Month: April 2017

Why we are on hunger strike in Israel’s prisons

barghouti wall 2By MARWAN BARGHOUTI

APRIL 16, 2017

from the New York Times

HADARIM PRISON, Israel — Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.

Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.

Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions. It has committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people; the prisoners, including men, women and children, are no exception.

I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.

A few years later, I was again in an Israeli prison, leading a hunger strike, when my first son was born. Instead of the sweets we usually distribute to celebrate such news, I handed out salt to the other prisoners. When he was barely 18, he in turn was arrested and spent four years in Israeli prisons.

The eldest of my four children is now a man of 31. Yet here I still am, pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world. What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.

Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.

Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel’s policy of imposing collective punishments.

Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses.

Over the past five decades, according to the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel — equivalent to about 40 percent of the Palestinian territory’s male population. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.

How to account for this unbelievable state of affairs?

Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent.

Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.

Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.

The Israeli authorities and its prison service have turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including those painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges they decide to grant us or deprive us of. Israel has tried to brand us all as terrorists to legitimize its violations, including mass arbitrary arrests, torture, punitive measures and severe restrictions. As part of Israel’s effort to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers.

Israel is not the first occupying or colonial power to resort to such expedients. Every national liberation movement in history can recall similar practices. This is why so many people who have fought against oppression, colonialism and apartheid stand with us. The International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners that the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada and my wife, Fadwa, inaugurated in 2013 from Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island has enjoyed the support of eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, 120 governments and hundreds of leaders, parliamentarians, artists and academics around the world.

Their solidarity exposes Israel’s moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace.

Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian

 

Barghouthi prepares for hunger strike over prison conditions

Israel’s brutal treatment of its 6,000 Palestinian conflict prisoners – largely ignored by the media – will be forced into the headlines by Marwan Barghouthi’s threat to go on hunger strike on Easter Monday if the prisoners’ demands are not met.

Marwan Barghouthi (right) was the general secretary of Fatah during the second intifada when he was abducted from the streets of Ramallah obarghouthin April 15 2002 by Israeli secret servicemen and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Israeli court.

He remains the most popular politician in Palestine according to the opinion polls despite spending the last 15 years in jail.

He has been wary of using the weapon of hunger strikes in the past, but now feels the deterioration in the way Palestinian prisoners are treated leaves no option.

The prisoners’ first demand is the reinstatement of fortnightly visits from their families after they were reduced to just once a month.

Israeli prisons fail to provide adequate food and shelter for Palestinian prisoners forcing them to rely on food and clothing brought by relatives. As the Jerusalem-based civil rights organisation Addameer says: “The military prison authority provides detainees with basic food rations. The provided rations do not meet necessary daily requirements, both in terms of quality and nutritional value.”

Prisoners also want an end to solitary confinement and ‘administrative detention’ – effectively internment without charge or trial, plus a resumption of the Hebrew Open University program allowing Palestinian prisoners to access education and to take school exams while in prison.

Medical issues are also central to their demands. They call for the closure of Israel’s Ramla prison hospital where many Palestinians are treated, due to its “inadequacy in providing medical care,” and quick and urgent surgery when needed.

Barghouthi believes the Israeli government is using the distractions of Trump, Syria and the Fatah-Hamas conflict to engage in a one-sided war against Palestinian prisoners.  Despite attempts to dissuade him, Barghouthi, who is 57, believes he has a responsibility to resist repressive measures against those who have no protection. Hundreds of prisoners will join the hunger strike alongside him.

According to the latest figures from the Israeli Prison Service, there were 5,988 Palestinian conflict prisoners in Israeli jails in August 2016, including 644 jailed without charge, 335 under 18, 57 women and two under the age of 14.  Some have been in prison more than 30 years.

Read Foreign Office questions

Foreign Office questions, House of Commons, March 28 2017

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) What representations he has made to the Israeli Government on that country’s ban on visitors who have advocated boycotts of Israeli settlement goods.

