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.