2016: A Year of Struggle for Palestinian Freedom

At the end of 2016, approximately 7,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails. 700 of them are held without charge or trial under administrative detention, and nearly 400 of them are children. Palestinian prisoners are engaged in daily confrontations – for freedom, against repression, medical neglect and isolation. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network is dedicated to building a strong movement in solidarity with the Palestinian political prisoners – the imprisoned leaders of the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom. Below are some of the major events in the prisoners’ struggle in 2016; we invite you to join us to make 2017 a year for Palestinian freedom.

1. G4S pulls out of most Israeli operations after massive BDS campaign

Under heavy pressure from a growing international movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, massive multinational security corporation G4S finally sold off its Israeli subsidiary in early December 2016. G4S had earlier announced it planned to exit the market, widely attributed to the damage to its reputation caused by its contracts with the Israel Prison Service and related state security agencies. The announcement came as, first and foremost, for the Palestinian prisoners’ movement, whose hunger strikes and other collective struggles inspired years of boycotts and divestments in solidarity. Palestinian political prisoners had issued a statement urging escalation of the boycott campaign. During the campaign, G4S has lost contracts in the Arab region, South Africa, Latin America, Europe, the United States and elsewhere as a result of its involvement in the imprisonment of Palestinians. G4S is also a target for global campaigning because of the corporation’s involvement with youth incarceration and migrant detention in the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. Organizations like Columbia Prison Divest, the Afrikan Black Coalition at the University of California, and Black Students United at Cornell University have played leading roles in building university and community boycott and divestment campaigns against G4S as a part of the prison-industrial complex. Read more about this important achievement…

2. Bilal Kayed wins his liberation, inspires broad international movement

Palestinian prisoners’ movement leader and long-term hunger striker Bilal Kayed won his freedom on 12 December after 15 years in Israeli prison. Scheduled for release on 13 June after completing his 14.5-year sentence for involvement with the Palestinian resistance through the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the second Intifada, Kayed was instead ordered to six months in administrative detention without charge or trial, indefinitely renewable. During his time in prison, he became  a leader of the prisoners’ struggle. He played a leading role in organizing collective hunger strikes and other protests, and was elected to coordinate with representatives of other Palestinian political movements in collective strikes like the 2012 Karameh hunger strike. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners across political lines joined his hunger strike inside Israeli jails. Kayed became an internationally-known figure during his hunger strike as dozens of cities around the world held events and rallies for his release and thousands of supporters signed petitions and wrote letters demanding his freedom Thousands marched and joined actions and events in the US, Canada, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, South Africa and elsewhere to demand Kayed’s freedom. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network coordinated numerous events around the world to demand Kayed’s release, including a delegation of European lawyers and parliamentarians who traveled to Palestine to support his strike. Read more about this important case…

3. International struggle brings movements together

G4S wasn’t only known for its role in contracting with the Israel Prison Service to repress and violate Palestinian rights. The corporation was also involved in providing private security to the Dakota Access Pipeline and its attempt to break the protest of indigenous resisters at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Throughout 2016, collective struggles against settler colonialism, racism and imperialism drew movements together to resist occupation and colonial oppression. .G4S was highlighted in the Black4Palestine statement as a key target of joint struggle, and is part of the system of deportation and detention that terrorizes migrant families in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. At Standing Rock, G4S was part of the array of private security corporations working for the Dakota Access Pipeline against the indigenous protest of water protectors that has drawn widespread solidarity and international support. Black Lives Matter activists in New York City organized protests for slain Palestinian Nadim Nuwara, while Samidoun activists have been involved in launching new Black-Palestinian solidarity campaigns. As we move into 2017, the deepening of ties between liberation movements is critical for progress.

4. The Battle of Empty Stomachs: Mohammed al-Qeeq, Hunger Strikes and the Struggle to End Administrative Detention

The Palestinian prisoners’ movement has long demanded an end to the practice of administrative detention, brought to Palestine under the British colonial mandate and continuing today under Israeli settler-colonialism, imprisoning hundreds of Palestinians each year without charge or trial. The hunger strike has long been a method of struggle used by Palestinian prisoners, going back decades. In recent years, hunger strikes have repeatedly drawn world attention to the struggle of Palestinians for freedom – particularly those in administrative detention. 2016 kicked off with a victory for imprisoned Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq following a three-month hunger strike. Al-Qeeq had been held in administrative detention without charge or trial, and engaged in a 94-day hunger strike demanding his release. His strike drew widespread Palestinian and international attention, and highlighted the issue of administrative detention and the imprisonment of Palestinian journalists. Al-Qeeq was among 62 Palestinians to conduct long-term hunger strikes this year, mostly against their administrative detention without charge or trial. Ahmad Abu Fara and Anas Shadid just concluded their own strikes, while Mohammed Alaqima launched his only days ago. There are currently over 700 Palestinians held without charge or trial under indefinitely-renewable administrative detention, out of 7000 total Palestinian political prisoners. Read more about Mohammed al-Qeeq and Palestinian hunger strikes.