Secretary of State Boris Johnson: The British deputy ambassador met Israel’s Europe director on 13 March to discuss the new immigration rules, and we continue to push for clarification from Israel on the impact on UK nationals. We have updated our travel advice for Israel.

Andy Slaughter: UK citizens such as Hugh Lanning, the chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, have already been refused entry because of this ban, which has been widely condemned, including within Israel itself. The advice on the Foreign Office’s website says that people should contact the Israeli embassy. Should not the Foreign Secretary be contacting the Israeli embassy to say that people should not be restricted from travel to Israel and Palestine simply because they wish to enforce international law due to the ban on goods from settlements?

Boris Johnson: We have of course offered to provide consular assistance to Mr Lanning. He did not in fact request our support, nor did he seem to need it. Israel’s immigration policy is a matter for Israel. We firmly oppose boycotts—the boycott, divestment and sanctions approach—against Israel, as I am sure that he does too, although clearly it is a two-way street.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary says that he is seeking clarification from the Government of Israel. What questions is he actually asking them? In particular, has he asked what kind of activity would lead to someone being denied entry, particularly given that the Foreign Office’s own website discourages financial and commercial dealings with settlements? Is he saying that someone who advocates that is likely to be denied entry to Israel? Has he asked that question?

Boris Johnson: We are of course seeking clarity about exactly how the law would be applied in practice, although, as he will appreciate, the Israeli Government, like our Government, already have very wide discretion about how to apply their immigration laws.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): What is our policy on goods and services produced in the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories?

Boris Johnson: Our policy is that consumers should have the right to judge for themselves whether they wish to purchase them. That is a policy that this Government have pursued for many years.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): A Foreign Office Minister has previously described the situation in Hebron as apartheid and settlement endorsement as a form of extremism. Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Deputy Foreign Secretary Sir Alan Duncan would fall foul of the new law if he attempted to travel there?

Boris Johnson: I do not believe he has said anything of the kind or called for any such boycott, and nor do I believe for a second that he would be interrupted if he chose to go to Israel. I must stress that the policy of the Government is unchanged. We remain opposed to illegal settlements and we believe that they are an obstacle to peace. I have said that many times already in this House, but I am happy to repeat it to her.

Mrs Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): The main aim of the boycott movement is to delegitimise the state of Israel, so will the Government continue to strongly oppose it?

Boris Johnson: We certainly shall.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Has the Foreign Secretary had any indication that such a ban might be extended to those who advocate a ban on goods from the occupied Golan Heights? Does he agree that the UK Government’s refusal to support a resolution at the UNHRC condemning the occupation of the Golan Heights increases that likelihood?

Boris Johnson: With great respect to him, I have made very clear what I thought was the profound absurdity of denouncing Israeli conduct in that region at a time when we are seeing absolute barbarism conducted by the Assad regime against the people of Syria.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab): Many  Members on both sides of the House have called for a ban on goods produced in the illegal settlements on the West Bank. Does the Foreign Secretary think that those Members should be banned from travelling to Israel?

Boris Johnson: I am sure that  Members who wish to travel to Israel will have absolutely no difficulties, but it remains up to the Israeli immigration authorities to decide whom they choose to admit.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): I want to go back to that meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last Friday and the rather petulant tirade by the British mission, which ended with the threat to “adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied…Palestinian Territories.”  Will the Secretary of State make it clear that it continues to be Her Majesty’s Government’s policy to oppose illegal settlements in the West Bank?

Boris Johnson: Yes.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): Will the UK Government make representations to the Israeli Government, as we have seen an increase in demolitions, including of donor-funded structures; the land regularisation Bill; the possibility of construction in [planning] area E1 [in the West Bank east of Jerusalem]; and the travel bans imposed by the Israeli Government. If the UK is really committed to doing all it can to achieve a two-state solution, is it not time to recognise Palestine, before it is too late?

