Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

‘This is how you change the status quo’: Rethinking the Palestinian boycott of Jerusalem elections

Aziz Abu Sarah withdrew his historic bid for Jerusalem mayor after Israeli and Palestinian pressures, but he hopes his short campaign ‘provokes’ new ideas on how to build stronger, younger Palestinian political activism in the city.

Less than a month after declaring his candidacy to become the first Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem, Aziz Abu Sarah – a 38-year-old activist, social entrepreneur, and former +972 contributor – announced that he and his slate of candidates, “Al-Quds Lana” (“Our Jerusalem”), would be withdrawing from both the mayoral and city council races, which are scheduled for late October.

In a post on his Facebook page, Abu Sarah cited two reasons for his decision. First, Israeli authorities recently informed him that his legal status as a resident of East Jerusalem was “being checked” due to his “travels and work abroad” with National Geographic and his own tourism company, MEJDI Tours. Abu Sarah, like other Palestinians in the city’s occupied east, does not have Israeli citizenship, and his Jerusalem residency can be easily revoked by Israel on various grounds (since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency status of more than 14,500 Palestinians from Jerusalem).

Second, some Palestinian groups who were vehemently opposed to Abu Sarah’s list participating in the local election, in adherence to a longstanding boycott of municipal politics by Palestinian residents, were “applying strong pressure on our candidates and their families” to end their campaign. Under these precarious circumstances, he believed it was best to step down.

Abu Sarah was never naïve about his motives for running for office, or the significant hurdles that he would face. Throughout his campaign, he was clear about his distrust of Israeli political institutions, which have entrenched the 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem and denied the Palestinian community their most basic rights. At the same time, he was highly critical of the Palestinian leadership’s inability to provide an alternative, practical political strategy for the city’s residents, who have felt increasingly abandoned and directionless. “I wanted to push Israelis and Palestinians to rethink their situation,” said Abu Sarah.

Despite its short lifespan, Abu Sarah’s candidacy has rekindled the controversial discussion, including among Palestinians, about the future of their politics in Jerusalem and whether they should maintain or end the boycott of municipal elections. +972 Magazine spoke to Abu Sarah in Jerusalem the day after he announced he dropped out of the race. The...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

Want to combat Israeli authoritarianism? Listen to Palestinians

Jewish and international observers are constantly having to catch up to what Palestinians have always known about Israel. This needs to change.

In his 1963 book The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin wrote a profound personal letter to his young nephew (also named James), in which he poignantly described the dehumanizing world that Black people must face in America:

“You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying ‘You exaggerate.‘” [emphasis mine]

This passage captures a critical component of racial inequality. When people under oppression try to articulate the injustice they face to the society in power, their narratives are actively ignored, undermined, and delegitimized as absurd, false, or unimportant. To this day, Black Americans are regularly told that they “exaggerate” when they warn about white supremacists, police brutality, job discrimination, and other racial problems. This feeling of dismissal, expressed by Baldwin 55 years ago, resonates powerfully with the Palestinian experience.

The recent outrage over the political interrogations of prominent left-wing American Jews like Simone Zimmerman and Peter Beinart is an important and much-needed development. But for many Palestinians, it can be very frustrating to watch. Despite thousands of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims being detained, interrogated, humiliated, threatened, deported, and banned for trying to enter Israel or the occupied territories, hardly any of them could garner the same local or international attention, or stir the same level of shock, among people with power and privilege who claim to be concerned about democracy and civil rights in the country.

Many Israeli and American Jews who have been subjected to such invasive practices, including those recently detained, have rightly stressed that what they faced was a mere fraction of what Palestinians and others are put through. However, the international reactions they received (through no fault of their own) are a jarring reminder of how “worthless” Palestinians and...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

In Haifa, a display of Palestinian grassroots power

The combined efforts of Palestinians in using their bodies, cameras, and voices to support detained protesters made it impossible for the police to hide the severity of their actions.

The release of 19 Palestinian citizens of Israel on Monday, who had been arrested since Friday, after police violently dispersed a demonstration in Haifa against last week’s mass killings in Gaza, is a fleeting speck in the context of recent events in the conflict. As the detained activists have emphasized, their experiences are nothing compared to what Palestinians are subjected to in the blockaded Strip. But after weeks of tragic news, the past three days have offered a moment of strength and hope that should not be overlooked.

