence can only contribute to this gross reality, the
painful present circumstances, where Palestinians are perpetually
imprisoned under an enduring Occupation, while their 'leadership'
receives both a nod of approval from Israel and accolades and more funds
It is under this backdrop that the hunger
strike becomes far more urgent than the need to improve the conditions
of incarcerated Palestinians.
It is a revolt within Fat'h against their disengaged leadership,
and a frantic attempt by all Palestinians to demonstrate their ability
to destabilize the Israeli-American-PA matrix of control that has
extended for many years.
"Rights are not
bestowed by an oppressor," wrote
Marwan Barghouti from his jail on the first day of the hunger
In truth, his message was directed at Abbas and his
cronies, as much as it was directed at Israel.
- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East
for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a
media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second
Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.
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