Prisoners' Intifada Shames Palestine's Leaders
January 17, 2013 "Information
- If Palestinian leaders only knew how extraneous their
endless rounds of "unity" talks have become, they might
cease enthusiastic declarations to world media about their
meetings. At this point, few Palestinians are left with hope
that their "leadership" has their best interests in mind.
Factional interests reign supreme and personal agendas
continue to define Palestine's political landscape.
Fatah and Hamas are the two major Palestinian political
factions. Despite Hamas' election victory in 2006, Fatah has
the upper hand. Both parties continue to play the numbers
game, flexing their muscles in frivolous rallies where
Palestinian flags are overshadowed with green and yellow
banners, the symbols of Hamas and Fatah respectively.
Historically, there has been a leadership deficit in
Palestine and it is not because Palestinians are incapable
of producing upright men and women capable of guiding the
decades-long resistance towards astounding victory against
Israel's military occupation and apartheid. This is because
for a Palestinian leadership to be acknowledged by regional
and international players, it has to excel in the art of
"compromise". These carefully molded leaders often cater to
the interests of their Arab and Western benefactors, at the
expense of their own people. Not a single popular faction
has resolutely escaped this.
This reality has permeated Palestinian politics for decades.
However, in the last two decades the distance between the
Palestinian leadership and the people has grown by a once
unimaginable distance, to the point where some Palestinians
have become a jailor, a peddling politician or even a
security coordinator working hand in hand with Israel. Perks
of the 1994 Oslo Accord have over the years created a
Palestinian elite, whose interests and that of the Israeli
occupation overlap beyond recognition of where the first
starts and the other ends.
While Hamas remained largely immune from the Oslo disease -
Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and his men enjoy its numerous
political and economic perks - it too is becoming enthralled
by the prospects of regional acceptance and international
validation. Its strictly factional agenda and closeness to
some corrupt Arab countries raise more than question marks
and there is the prospect of it heading in the same
direction as Fatah leaders did over two decades ago.
The unity charade continues. After a period of ambiguity,
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian Authority leader
Abbas reportedly held meetings in Cairo to "expedite" a
reconciliation. Considering that progress is judged as
keeping the status quo between the two main factions, the
word "expedite" is likely to mean and change very little on
If one was to judge by rhetoric and rival claims, the chasm
continues to grow, despite the supposedly sober fact that
earlier this month, on January 4 Hamas allowed Fatah to
celebrate the anniversary of its birth in Gaza, while the
latter did the same in the West Bank. Supporters of both
parties brazenly used their parades - which took place under
the watchful eyes of Israeli drones - to exhibit their
strengths. This was not in relations to the Israeli military
occupation, but to their own pitiful factional propaganda.
Oddly enough, if the calculations of Palestinian factions
are accurate regarding the attendees of their rallies, the
population of Gaza may have suddenly morphed to exceed 4
million, a remarkable jump from the 1.6 million of a few
weeks ago. This is the actual number of the Gaza population
per United Nations statistics.
This miserable legacy of Palestinian factionalism can be
seen against the backdrop of a slowly brewing movement in
Israeli jails. Palestinian political prisoners continue to
place their faith in their own ability to endure hunger,
gaining international solidarity with their cause. Samer
Issawi, a Palestinian prisoner who as of January 10
completed 168 days of a hunger strike in protest of his
unlawful detention by Israel, is hardly a unique phenomenon.
He is an expression of the very much present but snubbed
Palestinian collective, whose fate doesn't fall into the
political agenda of any faction.
Issawi is one of seven brothers, six of whom spent time in
Israeli prisons for their political beliefs. One of the
brothers, Fadi, was killed by Israeli soldiers in 1994, a
few days after celebrating his 16th birthday. Even their
sister, Shireen, was arrested by Israeli soldiers during a
hearing concerning her brother Samer on December 18. On that
day, "Samer was publicly beaten in the Jerusalem Magistrates
Court after he tried to greet his family," reported the
Palestine Monitor. "He was dragged from his wheelchair and
carried away, repeatedly crying out as he was hit on his
chest by the guards around him."
The Issawi family and the entire neighborhood of Issawiya in
East Jerusalem is now a target for the Israeli army and
police. The aim is to break the will of a single man who at
present is incapable of standing on his own feet. It may be
legendary, but Samer Issawi's will of steel is not an alien
notion for Palestinians. According to the Adameer Prisoner
Support and Human Rights Association, over 650,000
Palestinians have been detained by the Israeli military and
police since its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank
and Gaza in 1967.
"Considering the fact that the majority of those detained
are male, the number of Palestinians detained forms
approximately 40% of the total male Palestinian population
in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories]," the
organization wrote in a June 2012 fact-sheet. But
Palestinian resistance is yet to be quelled.
"It is estimated that around 10,000 Palestinian women have
been arrested by Israel since 1967. They include young girls
and the elderly; some ... were the mothers of male long-term
prisoners," wrote Nabil Sahli in January in the Middle East
Monitor. The author has also called for an
internationalization of the prisoners issue.
In a special session held on January 6 to discuss the plight
of Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, the Arab
League echoed similar demands. In a statement it called for
the treatment of detainees as "prisoners of war" and called
for active international efforts to secure their release.
However, serious efforts on the issue seem absent despite
the repeated cries for attention by Palestinian prisoners.
On April 17, 2012, at least 1,200 prisoners participated in
a hunger strike to alert the world of their plight and
maltreatment in Israeli jails. Despite the fact that the
collective strike ended on May 14, Palestinian prisoners
continue to stage hunger strikes of their own, breaking
records of steadfastness unprecedented not just in
Palestine, but the world over.
While calls for a change of tactics are warranted, if not
urgent, there is another pressing change that must also be
realized. There ought to be a change of Palestinian
political culture, away from the repellent factional
manipulation and towards a return to the basic values of the
Palestinian struggle. It is the likes of Issawi, not Abbas
that must define the new era of Palestinian resistance.
An Intifada has already been launched by thousands of
Palestinian prisoners, some of whom are shackled to their
hospital beds. It offers little in the way of perks aside
from a chance at dignity and a leap of faith towards
freedom. This is the dichotomy with which Palestinians must
now wrangle. The path they will finally seek shall define
this generation and demarcate the nature of the Palestinian
struggle for generations to follow.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally
syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father
was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).
(Copyright 2013 Ramzy Baroud)
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