North Africa, West Asia

50 years of occupation will not kill hope for a free Palestine

On its 40th day, the mass hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners was suspended after an agreement was reached to allow two visits per month.

Samia Khoury
5 June 2017

Picture by Non Violent Vigilante. (CC BY-NC 2.0). Some rights reserved. The strike was hailed as a small victory and highlights the dire conditions of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

The demands throughout the strike have been within the minimum rights of political prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Conventions: Regular visits from their families, access to telephones to call home, access to media in Arabic, as well as better food and better health care. Unfortunately the Israeli authorities have long ignored those requests and these basic demands, failing to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

I am just wondering what was it that moved Israel to respond to their demands, especially that the international community did not take any action.

Before the strike was suspended, Mahmoud Abbas seized the opportunity of his meeting with Donald Trump in Bethlehem to highlight the issue of those prisoners. Unfortunately there was no reaction from Mr. Trump, or as much as a promise to consider the request. In fact Mr. Trump gave Mr. Abbas a lecture on the need to fight terrorism, and to cut the regular stipend for the families of the prisoners. It is worth noting that Mr. Trump also avoided visiting the Church of Nativity because the mothers of those prisoners were holding a sit-in in that area. Perhaps he did not want to face those mothers and look straight into their eyes lest he feel some compassion towards them? However, from the way he goes about his business, I doubt that compassion is one of his strong suits.

Terrorism was highlighted in his visit in Saudi Arabia as well. For those who were not born during the days of the British Mandate in Palestine, it is worth remembering that it was in that era that the Jewish underground were the first perpetrators of terrorism in our region. The late Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin was on the wanted list of the British Mandate Government, for the terrorist act of blowing up the British Government Secretariat wing in the King David Hotel in July 1946, and other places like the Samiramis Hotel. However when he became Prime Minister of Israel, he was received officially at Buckingham Palace in London.

The memory of the victorious is very short, but that does not mean that the victims forget. Yes they might forgive, but that does not change facts on the ground, and the grief for the loss of dear ones lingers on.

Invading Iraq, Libya, and Syria by western powers, under the guise of spreading democracy, has brought about havoc to the region. Therefore, it is not surprising that terrorism ended up as a normal reaction to those unjustified wars of terror that devastated those countries. And it is indeed very sad that it is the innocent people in the region and in the west that are paying the price.

In the meantime the Palestinians are commemorating fifty years of a brutal military occupation. With the Oslo agreement in 1993 we were all made to believe that the occupation will soon be over and that peace was around the corner. But after more than twenty years of futile negotiations we realised that this is not a normal occupation that was going to end by a UN resolution. It is in reality a settler colonial regime with an ongoing process of dispossession.

East Jerusalem which Israel unilaterally and illegally annexed to West Jerusalem was no more accessible to the Palestinians living in the West Bank except with special permits. Although the international community has considered the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem as illegal, the Israeli Prime Minister makes it a point to stress the fact that his guests are welcome in “the united and eternal capital of Israel.” In fact he was hoping that during his visit, Mr. Trump will announce the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Assuring both parties that he wants to forge peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, he was wise enough to avoid a controversial action that will label him one-sided. But then again, when was the USA ever a neutral or honest broker for peace in our region? Without its financial as well as moral support, Israel could never have survived or maintained the illegal occupation or the settlements that mushroomed in the Palestinian occupied territories.

After 50 years, it is not easy to maintain hope and not to despair especially when we watch new realities on the ground as Israel continues to defy international law and UN resolutions. The institutions of East Jerusalem continue to suffer because of a variety of discriminatory laws as well as financial restrictions. But when I visit Rawdat El-Zuhur, the school which I served for many years and look at the bright shining eyes of the children, or when I hear my young grandson practicing his trumpet in the late afternoon I am determined that we cannot lose hope for the sake of those children. And of course when justice is on our side, how can we lose hope. So we continue to dream of a better future with dignity and liberation. As John Lennon sings: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.” To start with, we as Palestinians need to unite so we can dream together. And we certainly hope and expect the international community to dream with us and work for justice, because as Edmund Burke says,‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

We continue to hope and pray for some wisdom and compassion towards those prisoners who are incarcerated for no other reason than for  their legitimate right to resist an illegal occupation.

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