On the Prisoner Exchange Deal and the Palestinian Hunger Strike (September 2011)

Free ALL Palestinian Political Prisoners!

The racist Israeli media is jubilant. With the exception of some ultra-hardline Zionists who complain that any Palestinians were freed in exchange for Gilad Shalit, Zionist ideologues are today celebrating the “homecoming” of the soldier they refer to as “our child.” Meanwhile, Palestinians celebrate the release from Israeli prisons of 477 prisoners and the promised release of 550 more in two months’ time. At the same time, many question whether Hamas did not make too many compromises in their agreement to release Shalit.

Hamas fighters shocked the Zionists in 2006 with their raid on Israeli Defense Forces near the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Egypt. After killing two other Israeli soldiers and despite losing two of their own comrades, the Palestinian fighters succeeded in seizing Shalit from the tank he was commanding and since then Hamas has defeated every Israeli attempt to locate and free him. That Hamas could out-smart and out-fight the Zionists in this way for five years has been a humiliation for the Zionists, at least until now.

The exchange of over 1,000 Palestinians for Shalit would seem to be an unqualified victory for Hamas. For those Palestinian prisoners who will be freed, some of whom spent decades in jail, the achievement is extraordinary. But it must be recognized that a majority of the first 477 prisoners released have not in reality be freed, but have rather been released for deportation or transfer to other territories for a minimum of three years and, in many cases, permanently. In a further confirmation of how the Palestinian Authority acts as an extension of the Zionists’ apparatus of repression, some will merely by transferred to PA jails, where conditions can be just as bad for prisoners as Israel’s. And of course well over four thousand Palestinian political prisoners will remain in Israel’s jails, along with thousands more Palestinians who are not jailed for explicitly “political” crimes.

Importantly, the two most prominent Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails – elected Palestinian Legislative Council members and government ministers Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat – will remain in their cells:

Barghouti has been imprisoned by the Israelis since 2006 on charges that he directed suicide bombings inside Israel, this despite the fact that he has repeatedly denounced attacks against Israeli civilians. Elected to the Palestinian Parliament as a prominent member of Fatah, Barghouti had accepted the basic outlines of his party’s sellout to the Zionists by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, but he remains highly popular among many Palestinians for his support of their intifadas against the Zionists as well as for his criticisms of the corruption of other Fatah leaders. Indeed Barghouti’simprisonment has long been seen as a gift to Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas because he would surely be defeated by Barghouti in an election for Fatah’s leadership;

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat will also continue to be held in an Israeli prison. The Israelis first captured Sa’adat by raiding a PA prison in 2006, where he had already been held for four years without charge. For the last two years Sa’adat has been held in solitary confinement and only recently, on September 27, he began a complete hunger strike along with hundreds of other Palestinian prisoners (and over 3,000 more on partial hunger strike), demanding an end to the solitary confinement of prisoners, an end to the arbitrary denial of prisoners’ visitation rights, and an end to the abusive and humiliating treatment of Palestinians attempting to visit their incarcerated comrades. As we prepare to release this statement we have received an unofficial announcement that the prisoners have suspended their hunger strike after an agreement was reached to end their solitary confinement.

Of course, the struggle to free the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners who will remain in Israeli and Palestinian Authority prisons must continue. (For more information on the plight of Palestinian prisoners and campaigns for their rights and freedom, see the website of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association at http://addameer.info.)

The blood-soaked Zionist criminals who head the Israeli government are of course trying to use this prisoner exchange to claim that they are reasonable and caring people. No Palestinian will fall for such nonsense. Rather, the deal was forced on Netanyahu by mass struggle. To a small extent, the recent mass protests in Israel against high prices for housing and other necessities played a part; they left Netanyahu government weakened and desperate to improve on Israelis’ opinion of his government. But to a far greater extent, the release of the Palestinians from Israeli prisons has been won by both the continued courageous resistance of the Palestinian people, and the rising level of solidarity with them and struggle in the rest of the Arab world, particularly in neighboring Egypt.

