The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 12: Ramallah

On Monday, January 20, we were in Ramallah. It was one of our busiest meeting days.

Addameer
Our meetings began with Sahar Francis, director and attorney of Addameer: Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.

The historical situation of Palestinian political prisoners is the historical situation of Palestine’s conflict with Israel and the creation of “refugees” and “terrorists.”
  • the 1948-49 war between Israel and various Arab countries that resulted in Israel assertions of statehood not only within the 1947 UN recommended boundary but the West Bank and Gaza. Over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced into refugee status within their own and neighboring regions.
  • the Six Day War of 1967 (June 5 to 10) between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Israel won through a decisive military campaign and further annexed the West Bank, Gaza, parts of the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights.
  • The First Intifada (intifada is Arabic for shaking off) that began in the West Bank and Gaza during December 1987. Some say it ended with the Madrid Conference in October 1991 and others with the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995. It started through many different acts of civil disobedience (strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, refusal to pay taxes, graffiti, underground schools) but moved into armed forms of resistance (stone throwing, barricades).
  • The Second Intifada began in September 2000 with the perceived failures of the Oslo Accords and lasted through February 2005. It involved primarily armed resistance which was met with severe military force.
 As reported by Electronic Intifada:
Palestinian stone-throwers were met with Israeli snipers; gunmen, with helicopter gunships and tanks. What began as a popular protest movement quickly began to look like a war. “When the soldiers began to fire on the crowds, people knew that their role was finished and participation quickly declined. It was a war,” said Kamel Jaber, a member of the political wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in an interview in 2003…. Demonstrations were being met with overwhelming force by Israel and it made popular protest impossible. In February 2001, the Israeli public backed the strategy when General Sharon was elected prime minister.
  • Of those killed in the conflict, 4,228 have been Palestinians, 1,024 Israelis, and 63 foreign citizens. For every person killed, approximately seven were also injured.
  • … the total number of Israelis, both civilians and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) combatants, killed by Palestinian armed groups and individuals, is declining.


  • In contrast the total number of Palestinians, both civilians and combatants killed by the Israeli security forces or Israeli individuals, remains relatively high. In 2007, for example, for every one Israeli death there were 25 Palestinian deaths compared to 2002 when the ratio was 1:2.


  • The overwhelming majority of those killed have been men: for Israelis, including IDF personnel, 69% were men, for Palestinians 94% were men. 
Since 1948, Israel has detained, arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned thousands of political prisoners in the name of “national security.” The Israeli prison system as an apparatus of the occupation and a key tool in suppressing Palestinian resistance.
Francis and others at Addameer spoke with us about the 5,033 political prisoners, 173 of whom are under the age of 16, who are serving extended sentences related to their resistance to the occupation.
Type of Prisoner Number of Prisoners
Total Number of Political Prisoners 5033
Administrative Detainees 145 (10 PLC members)
Female prisoners 16
Child prisoners 173 (16 under 16)
Palestinian Legislative Council members 14
East Jerusalem prisoners 169
1948 Territories prisoners 216
Gaza prisoners 395
Prisoners serving life sentences 494
Prisoners serving a sentence above 20 years 445
Prisoners serving more than 25 years 16
Prisoners serving more than 20 years 48
Prisoners before Oslo 53

In order to keep them imprisoned, in violation of international accord, Israel constantly changes military orders, transfers prisoners between facilities, and uses torture in an attempt to secure their consent on severely restrictive terms of release.

Addameer was founded in 1991 to address these situations and to support prisoner families with legal and other aid. They work as well to document torture, abuse, harassment, and legal violations. They track complaints against soldiers (none of whom have ever faced charges).

They also discussed with us the failures of the Oslo Accords for nullifying Palestinian criminal jurisdiction and allowing for Israeli military law and courts to expand operations.

Addameer, as so many other human rights groups in Palestine, has experienced harassment. Their offices were raided in December 2012 and all computers and files confiscated. Their travel and research is greatly restricted and their finances closely monitored.

