Saturday, April 25, 2009

Prison protest

Outside the Red Cross building in Tulkarem every Tuesday morning, members of the Prisoners’ Families Club gather for their weekly protest at the detention of their sons. Here in the north of the West Bank, I have learned that it is common to find people with family members with prison experience. Last week, as he was chatting to us in the street, our taxi driver waved at his cousin the other side of the road. ‘He just got released a month ago’, he told us. ‘He’s 36 years old now; he went in at the age of 17’. At lunch, a couple of days later, one man recalled his teenage sentence of seven months for throwing stones at Israeli tanks.

When asked what the charge might be, the reply is often ‘resisting the occupation’, said with the irony of those who have to live with it. At the Tuesday event, Malak and her friend Nadia did not speak of the charges, simply of the sentences: fourteen months for Malak's son, twenty years for Nadia's. Only half-joking, Malak asked me: ‘Can you end this occupation?’ to which Nadia added: ‘Put pressure on the British government!’

Estimates vary on the exact figure of Palestinian prisoners held now in Israeli's detention centres, but it is most often given as 10,000. Of these, and a concern to human rights organizations, 560 are currently held without charge or trial for up to six months at a time under the system of administrative detention. (These sentences can be – and often are - renewed several times).

Conditions in Israeli prisons are reportedly 'appalling'. After the collapse of talks in March to agree the prisoner exchange of the jailed Israeli corporal for Palestinian prisoners, there are now plans by the Israeli government to make these conditions worse – with the intention of convincing Hamas to release the corporal. Family visits are to be reduced, there will be fewer chances of studying, and access to TV, radio and newspapers is to be cut. .

On national Prisoners' day in April, families all over Palestine carried portraits of their children in processions and vigils like the one in the Tulkarem. On Tuesday, there were journalists and photographers from the local media, recording interviews.

They come regularly to film and report, apparently. It's not always easy to know the effects of media attention - but in this case, one that their mothers hope for is that on prison television screens their sons can see that they are not forgotten: as long as they still have any access to TV, that is.

One thing's for sure: Malak and Nadia will be back next Tuesday.


  1. Jane, peace and joy to you on this sunny morning here. The news is full of the Marathon being run in London today, but your post is about a marathon of long years of occupation, injustice, heartache. But also the brave persistence of the human spirit. God be with you and your friends in Tulkarm.

    I was recalling this morning that injunction in ADVICES AND QUERIES - "Live adventurously." You are certainly doing that. Bon courage!

    Love and prayers from us both

  2. I read this having come in from my sunny garden where I've been planting roses, ferns and violas. What a world away from the dust, brutal reality and astonishing good humour of the Tuesday women. Go gently my friend, and may the women of Palestine go and their sons and daughters go gently too.

    Love from your horticultural pal

  3. Not just blogging, but such a splendid looking site too. You are clever, as well as courageous.
    I am still trying to imagine how one can be patient whilst pointlessly wasting such precious time to get on with necessary agricultural work. Now I am wondering how the Tuesday women and their men folk can withstand these prison sentences. Thank you for putting me in touch with another reality.
    With love as always, dxx