Thousands of Palestinians mark Prisoners Day across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. President Abbas calls for releasing Palestinian prisoners, while Hamas calls for kidnapping Israelis.
By Oren Ziv / Activestills and Haggai Matar
Hundreds of Palestinians, Israelis and international activists marched in the West Bank village of Bil’in on Friday to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Additional demonstrations took place in Ni’ilin, Nabi Saleh, Kafr Qadum, Ma’asara, as well as in front of the United Nations offices in Gaza. On Thursday, Palestinians also protested outside Ofer Military Prison to show solidarity with Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.
The demonstration in Bil’in began after Friday prayers. The army shot dozens of tear gas canisters well before the protesters could reach the Separation Wall. Most of them retreated, while a few remained and threw stones at the soldiers. At some point, soldiers used live fire (tutu bullets), wounding a young Palestinian in the chest. He was evacuated to a hospital in Ramallah.
Soldiers also used live fire on demonstrators in Ni’ilin, wounding three Palestinians in their legs.
In Bil’in, protesters marched with photos of Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was killed by a tear gas canister shot by Israeli soldiers six years ago this week. Despite video evidence and ballistic analysis, which showed that the canister was shot directly at Abu Rahmah — in contravention of the army’s open-fire regulations — the Military Advocate General decided to close the case for “lack of evidence.”
According to Addameer, a Palestinian NGO that works to support Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons, there are currently 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Among them, 434 are being held in administrative detention, which means they have not been sentenced nor stood trial. Of those imprisoned, 23 are women and 163 are minors. Seventeen members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah) are also being held by Israel, as well as 20 journalists.
More than 800,000 Palestinians have sat in Israeli prisons 1967. Almost every single Palestinian family has been affected in one way or another, making the issue of Palestinian prisoners central to the Palestinians struggle. This past week, the High court rejected a petition by several prisoners who asked to allow them to be allowed to study in the Open University, similar to the other prisoners. The High Court justices ruled that the Israeli Prison Service’s discriminatory policy against Palestinian prisoners is fitting.
In the run-up to Prisoners’ Day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that all Palestinian prisoners will have to be released as part of any future peace agreement. Ma’an News Agency reported that top PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said Friday that “We commend their steadfastness, courage and determination in defiance of Israel’s military occupation and system of enslavement and apartheid.”
Ma’an also reported that Hamas official Khalil al-Haya said that Israelis must be kidnapped in order to guarantee the release of Palestinian prisoners. “We tell the Zionist enemy: you are all a target for us and the resistance, we will fight you until we finally get rid of you and take as many captives as possible to free our heroes,” al-Haya told hundreds of Palestinians during a rally on the eve of Prisoners’ Day.