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I want to share with you two people who have become heroes of mine—and whom I was lucky enough to meet within the last year or so. One is the Palestinian artist and cartoonist Mohammed Sabaaneh. The other is U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum of St. Paul, MN. Two people of different generations, from different countries, in different walks of life: but they both inspire me through their work defying the Israeli system of detention and imprisonment.
Sabaaneh is an artist and cartoonist who was imprisoned for months by Israel for his work expressing political views. He is so much like people I know—another ink-stained wretch, to use the old journalistic expression. He’s young, bespectacled, with a merry sense of humor. But his work has been at once darkened and lifted up by his imprisonment. The trauma of solitary confinement informs Sabaaneh’s drawings and gives them dignity and compassion.
McCollum is a former teacher who has pushed pioneering legislation: a bill to stop Israel from using American dollars for its detention of children. She is committed because she has visited the occupation and knows what she saw is apartheid. How many public figures in the United States even dare to bear witness to the conditions that Palestinians have described? Although AIPAC has slandered her as a friend of terrorists, McCollum does not shy away from the issue. For me, her advocacy personifies the ideal of humble service.
There is no issue that makes the offenses of Israel’s regime more apparent than its treatment of prisoners. At Mondoweiss, we try to cover regularly Israel’s use of imprisonment and its wrenching conditions. We’ve reported on many Palestinians who have been imprisoned for the most ordinary political acts of resistance—making art or speaking out—such as Sabaaneh, the Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar and Abdallah Abu Rahma, one of the leaders of weekly protests in the village of Bil’in. And I hope you remember the stirring stories that the poet Dareen Tatour has written for us about her time in Israeli prison for writing poetry deemed a threat to the state.
If you haven’t donated yet this month, I ask today for your gift to help Mondoweiss continue covering Israel’s unfair political trials and conditions in its prisons. These stories are essential to building Palestinian solidarity and changing the image of Palestine in the United States. They demonstrate that Palestinian activists, intellectuals, and artists are very similar to those figures in our society, except that they have far fewer rights. Yet they carry on, with a physical and mental toughness I can only admire, and salute.
I know that I am not singling Israel out here. This issue has global application. And for me the issue of prisoners’ humanity has become personal: I’ve begun volunteering with a prisoners’ organization in the United States. Our criminal incarceration model deserves constant and loud protests for its cruelty and rigidity and racism.
And just as I’ve personally witnessed and admired the efforts of American prisoners to retain their humanity in impossible conditions, I am awed too by the ongoing resistance of Palestinian prisoners. Last spring a hunger strike by 400 Palestinian prisoners resulted in a real victory: access to pay phones three times a week to call loved ones. Helena Cobban celebrated that victory, and the prisoners’ bravery, in a Mondoweiss post. Winning a single battle, however, only creates the conditions for the next one: Israel later reneged on parts of that concession, leading to further hunger strikes.
Last month, Yousef Aljamal wrote for us about the death from cancer of Sami Abu Diak, 36, inside an Israeli prison. The cruelty of Israel’s denial of his last request—to be with his mother in his final days—boggles the mind.
In the face of relentless inhumanity, Mondoweiss covers ChangeMakers like the hunger strikers in Israel because they exemplify sumud—the immovable commitment to continued perseverance. We cover Mohammed Sabaaneh’s art and his speaking out because his work reaches people around the world. And we cover McCollum’s efforts because she is not alone, but works within a movement in the United States, to finally make Israel accountable for such human rights violations. All the ChangeMakers we tell you about are inspiring—and effective—because they pursue their goals not as isolated individuals but as part of a mass wave of resistance.
My message to you today is a tribute to the strength and persistence of Palestinians and their allies everywhere. Those who protest, those who survive and those who die in prison deserve to have their stories told for the world to demand change. If you agree that it is our duty to shout these stories from the rooftops, I ask respectfully for your support of Mondoweiss’s journalism.
We will not rest, we will not abandon the responsibility of telling story after story, opening the world’s eyes to heartrending injustice. And if you join us in this effort, perhaps we can be worthy of their sacrifices. Thank you for whatever you can do, as a partner in our work.