[This is the introduction to a bundle of content produced by Jadaliyya’s Palestine Page Editors on Palestinian Prisoners. This bundle engages a range of subjects centering the Palestinian prisoner in the realm of carcerality and colonialism, as well as resistance to them. Scroll down for a full list of articles and compendia included in this bundle.]
In May 2021, sparked by the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah and the bombings of Gaza, Palestinians overcame the borders and boundaries separating them and rose up in the “Unity Uprising”. In just five days, between May 9 and 14, over 700 Palestinian citizens of Israel were detained, many of whom are still imprisoned or subject to fines and continued legal measures. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers attacking and targeting Palestinians ran unabashedly free. In October 2021, the Israeli Ministry of Interior issued a military order designating six Palestinian organizations “terror groups.” Those affiliated with these organizations, including staff, board members, and even visitors,could be subject to arrest and detention. In a year of unprecedented global support for Palestine as well as a renewed commitment to a unified future from the Palestinians across colonial divides, carcerality and its threat have escalated as a settler-colonial technology of confinement, containment, and terror. In this context, the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from one of Israel’s most notorious prisons provided inspiration to an entire nation.
In the summer of 2021, six Palestinian captives used a small contraband metal spoon to dig a tunnel from the bathroom in their cell to the outside world. When news of their escape broke, Palestinians across the world found joy in a glimpse of possibility in the collective aspiration for freedom. For six days, the men tasted cactus fruit for the first time in decades, spent nights under open sky, and struggled to stay away from large Palestinian population centers, trying desperately to not instigate any collective punishment on their Palestinian siblings in historic Palestine. When the massive Israeli military campaign culminated in their recapture, it was not an end to the hope for freedom but a reminder that every minute of it should be cherished, and with every step forward, we strive for a seventh day.
Palestinian scholars have always placed emphasis on analyzing the carceral conditions, including the important work by Lena Meari, Esmail Nashif, Nahla Abdo, and the authors in the most recent issue of Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya by the Institute for Palestine Studies. However, these works recognize that Israel’s incarceration practices do not exist in a vacuum. They are intertwined with other regimes through their shared tactics, including weapons manufacturing and police exchanges, particularly with the United States. Therefore, the articles in this bundle are part of the larger global project of carceral studies to understand settler-colonial expansion through state punishment and incarceration practices. Importantly, carceral studies and abolitionist praxis, including the articles in this bundle, are generated from lived experience, particularly the everyday ways incarceration penetrates the most intimate spaces of Palestinain life. Since the Nakba, over one million Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces, and almost half of the male population has been arrested at least once. For Palestinians, incarceration has become an intergenerational experience that is embedded in the Palestinian collective memory as much as it is part of the daily present. Palestinians have used the spaces of political captivity and carcerality as sites of regenerating national solidarities. We encourage our readers to critically consider the impact of the longstanding use of arrest, interrogation, torture, and imprisonment by the Israeli forces as a central facet of settler-colonial expansion.
This bundle is dedicated to exploring the realm of Palestinian imprisonment, settler-colonial carceral technologies, and resistance to them. It was initiated as part of an effort to welcome Jadaliyya’s newest Palestine Page editors, Randa Wahbe, Nour Joudah, and Rabea Eghbaria. Together, our newly expanded editorial team solicited articles, reflections, and collated additional resources—past Jadaliyya articles as well as Prisoners’ letters—on the matter.
The bundle begins in the immediate present with an Arabic-language essay by Jinan Abdo, a Palestinian lawyer who represents Mahmoud Al-Arda and Monadel Nafee’at, two of the six Palestinians who escaped from Gilboa prison. Abdo recounts her visit with the two recaptured prisoners who now are held in solitary confinement and isolated from one another across Israel’s prison network. She visits Al-Arda and Nafee’at in Al Ramle Prison and recounts her encounter by walking readers through the prison’s colonial geography and puts us in direct contact with Palestine’s national heroes. They are not defeated. Al-Arda, known to be the mastermind of the escape, greets Abdo with a tremendous smile and immediately identifies exactly where she is from in Palestine, thus suturing a national fabric even under the most oppressive conditions of Israeli state violence. In his meeting with Abdo, Nafee’at provides a detailed account of the journey through the tunnel that led the six prisoners to freedom, providing a glimpse of what has become akin to Palestinian national folklore for its grandiosity. Abdo, herself from Nazareth, explains that the two men were keen to tell her that the stories of Palestinian betrayal that led to their recapture are disputable rumors. Abdo’s essay reminds us that, though no longer the subject of sensationalist headlines, this struggle continues and our superheroes are, in fact, the flesh and spirit of nearly all Palestinians, born into conditions of unfreedom and destined to upend them.