The police’s response to Friday’s demonstration is hardly exceptional, even in the purported “capital of coexistence.” Harassment and repression are frequent features of political protests by Palestinian citizens, especially those in solidarity with Gaza. Last week, police launched “preventative” arrests and interrogations of several activists in their homes, hoping to deter them from participating in further demonstrations.

The courts, far from putting law enforcement authorities in check, routinely grant the police extensive impunity to keep protesters in detention and to avoid responsibility for their brutality, even when they clearly violate their own laws and regulations.

This past weekend, however, the protesters altered the rules of the game. Unfazed by the police’s repressive tactics, young and old activists and leaders returned to the streets in Haifa, and gathered outside the court to continue showing their solidarity with Gaza and with the detainees (including in the face of a right-wing demonstration calling to “return Haifa to Israel”).


Supporters from afar – including Palestinians in Gaza – shared images of Friday’s demonstration on social media, tying Haifa to the global discussion on Gaza. Volunteer lawyers worked around the clock preparing and strategizing their cases and legal arguments. Friends and family members filled the courtroom on Sunday for nine hours in support of the detainees, refusing to leave until the judge finally issued his decision at dawn.

These combined efforts of Palestinians and allies to use their bodies, cameras, and voices to defend the detainees – and the skills of the lawyers in harnessing those efforts in court –  forced the Israeli police and the judge into a corner...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

How Childish Gambino explains the problem with Israel’s Eurovision win

Gambino’s new music video illustrates why audiences should focus on the injustices unfolding in the background of artistic performances – especially those representing the state.

In the music video for his new single “This is America,” the singer and rapper Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) dances in a warehouse while scenes of violence and chaos unfold around him. Among other messages, the video is a reflection of how art can be used to distract people’s attention from the brutal realities faced by Black Americans and other people of color in the United States. Gun murders, police sirens, running youths, and other images fill the background as Glover smiles and performs for the camera, trying to keep the audience’s gaze on him. “We just wanna party,” he sings, before pulling out a pistol and shooting a hooded man in the head. “This is America,” he says, and continues dancing.

Glover’s video rang through my mind when I heard that Netta Barzilai had won the Eurovision contest on Saturday night. Barzilai is a talented and charismatic singer, and her performance arguably deserved the popular vote. But like many Palestinians, I could not help but feel frustrated, even hopelessness, after hearing the news of her victory.

The idea that art and culture can be separated from their political context is a naïve luxury that oppressed people cannot afford. This is especially the case with an event like Eurovision, where countries routinely manipulate their candidates’ performances to boost their public image and deliver political messages. As the world’s eyes fixated on Barzilai raising her award in triumph, it seemed like the violence that had transpired in Israel-Palestine that week, like those in Glover’s video, had gone completely unnoticed.

A day before her win, Israeli snipers opened fire on Palestinians in Gaza as they marched in protest toward the fence for the seventh week in a row. In the weeks prior, Israeli settlers in the West Bank vandalized the homes and properties of Palestinian villagers – attacks which have spiked in recent months. To the north in Syria, Israeli and Iranian forces faced off in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA – a goal long-pursued by Prime Minister Netanyahu. On Saturday, right-wing Israelis chanted racist slogans as they marched through the Old City to celebrate the 51st year...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

The myth of the Gaza 'border'

The Green Line disguises the fact that Palestinians in Gaza are no longer being oppressed outside the Israeli state, but are being caged and brutalized inside it.

Palestinian activists have long criticized the use of the word “border” to describe the 1949 armistice line that divides Gaza and Israel, and which protestors in the Great March of Return have been trying to cross at great risk to life and limb. By invoking the term, Israel insists that its open-fire policy toward the march is part of its legitimate right to defend its sovereignty and security. It further claims that, because the government dismantled its settlements in 2005, it no longer occupies the Strip and therefore bears no responsibility for its conditions.

