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Fighting with Pinpricks: In the penal colony

Published: October 26, 2007
Section: Opinions


Early on Monday morning, officers at the Ketziot Prison in the Negev decided to conduct a surprise search for contraband. Such searches are common during the daytime, but the unexpected search in the middle of the night startled and angered the 2,000 Palestinian prisoners some of whom who screamed Allah Akbar and pelted their guardsmembers of the prison services Nahshon security forcewith food, stones, pieces of metal, and whatever else they could find. In an outrageously heavy handed response, the officers stormed the prisoners firing rubber bullets, sonic bombs, and teargas. According to Palestinian human rights activists, the Israelis also assaulted the prisoners with truncheons.

One man, the 26 year old Muhammed Asahqar, was clinically dead by the time he arrived at a nearby hospital. 15 guards were injured during the riot. According to the Israelis, 15 inmates were injured as well, although Palestinian sources put that number in the hundreds. The facts of the riot are difficult to ascertain since the Israeli government wont allow journalists to photograph the damage nor have they allowed the Red Cross investigate the incident.

Whatever the actual number of casualties, the riot highlights the appalling conditions of the over 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Since the occupation began in 1967, well over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained in Israeli prisons. In contrast to Israeli prisoners, most of these Palestinian prisoners are not allowed to use the telephone. They are counted three times a day and are subject to constant searches by authorities. Political leaders in the prisons are punished, isolated, and not allowed to receive visitors. Even worse, the non-governmental prisoners rights organization Addameer reports that inmates are subject to harsh beatings during special searches by outside military units. Knowing all this, the riot is hardly surprising. It is only the most recent example of Palestinian people so thoroughly robbed of their dignity by an oppressive authority that they are willing to risk their lives in an act of resistance.

The riot also put Fatah in a tough spot. Theyve been inching closer to the Israel and the U.S. ever since Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006. As Fatah increasingly becomes the Wests puppet in Palestine, their support among their own population declines. In order to maintain their credibility with the Palestinian populace, a Fatah spokesman called the prisoners heroic and condemned Israelis barbarian aggression. At the same time, when hundreds of people took to the streets in Hebron to protest the Israeli action, security officials loyal to Fatah showed their true allegiances by forcibly dispersing the demonstrators.

None of this is good news for the U.S. backed peace negotiations scheduled for next month. The Israelis will negotiate only with Fatah, while Hamas (for whom the plurality of Palestinians voted in the last elections) will be shut out of the process. This, combined with the uneasy political climate emerging in the wake of the riot, ensures that these negotiations will not succeed.