Palestine Update 219
To hold Israel accountable for its crimes
To reverse a grave injustice in the here and now
In an excerpt from the interview which we reproduce, Addameer director Sahar Francis talks about the pervasiveness of incarceration in Palestinian society, how she and her organization have been targeted by Israeli forces for their work, and what it means if the international community can’t hold Israel accountable for the occupation. It describes the emotions as well as the tough situations one confronts when one chooses resistance. Once one enters the arena of struggle, one is always the target of the ‘other side’. Sahar Francis dispassionately exposes how that feels and what it entails. She outlines the task ahead as being one in which the Palestinian resistance movement must create linkages with other popular struggles. Sahar acknowledges with deep approval how “young Palestinians who weren’t even around during the First Intifada understand the importance of linking detentions in Palestine with political arrests in the United States, Latin America, Turkey, Spain, and other places” And she marks the agenda for the next stages: To hold Israel accountable for alleged war crimes both “materially and symbolically; dating back to the Nakba”. This interview-based article comes at a time when Israel has arrested the Head of Palestine Prisoners Society. It shows just how nervous Israel is of any form of confrontation. And Palestinians persist by resisting and taking its consequences.
A second article this time is about how, after years of being relegated to the sidelines for worry of angering the Israelis, a newly appointed Jordanian Islamic Waqf (Endowment) Council has sharply returned to being. It inaugurates a new era in Palestinian-Israeli politics in the holy city of Jerusalem. In defiance, the new Council entered the Bab al-Rahmeh prayer hall that Israel had made off-limits to Muslims since 2003 catching Israel off guard. The move of the new council caught Israel by surprise. Israeli police reacted harshly, as expected. The new council will not be dislodged. It has already given perceptible momentum to the people of Jerusalem. It has rekindled the conviction that they are not ‘political orphans’ anymore but have the solid support of forces that matter for their political future and that of their religious rights. Previously the same Council was not empowered by the Jordanian government to act in firmness and to reclaim justice. The new all-inclusive council, they hope, will empower them to articulate for themselves and to construct a clear stratagem for Jerusalem and its holy places.
Palestine Updates hope these two pieces make useful reading. The summaries may just about suffice to someone with time constraints. But we share the links and suggest a fuller reading of both pieces when time allows.
‘Change doesn’t come from the courthouses alone’
Sahar Francis, Director of Addameer,
(Photo: Mohannad Darabee for +972 Magazine)
Israel has arrested and detained more than 800,000 Palestinians since it occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 1967. In 2018 alone, the Israeli army arrested at least 6,500 Palestinians, of whom 1,080 were children. It’s this pervasiveness of incarceration that makes prisoners’ affairs so central in Palestinian society. “It touches every Palestinian home,” says Francis.
The general perception in Israel and around the world is that Palestinian prisoners are those who have carried out violent attacks, perhaps hurled stones or threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers, stabbed officers at checkpoints, or rammed a car into pedestrians. In practice, even a poem by an obscure poet could be interpreted as incitement to terrorism.
“If you look at the politics of arrests, since the First Intifada until today, all groups in Palestinian society have been systematically targeted,” says Francis. “It’s enough for you to share a photo of a shahid on your personal Facebook page to warrant your arrest for a year, a year and a half, even two years, on the basis of incitement.”
That Addameer defends and advocates for Palestinian prisoners has made it a target over the years, both by right-wing pro-Israel organizations like NGO Monitor, but also by the Israeli government and its armed forces. Israeli forces raided Addameer’s offices in 1998, 2002, and 2012, destroying equipment, rummaging through documents, and arresting its employees.
It was after the 1998 raids that Addameer, which had been established in 1992 in Jerusalem and had been registered as an organization in Israel, moved its operation to Ramallah.
Israeli and international human rights organizations have also found themselves under political attack over the past decade but the same hostile environment carries vastly different consequences for Palestinians under occupation. Half of Addameer’s staff can’t travel outside the West Bank, explains Francis. Their movement is restricted by the occupation’s physical and bureaucratic infrastructure that determines which areas they are authorized to commute through, requires them to apply for travel permits, and subjects them to hours-long waits crossing checkpoints.
Members of Palestinian human rights groups are also more likely to be subjected to arrests than Israeli or international human rights advocates, she remarks. Those arrests often result in long periods of administrative detention — imprisonment without charge or trial. Former Addameer director, lawmaker Khalida Jarrar, a former director of Addameer and an elected Palestinian parliamentarian, has been imprisoned by Israel without trial for more than two years. Addameer’s legal coordinator, Ayman Nasser, has been detained by Israel since last September.
In 2002, even Francis was accused by Israeli authorities of helping a prisoner conceal information and faced a six-year prison sentence…As far as she is concerned, Israeli authorities charged her not because they genuinely suspected she was guilty of a crime, but to sabotage her work: during the trial, she was prevented from visiting prisoners.
Francis was ultimately acquitted, but the saga highlighted the importance of the emotional support she and other attorneys provide to prisoners: “to reinforce the person’s steadfastness in face of humiliation. Not Israel systematically denies Palestinian prisoners their family visits; by keeping them from their lawyers, too, it attempts to “break” them.