These are disingenuous arguments. Israel’s blockade and control of Gaza stretches from its eastern and northern land crossings to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, with Egypt controlling the south. What it calls a “border” is actually a militarized network of naval ships, barbed wire, electronic barriers, lethal no-man zones, and surveillance systems that operate as the fence of an open-air prison. In legal terms, Israel retains “effective control” of the Strip (including people’s movement, its airspace, flow of goods, and other needs of daily life), and therefore remains its occupying power.

The human rights community has spent years articulating the nature of Israel’s occupation under international law and the responsibility of third-parties to end it. The law, however, is only worth as much as the will to enforce it; and half a century later, these efforts have failed to produce meaningful outcomes. It is not that the law is incorrect, but that it has been unable to mobilize political action or make Israel’s military rule less sustainable.

The Palestinians’ own ambiguities about the Green Line have further complicated matters. We focus on the military structures that have spawned since 1967, yet emphasize that the real problem is 1948. We cite Israel’s obligation to abide by international law, but chastise the law for being useless in practice. We combine settler colonialism, occupation, and apartheid as lenses to explain the ongoing Nakba, but arrive at different conclusions for what the solution entails. These debates are natural, but they also muddle the struggle’s priorities and the discourse it promotes.

Exploiting these uncertainties, Israel has turned Gaza into an area that is simultaneously separated from...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

Palestinians are the majority. Is it apartheid yet?

Israel has always valued Jewish supremacy over democracy. But new demographics could bolster the Palestinians’ efforts to challenge this system.

A resounding fear struck many Knesset members this week upon hearing that, on both sides of the Green Line, Palestinians may now outnumber Jews, 6.8 million people to 6.5 million. The statistics were given to the Knesset by an official from COGAT, the military body that governs the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If the figures are correct, the ‘dystopic’ future of a Jewish minority living between the river and the sea appears to have finally arrived.

Israeli politicians, particularly on the center-left, have long warned about the changing population numbers. “If we do not wake up from the delusions of annexation,” said Tzipi Livni after hearing this week’s news, “we will lose the Jewish majority. It’s simple.” In 2015, former Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog conveyed the same message when he declared, “I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister.”

Foreign officials, including US mediators, echoed the same mantra for years in the hopes of encouraging Israel to see the two-state solution as the only way to protect its Jewish character. These critics repeatedly warned that, in the absence of an agreement, Israel could only ensure its Jewish majority by becoming openly and unapologetically undemocratic.

But this has already been the case for decades. Countless Israeli military campaigns, laws, and policies since 1948 have aimed to keep non-Jews out of the state (namely Palestinian refugees) and curb the rights of those living inside it. While these policies principally target Palestinians and Arabs, they are also directed against African refugees and other ‘unwanted’ persons deemed socially and politically undesirable by the Zionist ethos.

The belief in the ‘demographic threat’ – an inherently racist and dehumanizing concept – breeds cruel consequences to this day. While the Law of Return allows any Jew in the world to acquire automatic Israeli citizenship and residency, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law denies thousands of Palestinian families the right to unify and live in Israel, regardless of a spouse’s citizenship. Approving this law in 2012, former High Court justice Asher Grunis wrote that “Human rights should not be a recipe for national suicide.” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also did not mince words last month when she Read More

View article: AAA
Share article

What will Israeli politics after Netanyahu hold for the Palestinians?

Disrupting Israel’s insular political discourse will require fully activating the Palestinian leadership in Israel, grassroots and civil society organizations, and foreign governments and institutions.

In August 2017, three thousand Israelis greeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a rally in Tel Aviv organized by the Likud party. A few days earlier, media outlets reported that the Israeli police were close to recommending criminal indictments against Netanyahu regarding various corruption scandals after several of his close aides agreed to plea bargains in exchange for their cooperation with the authorities.

Speaking to the crowd, Netanyahu accused the media and the political left of pursuing “an obsessive, unprecedented hunting trip against me and my family with a goal to carry out a government coup.” He claimed that corruption allegations – what he called “fake news” – were also used to target Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 and himself as Prime Minister in 1999, which led to Likud’s election losses and resulted in “the Oslo disaster,” “exploding buses,” and “more than 1,000 dead Israelis.” The Israeli people, he said, should not allow it to happen a third time.