Boris Johnson: Both the Prime Minister and I have raised this issue specifically with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we will continue to do so. We are opposed to such demolitions and we continue to believe that continued illegal settlements are an obstruction to peace.

FCO promises to vote against its own policies on Palestine

Foreign Office questions, House of Commons, March 28 2017

The Foreign Office has issued a threat to vote against its own policies on Israel’s occupation of Palestine if the United Nations Human Rights Council does not end its “disproportionate focus on Israel”.

It fired the first warning shot last week when the Council voted on a motion calling on Israel to freeze construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and on UN members to advise businesses of the legal and reputational risks of trading with illegal settlements.

Although both these points are already UK policy, and although all the other West European countries – Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Switzerland – voted in favour of the motion, the UK chose to abstain.

After the vote the UK Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, issued an unusually strongly-worded attack on the UN’s “bias against Israel” ending with the threat that: “If there is no change, in the future we will adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian and Syrian Territories”.

This was raised at Foreign Office questions by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake and SNP MP Tommy Sheppard (right), who asked for a reassurance – after the “petulant tirade” from the UK Mission – that the UK was still opposed to illegal settlements.

Although the threat appeared In the official “Explanation of Voting” issued at the end of the debate by the UK Mission, some find it difficult to believe the Foreign Office would have allowed this threat to be made if it had not come from the Foreign Secretary himself.

One paragraph in particular departs sharply from the usual studiously even-handed approach of the Foreign Office: “We must recognise the continuing terrorism, incitement and violence that Israel faces. According to the Quartet’s report last year, there were 250 terrorist attacks, leading to the deaths of at least 30 Israelis. Renewed Hamas efforts to rebuild their tunnels are a grave concern. The scourge of anti-Semitic incitement and glorification of terrorism continue. And for as long as terrorists are treated as martyrs, peace will prove distant.”

In this one paragraph five one-sided accusations are made:

  1. “We must recognise the continuing terrorism, incitement and violence that Israel faces.” No mention is made of terrorism, incitement or violence faced by Palestinians, either from settlers or the Israeli army or the Israeli authorities.
  2. “According to the Quartet’s report last year, there were 250 terrorist attacks, leading to the deaths of at least 30 Israelis.” No mention is made of 247 Palestinians killed by Israelis in the same period.
  3. “Renewed Hamas efforts to rebuild their tunnels are a grave concern.” This fact is only relevant if it is assumed that Hamas is always the sole aggressor. No mention is made of arms Israel is stockpiling for future assaults on Gaza.
  4. “The scourge of anti-Semitic incitement and glorification of terrorism continue.” By use of the word ‘anti-Semitic’ the assumption is made that all incitement and terrorism is directed against Jewish people or Israel and none against Palestinian people or Arabs.
  5. “And for as long as terrorists are treated as martyrs, peace will prove distant.” (This appears to be directed against Palestinians, but in fact scores of streets in Israel are named after members of the Jewish militias who carried out terrorist attacks on the British and on Palestinians.)

This is bound to feed the suspicion that we are seeing a gradual unannounced reversal of the UK’s position, starting with the Prime Minister’s criticism of John Kerry’s speech in December, continuing with the boycott of the Paris peace conference – a calculated snub to the French government – and now a public disagreement with the German, Dutch, Belgians and even the Swiss, countries that have traditionally been far more reluctant to criticise Israel than the British.

This disagreement has not come over a matter of policy.  The ‘Explanation of Voting’ is full of reassurances that the UK’s policy has not changed: “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the international community in the conviction that a two-state solution is the only sustainable path for delivering justice and human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.

“The abstention should not be misconstrued. The trend of Israeli conduct in the Occupied Palestinian territories over the past year has been negative,” it says.

The issue is the Human Rights Council’s “disproportionate focus on Israel”.  It points out that human rights in Israel have been the subject of 68 of the 135 country-specific resolutions passed by Council since its inception.

The Council has spent so much time discussing human rights in Israel that they have given Israel a permanent slot on the agenda. Whatever else is happening in the world, Israel is always Agenda Item 7.