5. Ahmad Manasrah and the Persecution of Palestinian Children

Hundreds of Palestinian children were seized, imprisoned and interrogated in 2016, facing violent nighttime military arrest raids, separation from their parents, abusive interrogations and physical and psychological violence at the hands of occupation forces. The case of Ahmad Manasrah drew significant international attention – a 13-year-old boy, videotaped severely injured and bleeding as settlers demand his death, undergoing abusive interrogation, and charged with a stabbing attack. Despite international calls for Manarah’s freedom, Manasrah, 14, was sentenced in Israeli courts to 12 years in Israeli prison as well as fines of 180,000 NIS ($47,200 USD). Palestinian lawyer Jamil Saadeh noted upon Ahmad’s conviction in May that “the occupation deliberately kept the child Ahmad Manasrah imprisoned inside a reform center until he reached the legal age for full sentencing under Israeli law, which is the age of 14 years…The court did not take into account what he suffered from the moment of his detention, being wounded, assaulted and cursed, treated inside the hospital as a threat, and screamed at during interrogation by the officers, all of which is documented on video and condemns the occupation.” His case stands an example of the massive sentences being meted out to Palestinian kids, especially Jerusalemites. Palestinian girl Nurhan Awad, 16, was sentenced to 13 1/2 years in Israeli prison; Muawiya Alqam, 14, was sentenced to six and 1/2 years in Israeli prison; and Munther Abu Mayalah, 15, and Mohammed Taha, 16, were sentenced to 11 years. Jerusalemite children, including Nurhan, Muawiya, Munther, and Mohammed, have been particularly subject to these extremely high sentences. In “security” cases, Palestinian children do not receive reduced sentences despite their juvenile ages. For any conviction on a charge that carries a maximum sentence exceeding six months, children 14 and older receive sentences equal to those of adults. Read more about Palestinian child prisoners. 

6. The Growing Campaign to Free Georges Ibrahim Abdallah

Events and actions convened around the world on 15-22 October in an international week of action to demand freedom for Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, the imprisoned Lebanese Communist struggler for Palestine held in French jails for 32 years. Centered in a large demonstration in Lannemezan, France outside the prison where Abdallah is held marking the 32nd anniversary of his arrest, events took place in multiple international cities and locations as well as in many places throughout France. Throughout his time in prison, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah has remained politically active and, indeed, a leader, extending solidarity and full support to struggling prisoners and peoples’ movements around the world. He and fellow prisoners – Basque and Arab, among others – in Lannemezan prison returned their meals in solidarity with Palestinian hunger striker Bilal Kayed, and he has previously participated in hunger strikes in solidarity with Palestinian individual and collective strikes for justice and freedom. He recently expressed his solidarity with Toulouse BDS activists under attack and has constantly remained an active thinker on Arab, Palestinian and international liberation struggles. In 2017, let it be a year of freedom for Georges Abdallah, imprisoned for 32 years. Read more…

7. Ongoing Attacks on Palestinian Journalists, Writers, Students and Human Rights Defenders

Hundreds of Palestinians have also been arrested by Israeli occupation forces and accused of “incitement” for posting on Facebook. The “evidence” introduced into military court in order to convict these Palestinians include the number of “likes” and “shares” a post receives. Targets of prosecutions for Facebook posts include journalists Samah Dweik and Sami al-Saee, professor Imad Barghouthi and poet Dareen Tatour. Meanwhile, journalists like Omar Nazzal, member of the General Secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists’ Union, have had administrative detention orders repeatedly renewed against them. Nazzal was seized by occupation forces as he headed to the European Federation of Journalists’ conference in Sarajevo in April 2016. Journalists and human rights defenders like Hasan Safadi, the Arabic media coordinator for Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association have also been repeatedly detained without charge or trial. Multiple journalists from Sanabel Radio station have been imprisoned for months and their station shut down. At the same time, prominent activists like Salah Khawaja, of the Stop the Wall Campaign and the BDS movement, are being targeted for persecution. Read more about attacks on journalists, students and human rights defenders.

