Commentary

Palestinians Protest Israeli Detention Policies

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Palestinians took to the streets this week to protest the death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail, and the continuing detention of thousands without due process. The violent protests, which come as President Obama prepares for his first presidential trip to the Holy Land, are being carried out with the approval of the Palestinian Authority. The PA has warned that the violence could lead to a third intifada unless Israeli authorities take appropriate measures to address the issue of Palestinian prisoners. The Israelis, on the other hand, are playing down any fears of a third intifada, although Tel Aviv is taking the tension seriously enough that it has promised to release some of the tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority.

The concern over the mistreatment and illegal imprisonment of Palestinian prisoners by the Israeli authorities is an ongoing one. In the days leading to the news of Jaradat’s death, the Palestinian news site MIFTAH catalogued a series of violations and accusations against Israel related to detainee abuse. In one of these cases, MIFTAH discusses the fate of “Dirar Abu Sisi, who was abducted from a train in the Ukraine in 2011 and has been in isolation in Israeli prisons ever since. The Palestinian Prisoner Club said on February 17 that after two years of solitary confinement Abu Sisi is beginning to lose his ability to recall language and has speech impairments. The Club also said Abu Sisi is suffering from a number of health problems.”

It was against this background that the news of Jaradat’s death came.  The situation was made worse when it was revealed by allegations that, according to an autopsy performed immediately after his death, there were signs of torture: “In a joint press conference, held in the central West Bank city of Ramallah, with the head of the Palestinians Prisoners Society (PPS), Qaddoura Fares, Minister of Detainees in Ramallah, Issa Qaraqe’ said that the autopsy was conducted at the Abu Kabeer Forensic Facility. The body of Jaradat carried clear signs of torture such as bruises, blisters and under skin blood clots in the back, especially over his spinal cord, on the neck and on his left shoulder, in addition to signs of torture on the left side of his chest, bruised mouth and face.”

In a break with its recent policy of opposition to the escalation of violence, the Palestinian Authority has now come out in support of the protests against Israel. In fact, in a statement reported by Maan News, Fatah officials have gone so far as to help organize such protests: “The Palestinian Authority supports and helped organized an escalation in popular resistance in the West Bank, a senior Fatah official said Sunday. ‘Resistance is a natural right and we agree unanimously on escalating popular resistance,’ Azzam al-Ahmad told the Beirut-based al-Mayadeen satellite channel....Al-Ahmad said Jaradat’s death would further deteriorate the situation, which was already tense amid protests over the plight of four Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli jails. He said the ongoing unrest could lead to a third intifada, ‘and if that happens, Israel's arrogance will be the cause.’”

The Israelis are downplaying any talk of a third intifada. Citing Israeli security sources, Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Lappin asserts “the term “third intifada” has been misused in the media to describe the upsurge in disturbances in recent days.... Nevertheless, the danger remains that the increase in violence could escalate further. To minimize the chances of that happening, security forces have been instructed to employ restraint whenever possible as they contain the violence....Hence, the IDF isn’t in any rush to define recent developments in the West Bank as a third intifada. Rather, according to security evaluations, the violence will peak, and then gradually decrease.”

Still, the Israeli government is leaving little to chance. Yedioth Ahronoth posted a Reuters report, according to which “Israel on Sunday demanded the Palestinian Authority stem a surge of anti-Israeli protests ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the region next month....As an apparent incentive to Palestinian leaders to intervene, Israel pledged to proceed with this month's transfer to the Authority of around $100 million in tax revenues that it collects on its behalf. Israel began withholding the funds, money the Palestinian Authority badly needs to pay public sector salaries, after Abbas secured UN de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood in November.”

A Saudi Gazette editorial seems to hint that the timing of the protests — so close to President Obama’s visit — is not happenstance: “The tension is rising all the more in the West Bank a month before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah…. Palestinians hope Egyptian mediation will convince Israel to free the hunger strikers and others, much like last year, when hundreds of Palestinian prisoners went on a mass hunger strike to demand better conditions in jail. A deal mediated by Egypt promised more family visits and limits on administrative detention.”

However, there are some that caution that while protests, even violent one, are a necessary part of the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s policies, the Palestinians also need to worry a lot more about the lack of unity among the different factions. In other words, as the Peninsula editorial makes clear “Palestinians need to launch more protests, both inside the jails and outside, against Israeli atrocities and aggression. That is one way of piling pressure on the Jewish state to respect international laws and to bring global attention to their plight. The fight against Israeli occupation must be both continuous and peaceful. Unfortunately, Palestinians are hobbled by their own divisions and disunity and if Netanyahu has been exploiting this disunity to further his agenda, part of the responsibility lies with Palestinians too.”


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