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What do genocide, Schalit have to do with Palestinian prisoners?

The recent curtailment of the rights of Palestinian prisoners was presented by Israel as leverage designed to secure the release of Gilad Schalit. But Schalit has been released, while the sanctions remain.

Demonstration in solidarity with Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, at Ofer military prison (photo: Anne Paq / Activestills)

This past summer, somewhere around the fifth anniversary of Gilad Schalit’s capture, and several months before his release, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel Prison Service launched a new policy restricting the rights of Palestinian political prisoners (commonly known as “security prisoners”).

The new restrictions, on top of existing discrimination between criminal and political prisoners, included an increased use in the solitary confinement of prominent leaders; a ban on Arabic newspapers, books and television; a halt on the transfer of funds from family members to prisoners, necessary for many basic food products, cigarettes and more; and discontinuing academic studies of the prisoners in Israel’s Open University, which enables distance learning.

These steps were portrayed as acts of leverage against Hamas – pressure for the release of Schalit – and were the cause of a three-week-long hunger strike undertaken by more than 100 prisoners. The strike ended upon the release of Schalit, in exchange for several hundred Palestinian prisoners, as the rest of the prisoners hoped that the deal would also lead to the cancelation of the new sanctions.

Yet it wasn’t long before they realized that the new restrictions were there to stay. In response to a series of appeals to District Courts and the Supreme Court, filed in the last two months by prisoners and human rights NGOs against the banning of academic studies, the IPS has repeatedly declared that it has no intention of changing its new policy.

In one of these appeals, attorney Abeer Baker, representing a prisoner who had hoped to complete his BA studies in prison, claims that the IPS decision to ban studies solely from political prisoners should be considered an illegal form of cruel and unusual collective punishment. Baker says that out of 270 prisoners taking university courses, some 210 are Palestinian political prisoners (this out of a general prison population of around 19,000, more than 5,000 of whom are political prisoners). “Studying… is not only meant to put the prisoners’ time behind bars to better use, but is also helpful in changing their behavior, lowering violence, bettering their self esteem, and strengthening their connection to the outside world,” Baker writes.

Precedent demonstrates that “an individual’s basic rights ‘survive’ even from behind bars,” write the lawyers of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, in yet another appeal. “Except for the prisoner’s freedom of movement, which is stripped of him, all other rights remain equal to those of any other person.” The ACRI lawyers add that the restriction on the education of Palestinian political prisoners must be canceled, as it constitutes discrimination between them and Jewish political prisoners: “IPS defines prisoners’ conditions in accordance with their ethno-national background. Need we say more to explain what is wrong with this policy?”

“We find that this fact speaks for itself”
The IPS response to these appeals, filed through the Attorney General’s office, offers a glimpse into a whole different philosophy on the function of punishment, in which a prisoner has no human rights at all, except for those defined in local and international laws. The IPS can only consider Palestinian political prisoners in this fashion, justifying treating them differently from “regular” prisoners.

“Security prisoners differ in essence from criminal, insofar as they act under the guidance of terrorist organizations, even within prison,” says the state to the court. “The state is obliged to give these prisoners all the basic rights given to other prisoners – but it is in no way obliged to offer them the privileges which it gives others.” And education, says the state, is no basic right, but rather a privilege.

Between its more principled arguments, one article in the state’s response is particularly odd: “We note that a review of the list of the most ‘popular’ courses amongst security prisoners reveals that one of these, undertaken by many prisoners, was ‘Genocide.’ We find that this fact speaks for itself.”

In reading this article, one cannot avoid asking what the Attorney General is trying to say in reporting this “important” fact so dramatically. Is it to say that the IPS suspects that the Israeli Open University is giving a course on how to commit genocide, which is what the Palestinians want to do to us? Is this, perhaps, the only argument in a 14-page legal document that tries to say that banning studies is actually a security measure? Surely the state knows, or can easily check, that this is a course that promotes the value of human life, and warns of the dangers and atrocities of war. Surely if there was any real danger in this course, the IPS could have just banned it, as it does with chemistry, computer science and others.

