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Palestinian Prisoners Take Center Stage in Palestine

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PALESTINE STATEHOOD BID UNESCO
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Sumud Ahmad Saadat is the daughter of the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), kidnapped from the Palestinian Authority's prison in Jericho by military force. Saadat is locked up in a jail inside Israel proper, in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, which forbid occupiers to transfer prisoners into the country of occupation. He has been held in solitary confinement for most of the past five years.

Sumud, in her early 20s now, has not seen her father in five years. Attempts to obtain this basic human right through the International Committee of the Red Cross have failed. Neither did an attempt to get redress from the Israeli courts have any result.

A month ago, the Israeli high court accepted the Israeli army lawyer's claims that if young Sumud would meet her father, he might transmit to her (even across a glass window) some kind of sign or message that would cause violence!

As a result, the high court of the "only democracy in the Middle East" forbade a young woman from seeing her father for the fifth year in a row.

Solitary confinement, banning family visits, collective punishment and depriving prisoners of access to satellite TV are some of the things Palestinian prisoners are subjected to. Some 6,000 Palestinian prisoners asked for their abolition on September 27, according to the Palestinemonitor.org. Prisoners' hunger strike and a disobedience campaign were launched by prisoners who are members of the PFLP following an increase in punitive measures enacted by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). The PFLP prisoners have since been joined by other inmates.

In addition to an open-ended, full-time hunger strike, inmates are also participating in part-time hunger strikes and refusing to obey certain IPS rules, such as wearing prison uniforms and participating in roll calls.

As the hunger strike enters its second week, the Palestinian population in the big prison -- the West Bank and Gaza -- is expressing solidarity and support for inmates. Sit-ins at Red Cross offices are taking place throughout the occupied territories. More protests are planned for October 6.

Israeli officials, who were so focused on the PLO's UN bid and the fear of mass activities thereafter, seem to have been taken by surprise by the prisoners' protests.

In his speech at the UN for statehood application, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made special reference to the need to pay attention to Palestinian freedom fighters held in Israeli jails in difficult circumstances.

If past actions are to be judged, prisoners' hunger strikes, more than actions at the UN, have a way of moving the Palestinian public like nothing else. In a small community such as Palestine, 6,000 prisoners mean hundreds of thousands of relatives and friends, as well as supporters. As prisoners on hunger strike become sick and there is a possibility of loss of life, the emotions outside prisons are often raw and produce active reactions.

Palestinian prisoners are held in 22 jails in Israel. They include 38 women, 285 children and 270 men held administratively (without charge); among them, there are 22 members of parliament taken as hostages. Twenty prisoners are held in solitary confinement and 143 prisoners have been incarcerated for more than 20 years.

A further development has been the apparent movement on the prisoner exchange negotiations. Gaza's Hamas officials expressed surprise that the German envoy negotiating the release of Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit made a sudden and unannounced visit to Egypt Tuesday. Hamas officials say that his visit was suggested by Israel to distract attention from the prisoners' demands.

While the Israeli media and hasbara (information campaign) give the Israeli soldier held by Hamas a huge amount of publicity, little attention has been given by regional and international press to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including some like Saadat, who were also kidnapped and whose family members are not allowed to visit them.

Palestinian protesters are hoping that their hunger strike will produce the needed attention to their suffering.

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