Press treats Palestinian protests as tactic aimed at Obama, but they began long before he announced visit

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Yesterday Israel demanded that the Palestinian Authority take action to “calm the territory,” responding to Palestinian protests in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners ahead of President Obama’s visit to the region, less than a month away. That Israeli demand has gone viral–as the protests are finally garnering international attention after months.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for the resistance and gave no indication he would be issuing any “call for calm“.

Reuters stated in its report:

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defence Ministry official, questioned whether the protests were just a tactical move by the Palestinians to draw international attention before Obama’s visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

And this has become a theme in western coverage. Two days ago the Islamophobic publication Front Page Magazine headline glared, “Palestinian Muslims Planning ‘Mini-Intifada’ for Obama Visit”, and Isabel Kershner opened her New York Times coverage of the Ofer prison protests on the 19th by citing Obama’s trip:

JERUSALEM — Hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails refused meals on Tuesday in solidarity with four hunger-striking detainees, and supporters held protests in the West Bank, as the Palestinians sought to pressure Israel before President Obama’s visit to the region next month.

This idea the Palestinians are staging protests in response to Obama’s visit draws attention away from their actual mission: against occupation and the cruel and archaic practice of administrative detention.

We began posting on the drastic increase in provocative actions taken by Israel back in early December, just days after the UN Palestinian upgrade, when Israeli media first started spreading rumors of a Third Intifada. Then in January an Israel army commander, Yaniv Alaluf, declared the intifada had already begun. Our timeline from last December includes a video of a protest for hunger strikers on December 12th. The idea that this is a tactic related to Obama’s visit is refuted by the evidence. Some of the prisoners have been on hunger strikes for over 200 days.

Back to Reuters:

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Abbas aide, said Israel’s treatment of prisoners and anti-Palestinian violence by Jewish settlers were “the cause of the deterioration”.

This is a reference to Israeli raids on occupied Palestinian towns, making arrests including children. In an interview with Haaretz  last December, Abbas says that the Israelis were motivated by the Palestinian move at the U.N. in November:

“The Israeli government has taken 50 different steps since the UN move,” Abbas told Gal-On. “The Israeli military has started to raid Palestinian cities without coordinating with our security forces. They don’t ask permission and don’t even let us know in advance.”

The secretary-general of the PA presidency, Tayeb Abdul Rahim, who also attended the meeting, intervened and said that during the past three months Israel had arrested 200 members of the PA security forces, though most were released after a brief questioning.”

Palestinians have been trying to get the world’s attention to stop these inhumane practices for a long time. Note this long pattern of stepped up arrests (here, here) and rearrests of prisoners previously released in the prisoner exchange with Gilad Shalit, the invasion of  Palestinian towns from Jenin to Hebron and jailing of P.A. security forces, the cooperation and collaboration of the Israeli army and violent settlers , the increase in settler violence with incidents happening daily. This pattern began long before Obama announced his visit.

If Israel wants calm on the eve of Obama’s visit, abducting innocent people (including children) from their homes, or at checkpoints and hauling them in for extended periods of interrogation is not the way to assure it. An accelerated policy of land confiscations and demolition orders sweeping East Jerusalem and other areas of the West Bank, many accompanied by arrests won’t stem the tide either.

Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe has suggested Obama “should exert pressure on Israel to release the prisoners.”

International pressure on Obama surrounding his visit may be the only way to get Obama to speak out. But so far the results are not very encouraging. The western press has been largely silent about the Israeli tactics in the West Bank. For instance, that rally in support of hunger strikers locked in Israeli prisons last December was picked up in China, by Xinhua, no story here. (The reports are archived here.)

Gee, ya think? This is a global problem and it needs a solution, now.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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