“The Palestinian prisoners are not political prisoners. They are convicted terrorists and murderers. They were brought to justice and are treated properly under international law.”
There are no less than seven misrepresentations in this statement:
1. Not political prisoners? In fact, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) makes a clear distinction between Palestinians imprisoned on criminal charges and those imprisoned for “security” – or in other words “political” – reasons, including entirely separate prisons for each category.
2. Terrorists? Terrorism is, of course, a floating signifier, a word used by one party to undermine another, and used by Israeli officials to describe pretty much everything they dislike (the New York Times, for example, were accused of “journalistic terrorism” for publishing Marwan Barghouti’s op-ed). As pointed out endlessly before, isn’t the bombing of a defenseless civilian population, such as the repeated airstrikes on Gaza, nothing short of terrorism?
3. Murderers? This term is used to dehumanize the hunger strikers, as even the IPS confirms that only 12 percent of security prisoners were convicted of crimes related to the loss of human life. Furthermore, the competence of Israel’s legal system in convicting Palestinians of such charges is contested, as Israel officially does not offer West Bank residents a fair trial (more on this below). Most convicted Palestinian security offenders are incarcerated based on political activity, including membership in “illegal organizations” (this includes the ruling party Fatah, a group the IDF coordinates with daily). Of Palestinian children arrested, a majority are convicted of non-lethal stone-throwing, a charge for which they can face up to twenty years in prison.
4. Brought to justice? Israel regularly holds hundreds of detainees without trial and hundreds of political prisoners under administrative detention for undetermined periods of times without disclosing their allegations.
5. Justice?! Israel judges Palestinians in what could best be described as an apartheid legal system, under which an incompetent military court imprisons Palestinians in a staggering 99.74% conviction rate according to the IDF’s figures. This means virtually any Palestinian is guaranteed to be convicted of literally any crime. The word “Justice” is simply Kafkaesque in this context.
6. Treated properly? In fact, Palestinian prisoners are routinely subject to maltreatment in many forms, including physical and psychological torture, prevention of medical treatment, prevention of lawyer and family visits and so on and so forth. In fact, if Israel will decide to abide by international law, it may allow for the current hunger strike to end.
7. International Law? As revealed by the court during Marwan Barghouti’s trial, the Fourth Geneva Convention has never been introduced into Israeli domestic law, and as reaffirmed by the UN Security Council last December, Israel is in direct violation of international law.
In this light, the current scandal befalling the NY Times for publishing the op-ed of a so-called terrorist appears as no more than a media spin meant to stir public attention away from the concrete and reasonable demands made by the Palestinian prisoners. The seven falsehoods above make it all the more important to listen directly to the people who bear the cost of resistance. To me this comes particularly close to heart, as today I walked my sister Atalya Ben-Abba to another prison term after 50 days on the inside for refusing to serve the Israeli military. I do not commonly identify with politicians and public figures, but I am touched by Marwan Barghouti’s honest words, and by the glaring contrast that emerges when juxtaposed with those of the Ministry of foreign affairs above:
“Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.”