8. Rasmea Odeh Wins New Trial, Hit With New Attacks

Former Palestinian political prisoner and torture survivor Rasmea Odeh has become an icon to generations of Palestinians and their supporters. After surviving vicious sexual, physical and psychological torture under interrogation and ten years in Israeli prisons, Rasmea came to Chicago where she has become a leader of the Arab Womens’ Committee and the Arab American Action Network. Last year, Rasmea was sentenced to 18 months in prison and deportation after being convicted in 2014 of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, a politically-motivated immigration charge, for failing to disclose on applications for U.S. citizenship that she had been arrested decades earlier in Palestine by Israeli authorities. In February 2016, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Judge Drain, saying he had wrongfully barred the testimony of a torture expert that was critical to the defense. Rasmea won a new trial in December of this year – now set to begin on 17 May – only to face a new attack as prosecutor Barbara McQuade filed a new, politically-motivated indictment against Rasmea, on the same charges. Supporters are mobilizing for the struggle to come to win justice and freedom for Rasmea Odeh.

9. Justice for Omar: The Struggle and Death of Omar Nayef Zayed

Rasmea Odeh is not the only former Palestinian prisoner to face ongoing persecution outside Palestine this year. Omar Nayef Zayed, 52, was a former Palestinian prisoner who was imprisoned in 1986, as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, accused with his brother Hamza and Samer Mahroum of being part of an attack on an Israeli extremist settler in Jerusalem. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he escaped in 1990 after a 40-day hunger strike. After traveling in the Arab world for 4 years, he arrived in Bulgaria in 1994. Nayef Zayed was married to Rania, a Palestinian Bulgarian; they had three children. He owned a grocery store and was a leader in Sofia’s Palestinian community. In December 2015, the Israeli embassy in Sofia sought Nayef Zayed’s extradition, demanding his arrest. He took sanctuary in the Palestinian embassy in Sofia while engaged in a campaign against the extradition demand. Samidoun organized an international campaign against the extradition of Nayef Zayed, with lobbying meetings, legal support, and international protests. Throughout this time, he was constantly subject to pressure by PA representatives to leave the embassy. On 26 February, Nayef Zayed’s body was found on the ground of the garden of the embassy; he had fallen from the top story of the building. Since that time, his family and comrades have been engaged in ongoing struggle to hold those responsible for Nayef Zayed’s death accountable and uncover the truth. Read more about the campaign for Justice for Omar.

10. Fighting Corporate Complicity: The Campaign to Boycott HP

Through a massive international campaign over the years, boycott activists were able to secure G4S’ sale of the majority of its Israeli interests. The last week of November saw a growing international focus on a boycott campaign against computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard, or HP. Samidoun’s involvement in the campaign highlights HP’s role in providing servers and management systems to the Israel Prison Service that imprisons over 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners. Hewlett Packard is also involved in providing imaging equipment for Israeli checkpoints and ID cards, enabling the siege of Gaza, providing services to Israeli settlements, and supporting other occupation infrastructure. Over 99 protests around the world were organized between 25 November and 3 December demanding a boycott of HP and an end to HP’s involvement in deportations, incarceration and oppression in Palestine, the United States and around the world. These protests were organized in response to a call from the International Boycott HP Coalition and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). Read more and join the campaign against HP’s profiteering from the oppression of Palestinians.

Moving into 2017….A Year for Palestinian Freedom

Let’s begin 2017 with some critically important campaigns for Palestinian prisoners of freedom. Take action now:

1. Join the Days of Action to Free Ahmad Sa’adat and all Palestinian Prisoners, January 13-15, 2017

2. Take Action to Call for Commutations for the Holy Land Five

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network is engaged in a wide range of international action and advocacy efforts to demand freedom for Palestinian political prisoners – and all of occupied Palestine. We work to demand freedom for all prisoners of occupation, colonialism and imperialism, and to build connections between liberation movements in our struggles for freedom. With our local chapters and partner groups around the world, Samidoun has organized dozens of demonstrations, educational events, and actions highlighting the demands of Palestinian political prisoners, including weekly protests in New York City. We’ve met with and worked with parliamentarians and popular movements to press for change, action and boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel for its imprisonment of Palestinians. We’re planning to escalate the struggle in 2017, to support the Palestinian prisoners – and the Palestinian people – on the front lines of resistance; and we invite you to join us and get involved. Let’s work together to make 2017 a year of Palestinian freedom! 

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network

C. Kistler

Also editor of Nouvelle Turquie.