Saturday, October 8, 2011

No celebrations in jail

Observations on Yom Kippur 2011 (4)  

On this Yom Kippur, as on the preceding one, is spent by Gilad Shalit's parents in a tent outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. The price for the release of Shalit from Hamas captivity is known. The list of prisoners whose release the Palestinians require in exchange for Shalit is already for years in the possession of the Government of Israel - but the Prime Minister is not willing to pay the price.

Several months ago,  Benyamin Netanyahu found a replacement. In  a dramatic speech which made newspaper headlines, he announced that "The celebrations by Palestinians prisoners  in Israeli prisons are over" and immediately the prison authorities began to worsen the conditions for the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons: eliminating the possibility of academic studies by correspondence, limiting the newspapers which they can read and the television channels they can watch, and placing many of them in isolation, almost totally separated from other prisoners and the outside world. And all of this is of course in the name of the isolated prisoner Gilad Shalit, held somewhere in Gaza.

Several months passed of the new tough policy in the prisons and detention camps. And as one might expect (and as has been predicted by people who know a bit about these matters), the release of Gilad Shalit did not move an inch forward, and there was rising bitterness among Palestinians prisoners whose conditions were far from "a celebration" even before, and a prisoners' hunger strike began to gather momentum.
The Israeli media hardly reports it. Israeli citizens in whose eyes it is all about "terrorists" and "murderers" couldn't care less. But among Palestinians, where almost every family has a person sitting today in an Israeli prison and / or some who have done time in the past, the hunger strike has an enormous resonance.

It's been done before, at regular intervals since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967 and began to imprison Palestinians who expressed their opposition to this rule in various forms (by the way: not all of them by violent means). Every few years, somebody decided to exacerbate the conditions and "end the celebration", and always, soon afterwards a hunger strike started which caused unrest and tension in the prison itself as well as outside it, and eventually the authorities decided to quietly stop the worsening of conditions and restore the former situation. And so it probably will be again, now.

And Gilad Shalit? He will hopefully still be released, and return  to his loving family, and happy celebrations will take place all over the country. As soon as the government decides to cut a deal and pay the price required.