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April 17th- Palestinian Prisoners Day op-ed

The mother of hunger striking prisoner Samer Issawi stands near a portrait of her son made out of bread at a rally on Prisoner's Day in Ramallah. Picture by (Issam Rimawi / APA Images)

Four months ago, Mohammed Abu Sakha was arrested by the Israeli military at a checkpoint in the West Bank. He has not had a chance to defend himself in court: Israel is holding the 24-year-old Palestinian under administrative detention, meaning it can hold him without trial for six months — then renew that six-month term indefinitely.

Abu Sakha is a professional clown who teaches at a circus school and works with disabled children in the West Bank. His friends say that his only passion is making people laugh, but the Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, is accusing Abu Sakha of involvement with terrorism. Yet Israel has produced no evidence of the claim and, under administrative detention, it doesn’t have to. And so Abu Sakha waits.

April 17 marks Palestinian Prisoners Day, when Palestinians remember their friends and family members held in Israeli prisons. Despite their growing numbers — currently 7,000, including 700 in administrative detention and 400 children — the prisoners and their supporters have something to celebrate this year. Security megafirm G4S, or Group 4 Securicor, announced in March that it would revoke its contract with Israel.

Human rights organizations around the world have targeted G4S because of the role it plays in maintaining Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. G4S’s security services and equipment enable Israel to maintain the cruel and illegal blockade of Gaza, force West Bank Palestinians to pass through checkpoints even within the Green Line, and hold children as young as 12 in military prisons, with little to no access to their parents or a lawyer after their arrest, in overt violation of international law and human rights. (Children living in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank are prosecuted in the Israeli civilian legal system.)

Most of these Palestinian children are then transferred to prisons inside Israel — a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention — where their parents, who are not permitted to enter Israel, cannot travel to visit them. G4S supplies security systems to these prisons and thus allows Israel to deny human rights to Palestinians like Abu Sakha by supporting the infrastructure of occupation.

Palestinian prisoners themselves called for the boycott of G4S in 2015, and community organizations are taking their lead by highlighting G4S’s complicity in detention worldwide. Black activists, artists, scholars, students, and organizations echoed the call for boycotting G4S in their 2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine, naming G4S as the primary target for those engaged in anti-oppression work from North America to the Middle East:

As the BDS movement grows, we offer G4S, the world’s largest private security company, as a target for further joint struggle. G4S harms thousands of Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in Israel and hundreds of Black and brown youth held in its privatized juvenile prisons in the US. The corporation profits from incarceration and deportation from the US and Palestine, to the UK, South Africa, and Australia. We reject notions of ‘security’ that make any of our groups unsafe and insist no one is free until all of us are free.

We reaffirm that there is nothing normal about occupation, apartheid, and mass incarceration in any context. Within the growing international coalitions calling for divestment from human rights violations globally, we have found that targeting corporate complicity in violations of international law is an effective path on the road for justice and liberation for Palestinians as well as for our sisters and brothers in the United States and abroad. An increasing number of organizations are cutting their ties to G4S under mounting pressure: The Gates Foundation sold its $170 million stake in G4S in 2014. Columbia University became the first college in the United States to divest from private prison companies, following a student activist campaign in 2015. It plans to sell its estimated 220,000 shares in G4S and in the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the United States. The European Union chose to not renew its contract with G4S following concerns raised by a group of 28 members of the European Parliament and civil society groups. Trade unions, universities, UN bodies, and municipalities have also declined to hire or renew contracts with G4S.

However, the timeline for action has become increasingly urgent, and BDS is now under attack: In the wake of growing campaigns and victories internationally, BDS has been targeted in state legislation within the United States and government bills that effectively illegalize BDS in Europe. Such attacks are now extending to BDS leaders as well: On March 28, at a large anti-BDS conference in Jerusalem, Israeli media reported that Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz called for a “targeted civil thwarting of the BDS leadership,” naming Omar Barghouti and other Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists (“targeted thwarting” is an Israeli military term for “assassination”).

Friends of Sabeel North America condemns this dangerous and violent rhetoric by Israeli leaders. As an organization rooted in Palestinian Liberation Theology, like other liberation theology movements (Latin American, South African, etc.), our emphasis is on justice, including the equality of every human being, rejecting business practices that thrive on greed and profit at the expense of people, using nonviolent resistance for social change, and confronting racism in all its forms. The application of our faith-based values and methods of resistance to situations of political, economic, and military oppression through Palestinian Liberation Theology must also be seen in a global perspective, as it is part of a larger movement calling for freedom from military occupation, land expropriation, and the denial of basic human and political rights for indigenous peoples.

Among the backdrop of the recent extra-judicial killings of civilians, with legal impunity for the Israeli military, police, and armed settlers, it is imperative that we continue to identify the companies that partner in acts of violence and that profit from the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people, through targeted BDS campaigns. We stand firmly behind the right to boycott, the right to freedom of movement, protection for our community leaders, and liberation, and we are not alone!

BDS has provided a successful avenue to pressure international corporations, such as G4S, that facilitate Israel’s denial of human rights for Palestinians and curtail their participation in child detention centers, from Florida and Missouri, England and Indonesia.

G4S claims that it will sell its business in Israel within 12 to 24 months, but the company has infamously revoked its previous promises. Therefore, we must continue to campaign even more publicly against it and keep up the pressure! A new website, G4Sfacts.org, is launching for this very reason: In light of Palestinian Prisoners Day on April 17 and the National Week of Action for Prison Divestment from April 17 to April 23, the site was created to highlight the various injustices perpetrated by G4S in the United States, Palestine, and beyond. FOSNA is proud to be co-hosting the website with a broad coalition of organizations that are working on issues related to G4S including prison divestment, Palestine, and immigrant rights.

While human rights groups are watching G4S to ensure that it in fact withdraws from Israel, advocates for Palestinian prisoners — and all Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation — are cautiously celebrating the company’s announcement.

G4S’s move won’t free Abu Sakha, but it’s a significant step toward eliminating checkpoints in the West Bank, ending the Gaza siege, and ensuring prisoners have a chance to defend themselves in court. Israel cannot maintain the occupation if the rest of the world refuses to take part.

Take Action on Palestinian Prisoner’s Day! Some of Samidoun’s suggested actions are:

  1. Organize a protest at an Israeli consulate or embassy, a G4S office, or public square on Sunday, April 17 for Palestinian prisoners. Bring flyers and leaflets or signs, and call for freedom for Palestinian political prisoners. Or join with movements for prison divestment or other issues around racism and mass incarceration for joint protests against racist imprisonment of all kinds.

  2. Organize a forum or discussion about Palestinian prisoners. Help build awareness and action in support of Palestinian prisoners. Participants can also write letters to Palestinian prisoners.

  3. Screen a film — whether as a large event in a cinema, or a small get-together in a home — on Palestinian prisoners. Titles include Tell Your Tale, Little Bird, Women in Struggle, Hunger Strike, Palestine: La Case Prison, Degrees of Incarceration, A Path to Gaza Prison Camp, Lina, Detaining Dreams, Crayons of Askalan, Stone Cold Justice, Beyond the Walls, At the Heart of a Siege, and Stolen Youth. The new feature film by Mai Masri, 3000 Nights, focuses on the Palestinian experience of imprisonment.

In Love and Liberation