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On Palestinian Prisoner Day stand in solidarity for the freedom of all indigenous peoples

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Almost one month before the 67th anniversary of the Nakba, or the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, Palestinians are also remembering the prisoners and the overwhelming incarceration rates that they face by the State of Israel. Today, April 17, is Palestinian Prisoner day. Setting aside the complex architecture of violence that Israel has created in relation to the continued facilitation of the Nakba, the overwhelming predominance of indigenous peoples in the prison systems is a trend prevalent within settler colonial states.

Settler colonialism is a particular system of colonization that relies on immigration and settlement at the expense of the indigenous peoples who originally inhabited the lands. Settler colonialism has five logics embedded within its legal framework and structural psyche which are: the logic of elimination; the logic of racialization; the logic of expansionism; the logic of exceptionalism; and the logic of denial (PDF). Consequently, these five logics produce the predominance of indigenous peoples within the prison system and as a result have created the sixth logic known as the logic of securitization.

Personifying the Settler Colonial State: The logics of Settler Colonialism

The logic of elimination explains itself as it is about a wiping out campaign of the indigenous peoples of the lands whether it be through memoricide or genocide using laws and policies as the operationalization scheme. The logic of racialization is about the racist legislation and discriminatory procedures imposed by the settler colonial state against its respective indigenous peoples. The logic of expansionism is about the settlements and settler population immigrating to the lands; justified by law and religious doctrines for the implementation of the policy of land and resource robbery, annexation, usurpation and therefore overall politico-economic expansionism of the settler colonial state. This suffocating procedure is further enhanced by the logic of exceptionalism whereby the suffocation tactics are justified morally and ethically as the settler colonial state perceives to have a supreme or higher morality in comparison to the perceived inferiority of indigenous peoples of the land. This higher morality therefore gives way to the fifth logic being the logic of denial, whereby the settler colonial state denies any wrongdoing or even the existence of indigenous peoples and their rights within this overall apparatus that indigenous peoples are forced to live under. However, whether the settler colonial state realizes it or not these actions haunt the subconscious of the state thereby living in permanent and obsessive insecurity as a result of their actions and failed guilt management tactics thereby producing an imprisonment and incarceration existence for indigenous peoples also known as the logic of securitization fuelled by immense fear of the “other”.

Visualizing settler colonialism for what it is through these logics, it becomes clear and coherent how this is a trend among indigenous peoples within settler colonial states particularly in Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Starting with Israel, setting aside the imprisonment-like existence stemming from the occupation and colonization imposed on their everyday lives, over 800,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated since 1967, which includes women and children, as well as the torture and ill-treatment and denial of basic human rights in these circumstances. In fact, the situation of incarceration is so disturbing that Palestinians have had to engage in what is known as sperm smuggling as a form of resistance from denial of family reunions. This information was further reinforced by the latest report of the visit of the former Special Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories.

The indigenous peoples of Canada live under similar circumstances in relation to settler colonialism. The reservation system in Canada are enclaved territories like the West Bank and Gaza Strip with oppressive laws imposed on these territories. Indigenous peoples in Canada make up approximately 3-4% of the overall population in the country but have the highest rate of incarceration, also including women and children. This is particularly true for those indigenous peoples from the reservation territories as in the case of the Palestinians. Criticism of such statistics have also been outlined and discussed in the latest report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

As for Australia and its similar systemic context of colonial manifestation in relation to Israel and Canada, they have a disturbing and epidemic rate of indigenous incarceration as well. Last but not least, the same has been reflected in New Zealand in relation to the Maoris who have been designated as having one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world.

International Law: Enhancing or Eliminating Imprisonment?

Under international law the indigenous peoples rights instrument is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document which has not been ratified by any of the said settler colonial states mentioned (PDF). Furthermore, the international law regime is colluding in the facilitation of the imprisonment of indigenous peoples such as the case of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees hiring security companies like G4S that provide surveillance technology to Israeli prisons that hold Palestinian children against international law (PDF).

Therefore, Palestinian Prisoner’s Day represents this struggle that indigenous peoples are facing against settler colonialism enabled and fuelled by the international law regime. It is a reminder for the need for action towards the preservation of the rights of indigenous peoples globally and the elimination of the five logics embedded in the legal and structural framework of states that fuel settler colonialism. The right of indigenous peoples is the right to self-determination; meaning freedom from an incarcerating existence. In the case of the Palestinians, international law’s solution is perpetuating the incarceration through the statehood bid; a solution that resembles an open air prison for Palestinians disturbed by the state of Israel as a settler colonial state — yet a prison recognized by international law. Therefore, Prisoner’s Day is a day to recognize freedom; a concept the international law regime is inept at comprehending.