Just serving as a bridge between the prisoner and the outside world, having normal conversations and lifting prisoners’ spirits, Francis believes, can be as important as the legal work… “This is how you engage in the full humiliation of detainees. This is the mental and psychological torture [Israeli forces] are after.”
Born in Fasuta, a small village in the Galilee, Francis says her interest in human rights was sparked by reading books on the civil rights movement in the United States and on apartheid in South Africa.
In 2012, when she became director of Addameer, Francis resettled in Ramallah. By living and working among various, separate Palestinian communities, she defies the physical and political divisions Israel uses to control Palestinians. Human rights and the legal system in general, she believes, are constrained in the absence of political will. “Change doesn’t come from the courthouses alone or from the corridors of justice,” she remarks. There is no way to enforce human rights without a political decision to back it up, she adds, and one case that demonstrates how politics can fill that void is the pressure applied both by and about hunger-striking administrative detainees.
Francis is proudest of is supporting Khader Adnan during his 2012 hunger strike. The Israeli army arrested Adnan in early the morning hours of Dec. 17, 2011, and he went on a hunger strike almost immediately to protest his conditions and the fact that he wasn’t being charged with a crime. Addmeer accompanied him throughout his case, which got unusual global media coverage, particularly as the hunger strike went on and his health deteriorated. Eventually, European countries and others began to put pressure on Israel (only “on his 60th day of striking, with his life in danger,” she adds), and Adnan was released. “That gave us a push to keep going,” she says. But despite a few cases where foreign countries have used their leverage, Francis is skeptical of the international community’s ability to defend Palestinian rights. “There is an obvious double standard,” she remarks. Instead, her hope for change comes from the grassroots level. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has made people feel that change is within their reach, she says, and that “small actions against companies that are complicit in the occupation, or against institutions and universities that profit from it, are leading to results.”
“The Palestinian resistance movement has always looked for connections to other popular struggles. Today, these connections are again the source of solidarity and engagement,” says Francis. “That young Palestinians who weren’t even around during the First Intifada understand the importance of linking detentions in Palestine with political arrests in the United States, Latin America, Turkey, Spain, and other places, is a positive development.” The next frontier is to try holding Israel accountable for alleged war crimes, “to reach a point where there is a real investigation of the crimes the occupation has committed throughout all these years, and that they are paying a price for them.” By pay, she means both materially and symbolically; Israel should compensate Palestinians, acknowledge its wrongdoings dating back to the Nakba, and individuals who are found to be complicit should be imprisoned.
“Palestine is the test case for international law… If Palestine isn’t addressed at that level, then the international community should just admit its failure to protect human rights.”
New Aqsa council gives Palestinians more control in Jerusalem
After years of being relegated to the sidelines for worry of angering the Israelis, a newly appointed Jordanian Islamic Waqf (Endowment) Council has roared to life, proclaiming a new era in Palestinian-Israeli politics in the holy city of Jerusalem. The new council includes religious and political figures that played a leading role in the 11-day standoff in June 2017, when Muslims refused to enter the mosque through the Israeli-installed metal detectors at the entrances of Al-Aqsa Mosque. “The people of Jerusalem are laying on our shoulders a historical national responsibility to protect Muslim and Christian holy places and to preserve the cultural identity of the city,” he said.
“This new council reflects the large current cooperation and coordination between the Jordanian government and the Palestinian National Authority… the “new council will strengthen support for Al-Aqsa and prevent any Israeli effort to divide the mosque physically or time-wise.” The new council has been appointed against “the backdrop of growing cooperation between the Israel police and [radical Jewish] Temple movements.”
The new council wasted little time in showing that they are serious about their new mission. They decided to enter the Bab al-Rahmeh prayer hall that Israel had made off-limits to Muslims since 2003. It is unclear why Israel used the protests of the second Palestinian intifada to bar Muslims from using this prayer hall. The entry of the council members broke a unilateral order of the Israelis. The move of the new council caught Israel by surprise. Israeli police came rushing to the location and placed heavy chains at the gate. This was followed by four days of protests by Palestinian Jerusalemites. Israel arrested dozens of Palestinians, used tear gas against protesters and closed the mosque for a short period of time before an understanding was apparently reached to remove the chains, without giving approval to Muslims to use their own prayer hall at Bab al-
The statements of Jordanian officials notwithstanding, the new council has given impetus to the people of Jerusalem and has revived their hopes that they are no longer political orphans without anyone paying attention to their future. The previous council was not empowered by the Jordanian government, but Jerusalemites feel that a new dawn is approaching and have publicly welcomed the all-inclusive council as a leadership vehicle that will allow them to express themselves and to forge ahead with a clear strategy for Jerusalem and its holy places.
Don’t befriend me for a day, and leave me a month. Don’t get close to me if you’re going to leave. Don’t say what you don’t do. Be close or get away.
لا تصاحبني يوماً .. لتهجرني شهراً ولا تقربني .. لتبعدني .. لا تقل ما لا تفعل كُن قريباً .. أو ابتعد.