Commemorating the 40th annual Palestinian Prisoners Day
17 April marked the 40th annual Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. With over 5,000 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails, the observance seems simultaneously a necessary part of the national culture, and utterly redundant.
All Palestinians, imprisoned or otherwise, are acutely aware of the imposed restrictions on their freedoms. The father of an incarcerated Bir Zeit University student summed up the situation perfectly when he said: “We are prisoners here before they put us in prison.” Prisoners’ Day remains a bleak reminder of this reality, but it may also be a rallying point to challenge the status quo of imprisonment. Towns and cities in the West Bank held rallies to commemorate political prisoners.
In Ramallah, Arafat square was decked out in Palestinian flags, as well as banners for the Fatah and DFLP parties. Families of those incarcerated brought pictures of their loved ones to show to the crowds, while politicians and community leaders spoke in the background. By the rally downtown was winding up, local youth began their own observances – confronting the soldiers outside Ofer prison in Beitunia. Recent demonstrations at Ofer have been bloody, as the soldiers stationed there rarely hesitate to use live ammunition. The young men were lucky today, and were met predominantly with tear gas and sound grenades.
According to Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoner Support Association, imprisoned Palestinians suffer deeply in Israeli prisons; they are severely beaten and tortured, put in solitary confinement for weeks or months on end, and are denied visits from lawyers and family members. Since 1967, seventy one Palestinians have died from torture in Israeli jails, and an additional 53 have died from medical neglect. Israel often uses these political prisoners as bargaining chips. This March the Israeli government reneged on their promise to release 30 pre-Oslo prisoners, a move which sabotaged the most recent round of peace talks.
This Prisoners’ Day, please remember the Hares Boys, five of the 210 Palestinian children currently imprisoned in Israeli jails. The boys are the targets of cruel treatment in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. They have been falsely accused of throwing stones, and are charged with attempted murder. It’s been over a year since their imprisonment. If convicted, it is likely that hundreds of Palestinian children every year will be given the same charge, which comes with a minimum sentence of twenty years in prison.