About Ahmad Moussa

Ahmad Moussa is a freelance writer and contributor to Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye and Counterpunch. He is an international human rights activist, scholar and consultant with a Master of Arts in International Law and Human Rights.

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4 Responses

  1. just
    April 17, 2015, 4:15 pm

    Huge thanks for this searingly honest piece, Ahmad.

    “..The right of indigenous peoples is the right to self-determination; meaning freedom from an incarcerating existence. In the case of the Palestinians, international law’s solution is perpetuating the incarceration through the statehood bid; a solution that resembles an open air prison for Palestinians disturbed by the state of Israel as a settler colonial state — yet a prison recognized by international law. Therefore, Prisoner’s Day is a day to recognize freedom; a concept the international law regime is inept at comprehending.”


    I read this woefully sad article by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac earlier today:

    “Help came too late for Jafar Awad in Israeli jail

    Suffering from a rare disease while serving time in an Israeli prison, months went by before Awad was hospitalized and given a diagnosis. To no avail. After his funeral, soldiers shot and killed his cousin.

    It’s a jarring poster of death: Jafar Awad is lying unconscious in a Hebron hospital, a breathing tube thrust into his mouth, while his close friend and cousin, Ziyyad Awad, is leaning over his bed. Within 12 hours both young men in the picture will be dead.

    Jafar died last Friday before dawn; 12 hours later, Ziyyad was shot to death by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, on his way back from the funeral. Jafar languished in an Israeli prison, apparently suffering from a rare disease, until his release. His death provoked rage in his hometown of Beit Umar, near Hebron, where the general sentiment is that Jafar did not get proper medical treatment during his incarceration. Now the town is mourning for two of its sons: Jafar, a 22-year-old student, and Ziyyad, 28, who was married and had two children.

    A cold wind lashed the mourners’ tent, which was deserted when we arrived one morning this week. Soon, however, young people from the town showed up to clean and organize the huge tent and the adjacent meeting hall, to the sounds of songs of lamentation for the dead. There was a palpably fraught atmosphere, with the pounding of drums heard via loudspeakers, the gusts of wind, the photographs of the town’s martyrs on the walls, and the dozens of grim-faced men who gathered and sat in the rows of chairs.

    Ibrahim Awad, Jafar’s father, was there, too. He’s 44, a physical education teacher. When Jafar, his firstborn, came into the world, he was in prison. His son was brought for him to see for the first time, through the bars that separate visitors from inmates, when the baby was a month old. It wasn’t until four years later, when he was released, that Ibrahim was able to hug the boy. …

    …Alongside the picture in the mourners tent of Ziyyad bending over Jafar is another photo. It shows Jafar in the Hebron hospital holding a note he wrote, a kind of last testament: “I, released prisoner Jafar Awad, say to the world: Free all the sick prisoners.””

    There are many thousands of Palestinian innocents, including children, who are being kidnapped and incarcerated by the GoI.

  2. just
    April 17, 2015, 6:30 pm

    I noticed that you left out the US. The US has much culpability as well as far as being a settler colonial state, and it currently has the largest prison population in the world, iirc. Most are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

    Haaretz published a piece today:

    “Palestinians clash with IDF during Prisoners Day demonstrations

    More than 6,000 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails, including some 450 serving indeterminate sentences under administrative detention provisions.

    …Prisoners Day is marked every year in solidarity with the more than 6,000 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails.

    Fourteen Palestinian members of parliament and 20 journalists are among those detained and over 450 Palestinians are being held without trial for indeterminate periods under administrative detention provisions. …”

    It’s really unconscionable.

    Here’s DAM’s “A Letter From a Prison Cell:

    • RockyMissouri
      April 18, 2015, 11:03 am

      I agree with every word. My heart is broken. Palestinians do not deserve this horror.

  3. Brewer
    April 18, 2015, 2:58 am

    Then the storm comes rumblin’ in
    And I can’t lay me down
    And the drums are drummin’ again
    And I can’t stand the sound

    But I believe there’ll come a day when the lion and the lamb
    Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

    And there’ll be no barricades then
    There’ll be no wire or walls
    And we can wash all this blood from our hands
    And all this hatred from our souls

    And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
    Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

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