Basil Farraj’s contribution places the Gilboa prison break in the broader history of Palestinian negotiated prisoner releases and exchanges. He notes that since 1949, thirty-nine prisoner exchanges have resulted in the release of 30,000 Palestinian prisoners in addition to the successful return of Palestinian corpses held in mass graves and morgue freezers. Perhaps one of the most significant of these exchanges happened in 1968, after the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) commandeered an El-Al airplane flying from Tel Aviv to Rome and forced it to land in Algiers. The effort resulted in exchanging thirty-seven Palestinian prisoners with long sentences for the plane and its Israeli passengers. Farraj also details prisoner releases as a result of negotiations, the most infamous being the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994. Not only did the release of prisoners lead to their recapture by Israel or transfer to Palestinian captivity but it also demanded that each individual prisoner endorse the Oslo Agreement and repudiate resistance as a condition of their release. Under this arrangement, less than 5,000 of the 12,000 prisoners then in custody were released, and twenty-six Palestinians arrested before the signing of the Oslo Agreement remain imprisoned.
Among those twenty-six long-term prisoners is Walid Dakka. Dakka was twenty-four when Israel arrested him in 1986. The government has resolutely refused to release him in any of the prisoner exchanges. Now fifty-nine years old, Daka is enduring his thirty-seventh year in Israeli cages. He has been able to transcend his physical immobility through his prolific writings. In their joint contribution, Hashem Abu-Shawwa and Basil Farraj exploring the body of Dakka’s work to provide not only a critique of Palestinian captivity in Israeli prisons but Israel’s broader carceral state which keeps all Palestinians unfree. In particular, the authors focus on a letter Dakka wrote in 2006, marking the first day of his twentieth year in captivity. The letter, also known as “Parallel Time,” connects the fragmentation of Palestinian society in 1948 to the juridical and geographic fragmentations separating Palestinians in 2006. Dakka is concerned with the potential of these divisions to undermine the Palestinian liberation struggle and the political configurations that underpin it. Abu-Shawwa and Farraj identify similar temporal and geographical cleavages in their examination of the 2014 staging of “Parallel Time” at al-Midan Theater in Haifa, which ultimately led to the State defunding of the entire Theater in retribution and punishment.
Tamar al-Ghabin transports us across time and space in her triangulation of the Gilboa prison break in 2021 with the 1968 uprising at Attica prison in upstate New York, and the enduring Black and Palestinian prisoner solidarities. Al-Ghabin’s work demonstrates how abolitionist principles anchor these solidarities and point to liberated futures. She focuses on the role of prisons in achieving social control and distinguishes both method and purpose between the United States and Palestine. What is common to carceralities in both locales is prison’s role in alienating individuals from their communities in the service of racial capitalism. This is true in the rural and inner city US landscapes marked by crisis described by Ruthie Wilson Gilmore in the late nineties as they are in Mandate Palestine where British colonial overseers attempted to mark civilization in economic terms, as explored by Sherene Seikaly. Al-Ghabin concludes by enumerating abolitionist lessons that prisoners have offered us all through their resistance. Among these lessons is the centrality of land in the rehabilitation of social relations. She writes, the Gilboa escapees found refuge in the land and in doing so, urged “us to think about ways in which the nonhuman should be incorporated into our notions of abolition and recuperated social relations. This is also where abolition can and should meet up explicitly with decolonization and Indigenous scholarship and movements.”
Fadi Quran emphasizes the complexities of decolonization as reflected by the role of the Palestinian security regime in service of Israel’s totalizing control over Palestinian lives. Quran has been imprisoned a total of eight times by Israeli and Palestinian police, most recently by the PA during the popular protests against the PA’s assassination of Nizar Banat in June 2021. In his personal essay, Quran reflects on those experiences and urges an alternative to comparison as an analytical method. Instead, he emphasizes how Israel’s social psychology has permeated and engulfed Palestinian regimes of control. He traces this phenomenon through three categories: existential angst, teaching helplessness, and a culture of societal betrayal. His detailed account of captivity is inflected with empathy for the Palestinian police, whom he insists sincerely believe that they are serving their national duty. Quran highlights how the current Palestinian security apparatus is composed of former political prisoners, torture survivors, and hunger strikers. He recounts the disturbing warning of a Palestinian warden who seeks to break Quran’s own hunger strike. “Son, I know what hunger strikes are, and I know how they can be defeated,” the warden tells Quran. “Now you feel a sense of control, a sense of power. But I am the one in control, and I know that if I create enough confusion and uncertainty for you and your colleagues, eventually you will lose control - and remember who really has the power here. That is what the Israelis did to break us, and we were much more hardened than you lot…” Quran concludes with thoughts about a singular carceral regime controlling Palestinian life that is undergirded and upheld by Palestinian participation.
This bundle is complemented by two compendia: one features some of Jadaliyya’s most significant interventions on the question of Palestinian prisoners, and another features letters Palestinian prisoners wrote during their captivity. Our hope in curating these pieces as well as the compendia is to contribute to a critical archive that centers Palestinian prisoners. Indeed, they have been the intellectuals, the strategists, and the visionaries. From them, and with them, across violent fragmentations and regimes of control, we hope to learn and build pathways to emancipatory futures.
- أحرار رغم العزل والقهر: زيارة محمود العارضة ومناضل نفيعات من جنان عبده
- Breaking the Safe Open: From Gilboa to other Prisons by Basil Farraj
- “Parallel Time”: Cultural Productions from the Small Prison to the Large Prison by Basil Farraj and Hashem Abushama
- The Future-Making of Prisoner Resistance by Tamar al-Ghabin
- The Russian-Doll Carceral State by Fadi Quran