The revolutionary uprisings by the Arab masses in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond has revived Palestinians’ desire for mass struggle after suffering years of defeat. Fear of a new intifada, and a desire to secure a division of power in a future government, prompted Fatah and Hamas to announce their unity government earlier this year. Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who is widely hated by Palestinians for his collaboration with Israel, then sought to win a little support among Palestinians with moves toward the largely symbolic victory of recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. Now Hamas, aware that Palestinians’ patience with its rule in Gaza is also wearing thin, have made a deal with Israel to deliver some real gains, like the return of some prisoners. Hamas too fears a new intifada and has made clear its desire to make peace with Israel and share power with Fatah in a future government on only a tiny fraction of the territory of Palestine.

Can it really be a coincidence that after the exchange of Palestinian political prisoners for Shalit, the two prisoners whom Israel, Fatah and Hamas could all fear for their ability to rally a struggle against the terms of a negotiated settlement with the Israelis – Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat – will remain in Israeli jails? Since the negotiations over the prisoner exchange have not been made public, it is impossible to know who demanded their continued incarceration, but all can be perceived to have an interest in it.

Taking into account all the compromises involved, there is still no denying that an extraordinary victory has surely been won for the Palestinian prisoners and their loved ones who have been freed, some of whom have been imprisoned since the 1980s! Palestinian militancy has been boosted. The weakness and retreat of the Zionist state has been confirmed. And Hamas has surely embarrassed its Fatah rivals, who have been unable to show the Palestinians anything after years of negotiations with Israel. But for the Palestinian masses, so much remains ahead and their crisis of political leadership remains. Both Fatah and Hamas want to secure their power over the Palestinian people by making a peace deal with Israel and merely disagree over how much to surrender in the process. The need for a new revolutionary leadership to emerge among Palestinians that offers a perspective of linking up with the masses’ revolutionary struggles in the rest of the Arab world is more desperately needed than ever.

Zionist Racism and the Prisoner Deal

It is indicative of the racism of the Israeli media and Israeli society in general, as well as the racism of the Western media, that unlike their attitude to the many thousands of Palestinian political prisoners,Shalit has been treated by them like a human being: he was given a name, had his story told, and his family were given a voice to describe their plight. The Palestinians slated for release, on the other hand, are simply referred to by their number. As anti-racists and anti-Zionists, we call attention to the list of Palestinian prisoners to be released in the deal that was first published by the Palestinian news agency Sama and later translated and published on the website of Al-Akhbar, as well as this table detailing the prisoners released on October 18 published by Jaddaliya. That we do not have the space to tell each individual’s story merely shows the utter lack of symmetry between the oppressive powers of the Zionist state and the Palestinian people it oppresses.

Whenever a Palestinian prisoner’s name is mentioned in the Israeli media, it is only to relate the (often exaggerated) story of the act she or he committed before being imprisoned. Often, the crime can be to merely be a member of some Palestinian organization, or even take part in some protest. These cases, of course, are not publicized by the Israeli media – even when those imprisoned are children. Indeed as we went on record as saying long ago: if the racism of Zionists, which accords Palestinian lives a mere fraction of the worth of the life of an Israeli Jew, can be used to free many more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, so be it.

In the eyes of most Israelis, Shalit is an innocent soldier who did his duty. They do not see that this so-called duty was a crime. We understand the pain that the Shalit family has felt. For years they could not hold their son, speak with him, or be sure that he is well. But we also understand the pain the families of the more than five thousand Palestinian political prisoners still held in Israeli jails. They cannot hold their children, speak with them, or be sure that they have not been tortured.

Many of the Palestinian prisoners being released from Israel’s jails have been charged with involvement in terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens. Like all genuine socialists, the ISL opposes acts of violence against civilians – including Israeli civilians. We do not support the actions of many who would be released in the deal. But their actions, as objectionable as they may be, pale in comparison to those committed by Israel. Only the racism of the Zionist press can condemn a man responsible for a bombing which kills several Israeli civilians, but praise Israeli soldiers, many of whom are directly responsible for the cold-blooded murder of dozens of civilians. The momentary, if terrible, terror that Israeli civilians feel after a bombing is an inescapable constant of Palestinian life.

