The real criminal is the occupation

Within the recognition of the plight of Palestinian prisoners lies the path to peace

Since 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have spent time inside Israeli jails according to the Palestinian foreign ministry. Nasser Ishtayeh / AP Photo
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For any observer of the West Bank or Gaza, one unifying thread binding Palestinian society is impossible to ignore. Almost every Palestinian family has a brother, a son, an uncle or cousin who has spent time in one of Israel’s jails. From legislators to farmers, no Palestinian can escape the long arm of the occupation. This is because Israel administers its control through a system of military laws that effectively criminalise Palestinian existence.

As The National reported, April 17 was a day of marches and rallies marking prisoners day. Since 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians are estimated to have spent time inside Israeli jails. This staggering figure is due to the myriad Kafkaesque laws used to enforce and control the occupation of Palestinian land. From organising a peaceful protest to digging a water well, all aspects of life are subject to criminalisation by Israel.

Given this legal architecture, it can be argued that the most violent periods in Israel and Palestine are not the outbreaks of bloodletting, rather the pervasive control over Palestinian life through laws that have no boundaries and are enforced in military courtrooms and administrative detention centres. So, where is the international outcry?

There have been hunger strikes – mostly notable Khader Adan’s 66-day period without food in 2012 – that have tried to raise awareness of this dire situation. However, the world remains largely in the dark to the gravity of the prisoner situation. This must change. More debate about this unexplored aspect of life under occupation is desperately needed. It was, after all, the internationalisation of political prisoners in Apartheid South Africa that helped turn the tide against the regime. The same can happen in Israel and Palestine.

As this sober anniversary passes, we must remember who is the ultimate criminal in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. A path to reconciliation lies in the recognition of this simple fact.