But this is exactly where the text speaks for itself. This short paragraph captures the absurdity of the rest of the text, in saying, “We know there is no justification for this – but we’ll pretend that there is,” or in other words, “We can do whatever we want, as we have the power, and they are the enemy.” This is the basic absurdity or impossibility inherent in the military court system, and in holding political prisoners in Israeli jails. It shows how the system cannot possibly treat human beings as such, with rights equal to their counterparts, and falls time and time again to see them as nothing more than “the enemy.” And it has nothing to do with genocide, and nothing to do with Gilad Schalit – it’s all about the occupation.

This piece originally appeared on MySay.

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      Does Haggai seriously think that the murderous attacks or attempts thereof perpetrated by these prisoners are not in fact attempts to participate in a genocide? What is the difference between forcing a group of Jews into a gas chamber or blowing up a group of Jews riding a bus? The technique may be different, but the results are the same. What the Arabs/Muslims have perpetrated against the Jews for the last 100 years (at least that) meets every definition of genocide. It may be low-scale, because the Arabs lack the sophistication of the Germans, but it IS a genocide nevertheless. The proclamations of their leaders easily comparable to the proclamations of the Nazis (driving the Jews into the sea, etc.) Why in the world, should the Jews not treat them as enemies? Why give them the free education? Also about the genocide course. This may surprise Haggai, but when they engage in that sort of a study, they may not interpret things the way a leftist Jew does. They may be deriving perverse pleasure from reading about the Holocaust. Also, they may be learning how to engage in a propaganda war against the Jews (by for example making the stomach-turning accusation that the genocide is being perpetrated against THEM.) And no, Haggai, it has NEVER been about “occupation”. The violence being perpetrated against the Jews (not only the Jews) has existed for 1400 years. What is going on in the Holy Land is merely a microcosm of the war being waged around the world.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mariana

      What is the difference between forcing a group of Jews into a gas chamber and occupying a territory and expelling its inhabitants to open air refugee camps? The technique may be different, but the results are the same. What is the difference between forcing a group of Jews into a gas chamber or demolishing Palestinian homes, cutting down olive trees, building a “security” wall that separates families and villages? The technique may be different, but the results are the same.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Hostage

      Transferring Palestinian civilians to prisons across the Green Line violates Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

      Israel signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on December 19, 1966 and ratified it on October 3, 1991. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr-ratify.htm

      Article 13 stipulates that the States Parties recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Carl

      Poltergeist and Mariana: your views are as dumb as the former’s name. Get married, move in together and never bother the world again. Well unless that world wastes it’s life at the arse end of the Haaretz comments section, in which case you’ll be in depressingly populous company.

      For the sake of the profoundly challenged, the difference is that neither have resulted in the deaths of millions. I’m off to bed. Hopefully I’ll wake up a different species from you both.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      “The violence being perpetrated against the Jews (not only the Jews) has existed for 1400 years. What is going on in the Holy Land is merely a microcosm of the war being waged around the world.”

      Intraspecies violence is recorded for other primates so probably warfare predates the emergence of Homo sapiens. The intelligence gained during the evolution was in a large part directed into improvements of warfare. Periodically people looked into ways of reducing the destructiveness of conflicts or even avoiding them altogether. Hence a wave of various treaties signed by most countries including Israel.

      Besides the requirements of the letter of these laws there is a major point: were people who designed those measured fools? Or perhaps there is a wisdom in restraint and even in generosity. E.g. in granting prisoners more privileges and opportunities that you absolutely have to? Would the extra dignity granted to the captured ooze back to the captors? What risks counter the chance that a less bloody mindset would be shared by the captured and the captors?

      We know that the reverse is definitely true. Al-Qutb, a renown theorist of Islamic terrorism was inspired in part by the years of tortures that were inflicted upon him by Egyptian authorities.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Berl

      Carl, I could not agree more

      Reply to Comment


      I don’t see how any of the acts you mentioned (and allegedly committed by the Jews) constitutes genocide. I find it impossible to draw parallels between expelling a population (assuming the Jews are even responsible for it), building a security fence and obliterating a population as was done during the Holocaust.


      “Transferring Palestinian civilians to prisons” Civilians??? Are people engaging in combat against citizens (who really are for the most part civilians) of a state civilians? Is a state obligated to provide COLLEGE education to enemy combatants? Really???


