For Israel, Punishing Palestinians is not Enough
An ongoing hunger strike by nearly 2,000 Palestinian inmates
stands as a reminder of their humanity, but Israelis are more
interested in revenge.
By Amira Hass
May 02, 2012
faraway, frozen Finland – otherwise known as the infirmary of
Ramle Prison – the lives of four detainees who have been on a
hunger strike for at least 60 days hang in the balance. Nearly
2,000 inmates in the Nafha, Ashkelon, Gilboa and other prisons
around Israel have been on hunger strike for two weeks. The very
fact of their decision to refuse food and their willingness to
risk being punished by the authorities stands as a reminder of
The Israel Prison Service does not have to make much of an
effort to conceal this mass action from Israeli eyes. The great
majority of Israelis label all incarcerated Palestinians as
conscienceless murderers or common terrorists, at the least.
They have little interest in acts of personal or collective
courage on the part of Palestinian detainees that serve as
reminders that they are human beings.
Administrative detainees have been held without trial for years
under emergency regulations inspired by the British Mandate.
It’s not important. Hundreds of prisoners from the Gaza Strip
haven’t seen their families for six or more years. Why should
When Gilad Shalit was in captivity in Gaza, the cancelation of
visits for Gazan prisoners in Israel was presented as
“proportionate pressure.” After his release, Israelis don’t care
that this sort of proportionality goes on, and that family
visits were not restored. So what? Why should we care that
Palestinians are kept in isolation for years on end and barred
from seeing their families for three, five or 10 years? Any
normal prison administration would welcome prisoners’ demand to
go back to studying through the Open University. Studies reduce
stress and tension levels in prison. But the name of the game
here is submission.
Palestinian prisoners are given names and faces in the Israeli
news media only if they can demonstrate their “contemptibility.”
Their names and faces are not mentioned in the context of their
personal, family and national history for more than 60 years:
expulsion, exile, destruction of their homes, the injury and
killing of friends and family members by Israeli soldiers, or
trifles such as beatings by soldiers or expropriation of their
land by government officials.
Palestinian prisoners are mentioned in terms of the number of
life sentences they are serving. But Israel’s revered army
generals, retired and on active duty, are responsible for
killing many more Palestinian (and Lebanese ) civilians than the
number of Israeli civilians killed by the Palestinian prisoners.
History – praise be to Clio, the Greek muse of history – is no
longer written only by the victors. But the conquerors still
decide who is the hero, who is the soldier who acts as the judge
and who is the defendant who is declared a terrorist even before
he is convicted. The Palestinians are not recognized as
prisoners of war whose weapons are less advanced, less
sophisticated than those of their jailers.
Israelis are not satisfied with the various measures to worsen
their prison conditions. When it comes to Palestinians,
punishment is not enough. Prison must also be never-ending
revenge that extends what Israel tries to do outside its walls
as well: to break up the collective, to weaken the individual,
to deter others from resistance to the foreign regime.
The hunger strike is, in effect, a protest against these goals.
Not all of the Palestinian prisoners have joined it. In prison,
as outside of it, Palestinian political and social cohesion has
declined, and many of the inmates lack the cultural and social
awareness of their predecessors. Nevertheless, the hunger strike
underlines the fundamentally political nature of the collective
of Palestinians incarcerated in Israel.
Amira Hass is the Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied
article was first published at the