In Israel’s Jails, Prisoners are Dying to Live

It is hard to think about anything but the prisoners these days. Politics and politicians are more often than not, mundane and insincere, speaking with forked tongues. Contrastingly, one thought about the prisoners languishing in hospital beds and in prison cells, starving for their dignity is enough to pump life and conviction back into our cause and remind us what we are fighting for.

If nothing else, the prisoners have brought us all back to the raw basics of believing in something. Try to imagine: how much would you have to believe in something to truly be willing to die for it? Not many of us can say we have ever experienced such conviction –” uncompromising, unapologetic and uncannily real. But the prisoners have showed us that there are some among us who still believe with such passion. At this moment, two young men –” really in the prime of their lives –” are slipping in and out of consciousness after their bodies have been deprived of food for over 70 days. Everyone –” the Palestinians, the Israelis and mostly these young men’s families –” are waiting, expecting the terrible news to arrive –” that one or both of them has perished to starvation.

It is difficult to imagine just how much Bilal Diab, Thaer Halahleh and before them Khader Adnan and Hana’ Shalabi, love Palestine. We all love our country but we are not all wiling to starve ourselves, literally to death. These are the people who will breathe new hope into our souls, generate new possibilities and prove that yes, it is possible to achieve goals if you are willing to sacrifice.

Still, we look at the 2,000 or so prisoners on strike who are being punished in Israeli jails for their belief in justice and we hope and pray that none will have to die. Israel has tried to make us out as criminals, terrorists and a people who do not value life, but nothing could be farther from the truth. “I love life but I want to live it with dignity,” said Thaer Halahleh to the Israeli court that later rejected his appeal to cancel the administrative order against him. “No one who loves life would accept to be put in jail without charge.”

He is right of course. Since the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has arrested and imprisoned approximately 700,000 Palestinians on political grounds. Today there are more than 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, over 300 under administrative detention or imprisonment without charge. There is not one Palestinian family who has not had a son, a daughter, husband, father, sister or some relative put in Israeli jails all for their love of Palestine and their rejection of Israel’s occupation.

The prisoner strike is teaching us all a lesson. To Israel, the prisoners have sent a message that there is power in numbers and that they should fear the thousands of prisoners who could die because they will be held responsible for their deaths. Their message is loud and clear: treat us with the dignity we deserve and adhere to international laws that protect the rights of prisoners of war.

To the Palestinian leadership, the prisoners have made an even more poignant point: do not forget us. While the leadership has always paid lip service to the cause and plight of the prisoners, it is only now that the case is back at the forefront of its agenda. The leadership has also been reminded that the struggle is not just about negotiations and diplomacy. The struggle has returned to the purity of its beginnings, when its strength came from its simplicity: release the prisoners who are fighting for independence, reject the occupation and fight for freedom at any cost.

Perhaps most admirable of all, however, is the lesson these heroic souls are teaching us average Palestinians. They have reminded us of what resistance and sacrifice is all about; they have brought us back to the fundamentals of martyrdom –” to be willing to die for something you believe in so that others can live. These men and women do not want to die. Neither do we. But it is because they love life, because they love freedom and most of all because they love Palestine, that they are willing to do just that.