Monday 30 June 2014

The Bigger Prison

During the first intifada, in order to more easily distinguish which Palestinians had already been arrested, the Israeli military administration devised a colour coded ID card system. All West Bank and Gaza residents had been issued with orange IDs, but upon release, prisoners had to report to the Israeli civil administration centre and be issued with new green versions. In the tumultuous days of the intifada, as the Israelis cracked down brutally in an attempt to quash the nascent uprising, the flash of green (no further inspection necessary) at a checkpoint was liable to result in harsh interrogation and even re-arrest. As a result many prisoners, of the over 120 000 arrested during the intifada years, chose to confine themselves to their homes rather than risk the humiliation and degradation of further months or years (often without charge or trial) behind bars in Israel. Reasoning that a prison-like existence in their home towns was preferable to the brutality of the Israeli Prison Service, thousands of Palestinians lived under a further, more-concentrated version of the Occupation.

Today the situation has been magnified and institutionalised to encompass nearly all of Palestinian society, points out Abed, a director of Dar As-Sadaqa in Abu Dis, and himself a former prisoner and intifada veteran. “Even the symbols are the same – except now all West Bank Palestinians have the green ID, and the prison wall surrounds us on all sides.” The apartheid wall to which he refers, 400 miles long and twice as tall as Berlin’s iconic barrier, has been constructed of the same material and in the same style as the walls that surrounded the Naqab Prison, a desert facility that Abed and other teenage Palestinians were sent to as other prisons began to fill up in 1988. “After Oslo the colonisation became much more thorough. At least during the intifada we were in it together – when an army truck approached Abu Dis you didn’t know who it was coming to arrest, and this created camaraderie. ‘Al Mousawa fi Thulm Adalah’ – Equality in injustice is just.”
Now, however, Palestinians are all inmates in the bigger prison, save for those who are afforded the VIP passes and privileges from heading up the Palestinian Authority, who may drive through the checkpoints with a wave of a (non-green) pass and a smile at the IDF guard. Otherwise, settlement construction continues unabated, administrative detention remains a favourite of the Israeli authorities unwilling to afford their Palestinian targets a charge or a trial, and the gargantuan wall cuts ever further into Palestinian land. In areas the prison is intensified, as in besieged Gaza or more recently Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank where all entrances are sealed and the IDF roams the streets looking for residents to imprison. In the overflowing prisons a hunger strike has passed its fiftieth day, while the land of Palestine, the bigger prison, recently marked the sixty sixth anniversary of its subjugation by Israeli jailors.

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