The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag is a compilation of first hand experiences of 22 Palestinian prisoners released from prison by Israel as part of the prisoner exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit. The prisoners were interviewed by journalists and their accounts, their diaries, were compiled into a book by Norma Hashim. These autobiographical texts offer a rare opportunity to comprehend the inhumane indignities endured by tens of thousands of Palestinians prisoners throughout the decades of this long painful conflict.
The book was a collaborative effort, a labor of love. The introduction was written by Ramzy Baroud. Joe Catron and Mark Gibson edited the texts and they were then translated into English by Yousef M. Aljamal and Raed Qadoura at the Centre for Political and Development Studies (CPDS) in Gaza. The book is set to be released on April 17th.
Richard Falk has written a powerful review Reading Palestinian Prison Diaries that deserves to be read in full. He makes a powerful point that history will one day vindicate the ‘crimes’ of Palestinians “as part of a final chapter in the struggle against European colonial rule,” which I believe to be true. I have not read the book, but it is available on pdf right now for the shocking price of $1.99 , if you have a Paypal account.
Stay tuned, we’ll be bringing you more news of The Prisoner’s Diaries in the coming weeks ahead.
What I found most valuable about this publication was its success in turning the abstraction of Palestinian prisoners into a series of human stories most of which exhibit agonized feelings of regret resulting from prolonged estrangement from those they most love in the world. Particularly moving were the sorrows expressed by men missing their mothers and daughters. These are the written words of prisoners who have been convicted of various major crimes by Israeli military courts, some of whom face cruel confinement for the remainder of their life on earth, and who have been further punished by being deprived of ever seeing those they love not at all, or on rare occasions, for brief tantalizing visits under dehumanizing conditions, through fogged up separation walls.
It is a tragic aspect of the occupation that after 45 years of occupation there is not a Palestinian family that is left untouched by the Israeli criminalization of all forms of resistance, including those that are nonviolent and symbolic.
We need a wider ethical, legal, and political perspective to grasp properly this phenomenon of Palestinian prisoners. The unlawful occupation policies of Israel are unpunished even when lethal and flagrantly in violation of international humanitarian law, and are rarely even officially criticized in international arenas. In contrast lawful forms of resistance by the Palestinian people are harshly punished, and the resulting victimization of those brave enough to resist is overlooked almost everywhere. If we side with those who resist, as was done during World War II when those Europeans mounted militant forms of resistance against German occupation and criminal practices, we glorify their deeds and struggle. Yet if the occupier enjoys our primary solidarity we tend to criminalize resistance without any show of empathy. To some extent, this book cuts through this ideological myopia, and lets us experience the torment of these prisoners as human beings rather than as Palestinian ‘soldiers’ in the ongoing struggle against Israel.
Above all, these texts in almost every page confirm that particularly prized Palestinian collective public/private virtue of sumud or steadfastness……what comes across from these diary pages are deep commitments rooted in love of family and homeland as strengthened by religious faith and practice and sustained by prison camaraderie or in embittered reaction to the dehumanizing atmosphere of enduring prison life year upon year.
What is needed, beyond all doubt, is a code of conduct, if not an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, that fills in this gap associated with resistance. Resisters should be treated with the same dignity under international humanitarian law as is associated with Prisoners of War. Their acts, even if violent, are in keeping with prevailing societal and civilizational values, and perpetrators, even when confined for reasonable security reasons, should be treated with appropriate dignity. Unlike sociopathic common murderers, rapists, and the like (and even they should also be treated in accord with international standards), the acts of Palestinian prisoners are viewed as heroic by their own society and political culture, as well as many people throughout the world. They deserve international recognition and protection. Their ‘crimes’ will eventually be vindicated by history as part of a final chapter in the struggle against European colonial rule. I believe it to be a moral obligation of all of us who care about human rights and freedom to read this book, and share it with others. The Palestinians, whose rights and dignity have been long trampled upon, especially deserve our deepest empathy, as well as our solidarity in their struggle. Reading the words of these prisoners vividly discloses the nature of such a struggle in the form of witnessing by those Palestinians who have put their lives at risk for the sake of recovering their stolen homeland.