BDS/Stop the Wall

Our next meeting was with Omar Barghouti (a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeland Jamel Juma (coordinator of Stop The Wall Campaign).

Barghouti discussed PACBI’s a call in 2005 for support on three demands: 1) an end to the occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza; 2) an end of racial discrimination and segregation against Palestinians; 3) an affirmation of Palestinian right of return (as a result of the conflicts over fifty percent of Palestinians are now in exile as refugees). The specific tactics used to achieve these goals are negotiable and context-specific, but the three goals are non-negotiable.

Barghouti, and Juma agreed, also said that the American Studies Association membership resolution in support of BDS was a “game changer,” shifting the terms of international discourse in a way that is allowing for critical address of Israel’s violations of international law and human rights as never before.

Juma discussed the many successes that BDS has had, particularly in Europe (see Who Profits). He also addressed the various labor organizing efforts within Palestine that have linked worker’s rights to safety and fair pay demands to the structure and profits of the occupation. Agriculture, construction, clothes factories, and communication’s industries have brought into focus the way the occupation has stolen Palestinian land and water and indentured Palestinian workers as a form of suppressing Palestinian political resistance.

The Society of Inash Al Usra El-Usra

We then met with many of the women at the Society of Inash Al Usra El-Usra, which was established as a non-governmental organization in 1965 and works to empower Palestinian women through cultural practice and child care: “to provide women tools to facilitate their being able to change their own realities.”

The women that we met with, including founding leaders and members, talked with us about their work at the embroidery center, the museum, cooking classes, a salon, an orphanage, and shelters for abused women. They also have a radio show, library, journal, and do archival work. They talked about their goals to care for women, support themselves economically, care for their children, and provide a focus and space for their cultural heritage. The society provides education and training to women, including grants to go to college and trade schools.

One of the women discussed their advocacy against the international adoption of Palestinian children, emphasizing the importance of keeping their children in Palestine.

They hoped that we, as a delegation, would use the information we learn to change the representation of Palestinian women in the United States–to respect women’s rights as human rights and to end Israel’s occupation.
Popular Art Center

We then met with Iman Hamoury, director of the Popular Art Center.

PAC works to strengthen the cultural identity and history of Palestinians against the concerted efforts of Israel to criminalize and racialize Palestinians. It accomplishes this work through dance troupes, musical groups, playwriting, storytelling, festivals, and archival work.

The importance of cultural identity and expression as a tool of social change is not lost on Israel. Israel has imposed severe restrictions on PAC travels and events through checkpoints, curfews, detentions, and arrests. Dance gear and musical instruments have been confiscated and destroyed. PAC has been raided and materials taken. Artists, musicians, and dancers have been arrested for their work/performances, sometimes even for carrying recordings and writings with them.
alQaws

We met with one of the leaders of alQaws, a group that works on queer rights in the 48 territories.

S/he spoke with us about the links between sexuality and the occupation, including the need of queers to engage the boycott and oppose the occupation but also their need to connect with international movements working on human rights issues.

alQaws projects include Singing Sexuality, a group that connects culturally historical and contemporary songs to build community. Other projects include a hot line, support groups, and an annual retreat. Between 200 and 250 people participate. The focus of their work, on the whole, is on local issues and organizing, on their sex and love lives.

S/he also spoke with us about the occupation and Israeli pinkwashing, being particularly critical of the use of queer suffering under the occupation to rebrand Israel as progressive and Arabs and homophobic. S/he addressed the reality of queer homelessness, unemployment, harassment, and violence but as well the work they do to reconnect with their families.
Sam

Our final meeting was with a local Palestinian-American businessman who now lives in Ramallah. One of the best stories he told was about the response of the Tel Aviv business community to the wave of recent academic associations endorsements of BDS, including the Asian American Studies Association, the American Studies Association, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. Apparently, a number of “the 1%” signed a letter to Israel’s prime minister telling him that these endorsements made it imperative that Israel reach a settlement with Palestine or they would surely face a much broader boycott and so economic collapse.
References/Resources

The Palestine Monitor: http://www.palestinemonitor.org
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