The speech was a classic display of Netanyahu’s knack for rhetorical manipulation. But whatever he had hoped to achieve with his performance, it certainly did not stop the police’s preparations of their charges. In February 2018, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh handed his recommendations to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and in the following weeks, more key witnesses gave themselves up to the police.

Although no indictments have been issued yet, and despite surviving the latest coalition crisis, Israelis are speculating whether the corruption scandals finally mark the beginning of Netanyahu’s political demise. The second-longest serving prime minister after David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu has had a profound impact on Israel’s political scene since the 1990s. It is therefore troubling, especially to Palestinians, that if these corruption cases are the harbinger of Netanyahu’s downfall, it will have had nothing to do with the more egregious crimes for which he is responsible, and for which he – and future Israeli leaders – have yet to be held accountable.

Israel under “King Bibi”

Throughout his premierships, analysts predicted that Netanyahu would be brought down by any one of the allies holding up his fragile rule, from the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties to his personal rivals within Likud. “King Bibi,” however, survived them all. A skilled politician, he has been adept...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

The new Balfour Declaration

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital echoes Lord Balfour’s denial of Palestinian rights a century ago. Today, however, Palestinians are more empowered to challenge it.

During a debate in the British Cabinet regarding its policy toward Palestine in 1919, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour informed Lord George Curzon, another senior statesman, that the government was not interested in “consulting the wishes of the present [Arab] inhabitants of the country” to help formulate its decisions. The great powers were “committed to Zionism,” he said, and Zionism was “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Balfour’s sentiments echoed throughout President Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv. Trump made no mention of the Palestinians’ history and belonging to the city, or the fact that over a third of its residents identify as Palestinian. He said that he would only support a two-state solution — and presumably, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem — if it was “agreed to by both sides.” The U.S. decision, he insisted, “is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

The irony of Trump’s timing is not lost on Palestinians: last month marked the centenary of Lord Balfour’s infamous letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent Zionist activist, which promised British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Like Trump’s announcement, the Balfour Declaration was the outcome of several aligning interests and efforts, including the Zionist movement’s intensive lobbying, state officials’ evangelical Christian beliefs, and the imperial power’s strategic goals for the region. It not only prioritized Zionist claims over Arab rights, but elevated the Zionist movement from a nascent organization into a major political force.

In contrast, Britain actively interfered in Palestinian Arab affairs and repressed local resistance to its rule. Divisions and misjudgments within the Palestinian leadership mired its ability to mobilize effectively against the colonization of their lands. Arab rulers paid lip service to the Palestinian cause but abandoned and betrayed it for their own political ambitions. Remarkably, these realities remain as true of 2017 as they were of 1917.

It is too soon to tell whether Trump’s proclamation will have a similarly profound mark on the conflict; but in many ways, his speech has...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

‘A legal shield for the Palestine movement in the U.S.’

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of a Kansas public school teacher who, as a condition for taking her job, was required under a new state law to declare that she would not engage in boycotts of Israel. The law is just one in a growing list of measures in recent years aiming to counter the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States.

Political boycotts in the U.S. are meant to be stringently protected under the First Amendment. “The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support,” Esther Koontz, the Kansas teacher, said about her lawsuit.

That’s not necessarily the reality these days, however. “It’s clear that when it comes to talking about Palestine, there’s a suspension of the notion that the government has no authority to interfere in that right,” says Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal.

Established in 2012 in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Palestine Legal has been one of the key players holding the frontline against efforts to suppress BDS activity and speech about Palestine across the U.S., from state legislatures to university campuses. Khalidi and her staff responded to 650 such incidents between 2014 and 2016.

Just last month, Palestine Legal responded to false legal threats sent to activists and professors by a group called “Outlaw BDS New York,” which accused them of violating an anti-BDS law that never actually passed the New York State legislature. Along with its legal work, the organization also tracks anti-BDS laws in all 50 states (21 have already enacted such laws) and at the federal level.

I spoke with Khalidi last month about Palestine Legal’s work and to hear her perspective on the various threats to – and signs of hope for – Palestine activism in the U.S., including BDS. The following was edited for length.

How and why was Palestine Legal created? What compelled the need for its existence?

