Friday, March 1, 2013

Middle East Monitor Review

Middle East Monitor, Review by Ramona Wadi.


Author: Norma Hashim
Paperback: 125 pages
Publisher: Islamic Human Rights Commission
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1903718929

Review by Ramona Wadi

Edited and published during the Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike, The Prisoners' Diaries is a distressing fragment of testimonies from Palestinians whose deterioration in Israeli jails has become a fact of life, rather than a blatant violation of human rights. The resilience against the occupation and a lack of global outrage against torture and apartheid practices resonated with irregular frequencies within the international community, as leaders relegate human rights to the vestiges of redundant diplomacy.

As the epitomes of the hunger strike, Samer Issawi and Ayman Sharawna, seem to have faded from public scrutiny, this book serves as a reminder of the reality experienced by hundreds of prisoners who have, at some point, been incarcerated and subjected to torture in Israeli prisons. The brief narrations manage to dissolve the facade of statistics and portray the humanitarian aspect - estranged families, poverty, illness, death and the metaphor of time experienced as a perpetual waiting and loathed dependence on an entity responsible for the deterioration of life as envisaged by the occupying power.

The intricate web of dependence is portrayed as a primary source facilitating physical and psychological torture. Apart from the notorious practice of administrative detention, which manipulates the essence of hope, dependence upon an oppressive regime responsible for atrocities distorts the whole concept of safeguarding one's personal wellbeing. Medical neglect is one of the most commonly cited forms of torture, with prisoners reporting being treated with painkillers instead of being administered the appropriate treatment. Others have reported being traumatised by the gloating of doctors over operations for malignant diseases. A particular testimony by Ahmad Alnajjar describes the humiliating predicament. "I was like a wounded man telling predators of his pain." Akram Mansour's complaints of pain became a source of psychological torture - apart from delaying medical investigations, the prison doctor informed him that 'deadly cancer had invaded my head'. After going on hunger strike as a form of protest against negligence and torture; a proper check-up ruled out the possibility of cancer.

Family constraints are evident in almost all the narrations. Dependence upon Israel to issue a visiting permit has rendered communication almost negligible. Resorting to letters, as one prisoner explained, is perceived as the only shield against insanity and endless waiting - a means through which the connection with the world beyond incarceration is retained. Prisoners recall the dissolution of family life since the time of arrest through various imposed measures - the destruction of family property, death of children following severe psychological trauma, the offers of exile as a means of permanent separation and the forced separation of children in different orphanages following the detention of both parents. Another form of isolation, which resonates amongst the collective, is the threats to 'exile' Palestinian prisoners from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Gaza - a move perceived as aiming to fragment the identity of Palestinians into that of estranged, separate factions.

It is evident from these narrations that the isolation from the family nucleus, as well as from the frontlines of the resistance has created a new form of endurance, in which the struggle against violence in Israeli jails became another link attributed to Palestinian resilience. There is an acknowledgement of violence by detainees, regarding their precarious and at times, deadly missions, in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Alongside the acknowledgement is the question of legitimacy, which is intertwined in the historical struggle of Palestinians. The vociferous condemnations against Palestinian violence resemble a perpetual echo, which in turn legitimises Israel's illegal occupation and its violations of international law. The main source of violence, before armed resistance formed part of the Palestinian struggle, was the international approval of Israeli independence, which enforced a web of isolation upon Palestinians in order to enshrine Zionist ideology and its repercussions.

In turn, this acknowledgement of violence brings the Western caricature of Palestinians into the equation. The oppressed population does not enter the configuration of international governmental organisations. Palestinian prisoners are classified as 'terrorists' by international leaders, thus reinforcing Israel's necessary propaganda to ensure the survival of the 'Jewish state'. The book dispels the 'terrorists' myth, depicting, through the detainees' own recollections, a sliver of life under occupation which rendered armed resistance a necessity. This phenomenon is perhaps best viewed through the coverage of corporate media regarding the capture of Gilad Shalit and the subsequent negotiations which secured his release and that of over a thousand of Palestinian prisoners. Israeli violence is legitimised by the media, on the pretext of security concern. Palestinian armed resistance is equated to terrorism, despite the fact that the need for security is an issue which goes back to the initial dispossession.

The book includes statistical information about Palestinian detainees, stating that around a fifth of the entire Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been incarcerated. Despite 645 complaints of torture and ill treatment, not a single investigation has been instigated. While activists and supporters of the Palestinian cause will undoubtedly be outraged by the atrocities narrated in this book, it would serve as an incentive for international leaders and organisations clamouring for human rights to reconsider and reconcile themselves with the universality of such themes. The discrepancy between the United Nation's Declaration of Human Rights and actual practice has become a source of contention and hypocrisy which needs to be addressed, lest the document is transformed into the proof of moral degeneration to safeguard imperial and regional interests.

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