Palestinians prisoners are ‘Prisoners of War’ in a non-stop war by Israel

Struggle’ is the persistent state of the Palestinian people. It has been 50 years. (Occupation) Or, should we say 70 years? (Post-Nakba) It has also been really been 100 years. (Balfour and its aftermath)

The recent prisoners strike has been variously reported in the media. Israel is unable to concede victory and their media—and supporting corporate Zionist controlled media sources in the West – have sought to minimize the political impact of the strike and its outcomes. The report that Marwan al-Barghouthi plans to transform the recently ended hunger strike into a “turning point” in the Palestinian prisoners’ relationship with Israeli prison officials portends a radical stage in the struggle for freedom and justice.  He has vowed to wrest recognition of the inmates as political prisoners and prisoners of war – recognition found in third and fourth Geneva Conventions.” The very fact that this discourse has been initiated is evidence of a paradigm shift. What the outcome will be is a different matter and, given Israeli intransigence, it may be a long drawn process. Under the Geneva Convention, the occupied territories are not Israel’s land to rule. It should have been returned to Palestine by due process.

Palestinian territories are under a legal regime of belligerent occupation. (Belligerent occupation is a specific category under the international laws of war that comes into effect when a state captures territory from another state during the course of war). Israel conquered a territory that was inhabited by civilians who are not Israeli citizens (i.e. Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank), this makes the Fourth Geneva Convention applicable, and de jure, makes Israel’s control of the West Bank a military occupation. Hence people living in occupied territories that resist the occupation, by whatever means, and are imprisoned because of that, have to be deemed as prisoners of war (POWs).

Campaigns thus far have not adequately raised this as a issue and the prompt provided by Marwan al-Barghouthi in raising the category of Palestinian prisoners as POWs needs to be brought into wide public focus and into campaigns and advocacy. On April 17, 2017, Addameer Prisoner Support & Human Rights Association called on campaigners, activists, and people of conscience to take actions for Palestinian Prisoners’ Day on April 17 to stand in solidarity with all Palestinian political prisoners. Palestinian people and supporters of justice and liberation for Palestine all over the world organized actions in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners of freedom.  It was a time when demonstrations, rallies and marches were held commemorate, support and build solidarity for the struggle of imprisoned Palestinians.

With around 6,500 Palestinians now held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including approximately 300 children and nearly 550 held under administrative detention, a form of detention without charge or trial that Israel uses to hold Palestinians indefinitely on secret information, the time to act is now. The momentum from the prisoners’ strike which, in many ways, concluded as a victory for the Palestinians, must now be built upon.  There is a heightened public consciousness around the world on issues pertaining to the violations of fundamental laws and some abominable practices by Israel in the treatment of prisoners.

But the law is catching with Israeli crimes, albeit incrementally. The Swiss Attorney General of Switzerland is probing a criminal complaint against former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, accused of war crimes on the basis of a complaint filed by a Geneva-based pro-Palestinian group by the Geneva-based Urgence Palestine activist group. Livini’s role in Israeli military’s “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip began with a week of air attacks and shelling, followed by a land invasion which killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Swiss NGO Trial International, which fights impunity against war crimes, asserted that “Switzerland has an obligation to work on cases of alleged war crimes if the suspect steps on Swiss territory. If Switzerland opens an investigation, it is in line with Swiss law, especially given the alleged crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead.”

There is also the disparaging news that Israel is working to wholly alter the demographic nature and culture of East Jerusalem by the Judaization of Palestinian areas.  Is this yet another way of seeking to exterminate Palestinians from their land through torture and harassment? Similar illegalities have all been well researched and documented by UN and independent NGO bodies. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a report that came days ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has condemned Israel’s oppressive occupation and its damaging effects on Palestinians’ everyday lives. It has also conveyed grave apprehension about the regime forces’ use of lethal force against Palestinians. And the International Labour Organization (ILO) has underlined how “the harsh reality facing all efforts to strengthen the Palestinian labour market is the control that the occupation exercises over the Palestinian borders and the access to land, water and natural resources.”

At international level, solidarity widens and intensifies. Pax Christi International is planning world-wide commemorations on the occasion of the 50th year of Israeli occupation. Calling it time to say ‘Enough’, Pax Christi International calls for the renewed negotiations that “recognizes and protects the human dignity and rights of the Palestinian and Israeli people as equals”. They also promote and support “a ban on the sale and delivery of arms to Israel and Palestine and an immediate cessation of any military cooperation which contributes to violent conflict”.

To be fair, it must be said that not all Israelis are rabid Palestinian haters. Akevot, an Israeli NGO researching the conflict, has spent thousands of hours over two years gaining access to declassified, documents and building a digital record of them. The group’s aim is to ensure that primary sources of conflict decision-making remain accessible to researchers, diplomats, journalists and the wider public.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, we must now ask: “How much more suffering will it take to be known that too many people have suffered”?

Ranjan Solomon