“The idea started with conversations among lawyers and activists who were thinking about what we could do legally on Palestine in the U.S. This was in the context of largely unsuccessful attempts – including by CCR, where I interned and co-counselled – to seek accountability for Israel’s violations of international law through domestic and international legal mechanisms.

“This was also happening in...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

Palestinians are reviving their agency in Jerusalem

After years of oppression and fragmentation, Palestinians in the occupied city are remobilizing around a common political goal.

After days of deliberations, the Israeli government finally removed metal detectors from the entrances of the Aqsa compound on Monday evening. Reports say the decision may have been linked to an agreement reached with Jordan’s King Abdullah, as part of a deal to resolve a brief diplomatic crisis that followed Sunday’s attack at the Israeli embassy in Amman.

Israeli authorities are now seeking to install “smart” cameras that can identify visitors to Al-Aqsa using facial recognition software. Palestinians argue that this technology, which can easily be abused by Israeli security services, is even worse than the metal detectors. The Islamic Waqf declared its opposition to the new plan yesterday and insisted that the status quo be restored to the situation that existed prior to a deadly shooting two weeks ago. Local worshipers continued to protest outside the Aqsa compound, and police continued to respond with stun grenades and arrests.

Despite this development, it seems that the Palestinians’ campaign of civil disobedience – largely ignored by the media’s focus on violence during the past week – is working.

The mass boycott of the metal detectors was a remarkable sight. Young headscarved women appealed (and at times shouted) to Muslim visitors not to pass through the gates. Men prayed outside or in the narrow alleys of the Old City, with some live-streaming the scenes on Facebook. Four families living inside the compound, not wanting to violate the boycott, refused to leave the premises until a special arrangement was agreed upon with the Waqf.

This united activism surprised many. Dispossessed and disenfranchised for decades, Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem have been leaderless since the brutal suppression of the Second Intifada and further crippled by the wave of violence that erupted in September 2015. With Jewish settlements expanding and collective punishment increasing, the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods seemed to be verging toward social and economic collapse.

Now, after years of fragmentation, the community is remobilizing en masse around a common political goal. Thousands of Palestinians, under the glare of Israeli riot police, thronged the streets on July 21 in one of the largest protests the city has seen in some time. Hundreds of fellow worshippers, activists, and representatives traveled from Arab towns and cities across Israel to join them....

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

The redundancy of Israel's 'Jewish Nation-State Law'

The Israeli government is pushing a law that would force judges to prioritize Israel’s Jewish character over democratic principles. But that has always been the case.

The “Jewish Nation-State Law,” which is currently making its way through the Knesset as a proposed Basic Law – the closest thing Israel has to a constitutional amendment – would require the High Court to prioritize Israel’s Jewish nature over democratic principles in its rulings, according to Haaretz.

The bill asserts that the justices of the highest court in the land must interpret Israeli law with the understanding that the right to self-determination in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people,” and with the aim of “protecting Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people.” Similar versions of the same bill have stalled in the legislative process in recent years.

The Netanyahu government seems to have a fondness for redundant laws. Contrary to popular belief, the High Court of Justice has hardly been a guarantor of democratic rights in Israel — particularly for its non-Jewish citizens and subjects. From legitimizing countless aspects of the occupation to limiting citizens’ freedoms, the court has acquiesced to most of the government’s discriminatory positions for decades, serving as a rubber stamp to preserve Jewish supremacy and state power.

When insisting on sidelining fundamental democratic values, perhaps the government forgot how the court has repeatedly upheld an order that bans Palestinian family unification. In his 2012 judgment on the inherently discriminatory law, then-court president Asher Grunis wrote: “Human rights are not a prescription for national suicide.”

Or perhaps the government dozed off in court in 2015, when in his decision upholding the Anti-Boycott Law – a direct assault on the principle of free political expression – Justice Elyakim Rubinstein cited the Passover Haggadah and endorsed the Knesset’s effort to “ensure the survival of the Jewish people” by combating BDS.

Maybe the Knesset members missed the news in January 2016, when High Court President Miriam Naor refused to reconsider the planned demolition of Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the Naqab (Negev), in order to build a Jewish town over its ruins; she didn’t think the case was “exceptionally exceptional, the rarest of rare, to warrant another hearing.”