      You are yet another example of an individual who is utterly incapable of coming up with an intelligent argument and therefore having to reduce themselves to personal attacks. As weak as Mariana’s arguments are, she certainly does not stoop to your level. The reason you did may stem from the fact that you have been spending quite a bit of time in the Haaretz and 972mag comments sections which made you realize that you are a part of the depressingly populous company. So much so, that you don’t even have to worry waking up a different species.
      Given your apparent intellectual superiority, I find it baffling that you are not aware of the basic definition of genocide. Let’s take a look at Article 2 of the “Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” of the United Nations:
      In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
      (a) Killing members of the group;
      (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
      (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
      (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
      (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
      According to the above definition, since there has been a systematic effort to murder, maim and torment the Jewish population of the Holy Land, we can say with certainty that genocide is being perpetrated against them (as I said above a LOW SCALE genocide, but a genocide nevertheless). On the other hand, it cannot be said for the Arabs, because the suffering inflicted on them by the Jews only stems from Arab belligerence as a group. If attempts to murder Jews stop, then no harm would come to the Arabs.
      You state: “the difference is that neither have resulted in the deaths of millions.” Now, given your intellectual superiority, please explain, how does the NUMBER of deaths determine whether a genocide has been committed or not? Somehow, I highly doubt that you’ll be able to come up with a coherent explanation. Given the way you’ve been going, I suggest you stay asleep. The same goes for your friend Berl.
      You seem to base your views on the theory of evolution. Given that most of the conflicts and terrorism in the world today involve members of a certain religious group, can we conclude that they are less evolved? (sarcasm) Do you have any data that suggests that terrorists who received college education while in prison are more likely to mend their ways? You ask: “Would the extra dignity granted to the captured ooze back to the captors?” Well, would it? You ask “What risks counter the chance that a less bloody mindset would be shared by the captured and the captors?” Possibly the risk that an ignorant terrorist will turn into an educated terrorist? Of course the fact that the taxpayer’s money is being wasted is a secondary consideration. You state: “We know that the reverse is definitely true.” Do we? What about the case of Wafa El Bass who had been given medical treatment in Israel BEFORE ever being incarcerated. She attempted to come back to Israel to blow up the very hospital she was treated in. If you delve a bit more into this topic, you’ll realize that this is not an isolated instance, but a part of a larger trend. You state: “Al-Qutb, a renown theorist of Islamic terrorism was inspired in part by the years of tortures that were inflicted upon him by Egyptian authorities” Does anybody really get inspired by being tortured? Is it possible that had Al-Qutb not be a troublesome fellow, he never would have ended up in jail in the first place? Are you sure that torture made him worse than he already was?

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    8. berl

      a people of million of human beings becomes a people of combatants and enemies. You are dangerous, before than ignorant

      Reply to Comment
    9. directrob

      “Those who should use the word genocide never let it slip their mouths. Those who unfortunately do use it, banalise it into a validation of every kind of victimhood,” (Michael Ignatieff)
      Poltergeist, you using the term to deny prisoners their human rights is probably a new low in the history of the word.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Piotr Berman

      I do not “base my view on theory of evolution”. I believe in that theory, but as such, it makes no moral recommendations. I objected to the perspective of “the war around the world for the last 1400 years”. You may be interested to check what was going on in Palestine for 50 years before Muslim came: Zoroastrian Persians invade, Jews (and Samaritans?) are jubilant and massacre Christians, then Orthodox Greek invade, Christians are jubilant and massacre Jews, Persians come back etc.

      On a bad day, even Buddhists can massacre as well as anyone. About Jews, read about Kitos war. Jews, being not that numerous have fewer massacres of others in their history than, say, Shinto, but it is not that they never did it, never tried, or never glorified (I think that some of the most gruesome stuff in the Bible are pure inventions intended to prevent the feeling of inferiority in respect to Assyrians etc.)

      Back to prisoners. Treatment of prisoners, minorities (both ethnic and ideological) etc. is enacting some vision you have of yourself. Do we grasp for the opportunities (deserved or not) for being spiteful and vengeful, or not? If we do, where and how do we draw the line? Are we able to draw the line? Or we simply take spitefulness and vengeance as the central part of our identity?

      Reply to Comment