Importantly, attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians do not just differ in terms of scale, but are conducted on different moral registers. Misguided acts of violence by Palestinians are a response to their oppression and cannot be legitimately compared to the coldly calculated acts of racist murder that the Israeli state perpetrates on a daily basis to defend their expropriation and domination of the Palestinians. Indeed we do not believe the Israeli state, an entirely illegitimate racist colonizing power, should have any right to judge Palestinians for anything and demand the release of all Palestinians from Israeli prisons regardless of the crimes they are charged with.

The Legal Basis for the Oppression of Prisoners

Israel’s so-called ‘Administrative Law’ has continued the practice of holding Palestinians for unspecified periods of time without charge. The Zionists have not spared even the children held in their prisons, who are often left traumatized as a result of their treatment.

The power to affect administrative detention was created at the time of the British Mandate by the Defense (Emergency) Regulations, 1945.

When Israel declared independence in 1948, a state of emergency was announced and the Defense Regulations became part of Israeli law. After the 1967 War, Israel has applied the defense regulations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. From the first year of occupation, Israel resorted to administrative laws to suppress any Palestinian resistance.

This is the same law the British colonialists used during the British mandate. Dov Joseph, the future Minister of Justice said before the Jewish Lawyers Association: “there is no guarantee to prevent a citizen from being imprisoned for life without trial. One does not actually have to commit an offense; it is enough for a decision to be made in some office for his fate to be sealed.” Yaacov Shapira, another future Minister of Justice, said: “the regulations led to a situation unparallel in any civilized country. Even in Nazi Germany there were not such laws”.

Only a Socialist Revolution Can Bring True Freedom

The Israeli state cannot and will not be able to destroy the will of the Palestinians to be free of oppression, no matter what kind of law it uses. The real criminals are not those who oppose occupation, repression, the stealing of land and the destruction of homes. The real criminal is the colonialist oppressor.

While we in the ISL oppose acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians, we do not recognize Israel’s right to judge and imprison the people whom it has been expropriating, oppressing and murdering for decades, no matter what they are accused of doing.

A mass movement to free the prisoners could pressure the Zionists and their PA tools to improve the conditions of the prisoners and even to release some more. But true freedom will be enjoyed by Palestinians only when they have their own state, from the river to the sea, free of racist oppression, where both Palestinians and Jews can live in peace and security, free from discrimination.

This state will never be created by either the collaborationist Fatah forces or Hamas, which has already signaled its willingness to compromise with Zionism, and which has already exposed its oppressive nature when it suppressed protests on Nakba and Naksa days, as well as solidarity actions with the uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere.

The only force which can truly win liberation for the Palestinians, as well as the rest of the peoples of the region, is the working class. This is clear when one considers that among all the uprisings in the region recently, the only ones that have been successful in toppling their dictators are those where the working class was overwhelmingly involved: Egypt and Tunisia.

Of course the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have a long way to go. Dictators have been toppled but military dictatorships remain. Capitalism cannot afford democracy in poor countries like those because it must keep the masses poor and oppressed. But through their experience of struggle, the workers are learning. Ultimately the workers will have to seize power for themselves, with the support of the poor people and peasants, if democracy and freedom is to be won.

This shows the way for the Palestinian struggle as well. The Palestinians are not strong enough to achieve liberation themselves, but once their working-class and poor sisters and brothers in the region overthrow the regimes that oppress them, their help will be invaluable in overthrowing the Zionists. On their side, the Palestinian masses, with their undefeated will to be free, can serve as a vanguard for all these struggles, giving them not only a rallying cry but also political guidance and inspiration.

The working class parties that will come out of the mass struggles in the region will be crucial for this strategy to be successful. Therefore, we call for the creation of Bolshevik vanguard parties all over the region, in preparation for the re-creation of the true party of World Socialist Revolution, the Fourth International.

Free all Palestinian Political Prisoners – Whether in Israel or PA Prisons!

For a Mass Movement in Support of the Prisoners!

For a Palestinian Workers’ State from the River to the Sea,

in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!


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