They most certainly didn’t read the court’s decision last week refusing to demolish the homes of Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s murderers, as Israel does to the family homes...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

The occupation is a symptom, not source, of Israel's racist system

It was the state’s policies within its 1948 borders that inspired the 1967 occupation, not the other way around.

During a Knesset debate in May 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised opposition parties for criticizing his government’s lack of progress in achieving a two-state solution. Referring to Palestinian demonstrations held the day before in commemoration of the Nakba, Netanyahu pointed out that the protests “did not take place on June 5, the day the Six Day War erupted,” but on “May 15, the day the State of Israel was established.” He continued: “This is not a conflict about 1967. This is a conflict about 1948, about the State of Israel’s very existence.”

Although not in the way he conceived, Netanyahu was right. In the flurry of activity this week marking the fiftieth year of the occupation, many have forgotten that the basis of its regime existed well before 1967. The Emergency Regulations, a product of Britain’s colonial mandate, were first exercised on the 150,000 Palestinians who remained inside Israel’s borders after the 1948 war. The state honed its discriminatory policies of land grabs, checkpoints, and brutal violence against its minority citizens for two decades, before transferring them to the Palestinian territories.

The shadow of military rule has never left Palestinian life in Israel. Dozens of civil laws, most of which were written in neutral terminology or bestowed extensive powers to the state, continue to ensure Jewish privilege at the expense of Palestinian citizens’ rights. Over twenty of these laws were enacted by Netanyahu’s governments in the last eight years, with some of the most egregious ones being condoned by the Supreme Court itself. The result was a nuanced system that maintained the appearance of a democracy, but in fact cemented racial hierarchy among Israel’s citizens.

This system is what allows for the ongoing displacement of Naqab (Negev) Bedouins into impoverished townships under the guise of “modernization,” while confiscating their lands to build rural Jewish communities. It enshrines free speech as a legal right yet empowers authorities to stifle Palestinian expression in schools and theaters. It invites Jews from around the world to immigrate and naturalize in Israel, but bans Palestinian citizens from bringing their spouses into the country if the latter are from Gaza or the West Bank.

Liberal Zionists like to claim that these racist policies are the result of the occupation’s corrupting influence. But...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article

How the hunger strike could bring Palestinian prisoners back to the fore

The fixation on Barghouti’s op-ed bio distracts from the strike’s impact on Palestinians, which is as much about restoring political direction as it is about attaining prisoners’ rights.

In 2015, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) created the “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.” Nicknamed after the renowned South African leader who spent 27 years behind bars, the “Nelson Mandela Rules” form an international blueprint for the basic rights of all prisoners regardless of the charges against them, including telephone calls, medical examinations and educational programs, among many others.

The demands of the 1,200 Palestinian prisoners who launched a hunger strike on Monday echo the provisions of the Mandela Rules. For decades, Palestinians in Israeli prisons have had their rights systematically denied or restricted under the guise of “security,”  with few questioning the legality or practical necessity of the state’s measures. The government has even been open many times about its purely political motives in holding prisoners’ rights hostage, as it did during the Gilad Shalit ordeal.

Ironically, Israel demonstrated its disregard for the Mandela Rules once again when Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader serving five life sentences, was thrown into solitary confinement as punishment for his New York Times op-ed this week – proving exactly the kind of punitive policies Barghouti had written about.

The insistence on focusing on the violent pasts of Palestinian leaders like Barghouti not only distracts from the prisoners’ human rights demands, but is also heavily distorted by people’s selective knowledge of history.

Despite many Israelis lamenting for a “Palestinian Mandela,” few seem to remember that Mandela himself, who was head of the armed wing of the African National Congress, did not immediately renounce violence upon his release from prison. Other anti-apartheid figures, including the Jewish communist Denis Goldberg (who was convicted alongside Mandela), were also key members of the armed struggle. Given this context, it is rather perverse for Israelis to set mythologized moral criteria of what a Palestinian leader should espouse – even if they acknowledge the violent pasts of Israeli leaders as well.

Although the hunger strike will have to prove its durability in the coming weeks, there are reasons to believe that something different is beginning to stir. For the past few years, the prisoner issue has slipped from the Palestinian public’s priorities as they...

Read More
View article: AAA
Share article