This is a reasonable complaint, but not a new one. The Council voted to make Israel agenda Item 7 in 2007 and it has been a contentious topic for the last ten years.  It is not something new that is causing the UK to reconsider its view about Israeli settlements.

Nor does the ‘Explanation of Voting’ say how it can be rational to vote against one’s own policy.   It will not bring any desirable goals closer. But it will push a number of desirable goals further away.

It will be seen as chasing a better trade deal with the Americans at the expense of the Palestinians. It reduces trust. It increases the frustration and anger in the Middle East.

The motion on which the UK abstained was passed by 36 votes to two.  Abstaining undermines our attempts to form a common position with other leading West European nations, especially France and Germany, which is essential if we are to help resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It leaves us in a very isolated position. It is not clear how that will benefit the UK.

RESULT OF MOTION ON ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS

YES (36) Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Tunisia, UAE, Venezuela

ABSTAIN (9) Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Panama, Paraguay, Rwanda, UK

NO (2) Togo, USA

Consumers have right to boycott Israeli settlement goods – Boris Johnson

Foreign Office questions, House of Commons, March 28 2017

Consumers have a right to decide for themselves whether or not to boycott Israeli goods.  That may sound like a statement of the obvious, but after the Israeli Knesset passed another anti-boycott law in March, it was reassuring to hear this from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Answering a question from Crispin Blunt (right), the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs bluntcommittee, about UK policy on buying goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, he said “consumers should have the right to judge for themselves whether they wish to purchase them”.

That needed saying after all the attempts to make it illegal to boycott settlement goods, not only in Israel, but even in the UK. Last year the Communities Department and the Cabinet Office tried to make it illegal for local authorities and public sector pension funds to adopt a policy of not buying from, or investing in illegal settlements.

On March 6 the Israeli Parliament has passed a law allowing the Border Police at Tel Aviv airport to refuse entry to foreign nationals if they – or an organisation they belong to – has publicly called for an end to trade with illegal settlements.

Since the Trade Union Congress has been calling for a ban on settlement goods since 2009, and the Co-op has banned settlement goods since 2013, and hundreds of other organisations have supported the ban, the new law puts millions of UK nationals at theoretical risk of being locked up and deported if they come to Tel Aviv airport.

Israeli border police already have the power to refuse entry without giving a reason and last year the Foreign Office was aware of 115 British nationals who were refused, 50 at Tel Aviv airport and 65 at the Jordanian border. There may have been many more.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock pointed out that MPs from all parties had called for a ban on goods produced in the illegal settlements on the West Bank and could be banned from travelling to Israel.

Andy Slaughter MPLabour MP Andy Slaughter (left) raised the case of Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who was detained when he arrived at the airport in March at the head of a trade union delegation to Palestine. 

SNP MP Margaret Ferrier asked whether the Deputy Foreign Secretary, Sir Alan Duncan, could fall foul of the new law because he once described people who support the illegal settlements as “extremists”.

Labour MP Richard Burden asked whether Foreign Office ministers could be questioned because their website discourages financial and commercial dealings with settlements.

Boris Johnson said he has been pushing for clarification on the impact of the new law on UK nationals, but added: “I am sure that Members [of Parliament] who wish to travel to Israel will have absolutely no difficulties.”

In relation to his deputy, Alan Duncan, he said: “I do not believe he has said anything of the kind or called for any such boycott, and nor do I believe for a second that he would be interrupted if he chose to go to Israel.”

He is right in that Sir Alan did not specifically refer to boycotts in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute in 2011. What he said was: “Anyone who supports illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is an extremist who puts themself outside the boundaries of democratic standards.

“They are not fit to stand for election or sit in a democratic parliament, and they should be condemned outright by the international community and treated accordingly.

“For too long we have been too submissive on the principle of illegal settlements, and it is high time we stopped being so, and reasserted clearly and without fear, exactly what is legally and morally right and what is legally and morally wrong.”