Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 03:03
Arafat Jaradat, a thirty-year-old Palestinian resident hailing from the West Bank village of Sa’eer, died in an Israeli detention facility on Saturday, Feb. 23. Though Israeli officials initially posited that his death was caused by cardiac arrest, an autopsy completed in Israel revealed that the Palestinian father and husband had recently incurred approximately eight broken bones in his arms, ribs, legs, neck, and spine. Taking into account the fact that no evidence of heart problems turned up during the autopsy, Palestinian experts and officials have deduced that Jaradat died as a result of injuries inflicted by torture during his five-day detainment.
The logical question to ask following this conclusion is: What sort of grave security threat did Jaradat pose to merit torture so intense that he lost his life to his injuries? The answer is shocking: Jaradat was accused of throwing rocks and an unconfirmed Molotov cocktail at an Israeli civilian in November.
Jaradat’s death coincides with a growing movement among Palestinian civil society in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners who choose hunger strikes as a means to resist the abhorrent conditions that prisoners are subjected to in Israeli detention facilities. A number of human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and the UN, have highlighted the physical and psychological torture that exists alongside repulsive hygienic conditions in Israeli prisons. As of right now, around 3,000 Palestinians are participating in hunger strikes across the West Bank. One Palestinian man, Samer Isaawi, has held out his hunger strike for over 200 days, and physicians worry that he may die at any moment.
Isaawi is being held under administrative detention, a policy whereby an accused person can be legally put in prison for up to six months with no charges. There is no limit to the number of times that this 6-month sentence can be renewed.
This means that a Palestinian can legally spend the entirety of his or her life in jail without knowing what charges put him or her there, and thus is completely incapable of mounting any kind of coherent legal defense. One hundred and seventy-eight Palestinians are reported to be currently serving time under administrative detention, and Human Rights Watch called the practice “abusive.” Sarah Whitson, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, recently stated simply that “It is outrageous that Israel has locked these men up for months without either charging them with crimes or allowing them to see the evidence it says it has against them. The detainees evidently feel they have to put their lives in jeopardy through hunger strikes so that Israel will end these unlawful practices.” Life in these facilities is so detestable and unjust that literally thousands of prisoners are willing to risk their lives in protest.
This summer, through my work with a human rights organization on the ground in the West Bank, I translated the testimony of a Palestinian man (we’ll call him Tha’ir) into English so that human rights groups could advocate for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to open an investigation into his complaint. Tha’ir was tortured and sexually assaulted by a group of IDF soldiers during his 24-hour detainment. I had previously skimmed through a few of the United Nation’s reports on the deployment of methods such as sleep deprivation, binding in painful positions, choking, rape threats, and intense beatings in Israeli prisons, but that knowledge did nothing to prepare me for the emotional week I spent with Tha’ir’s testimony. I stared at a 12-page account of each terrible act that he was subjected to over the course of his ordeal, trying in vain to accurately translate the nightmare he underwent onto the written page. I read about how he was dragged barefoot through the streets of his native city, kicked in the stomach repeatedly, chained to a chair and beaten with a stick until it broke on his back, peed on, insulted and denied food, water, or a bathroom for approximately 20 hours. Soldiers attempted to insert foreign objects into Tha’ir’s anus and convinced him that his elderly father had died following his arrest, at which he nearly lost hope and confessed to a crime he did not commit.
Tha’ir’s alleged crime? Throwing stones. And despite pressure from eight international human rights groups to find justice for this tortured man and situate his story in the larger context of detainee abuse in Israel, the IDF closed the case quickly and quietly.
These repugnant realities are not isolated incidents. The people described above are not a small minority who have somehow fallen through the cracks of the Israeli military legal system that governs the West Bank. They represent the institutionalized human rights violations committed on a daily basis by the Israeli regime in the West Bank, a regime that displays little regard for the dignity of Palestinian life.
In light of these unacceptable circumstances, Tufts’ Students for Justice in Palestine will fast all day Thursday, March 7 as a symbolic act of solidarity with Palestinian hunger-strikers who put their lives at risk to resist the injustices of their incarceration. As Tufts students, we are all concerned global citizens. This is a human rights issue at its core and, despite the convoluted debate in which this conflict is enveloped, the Palestinian struggle for freedom is no different than any other social justice movement. It is time to stop pretending that the Israeli-security paradigm is the only lens through which we must judge this conflict, and by extrapolation, that some individuals deserve more rights than others. When we compartmentalize a so-called “security threat” as somehow less than human, we begin the process of “othering” an entire people. This type of logic leads to a dangerous and continuous curtailing of rights in the name of security, a trend George Orwell artfully cautioned us against almost 60 years ago. Palestinians are humans; thus analyzing this conflict through a framework based on human rights is the only way to guarantee equality and a just peace for everyone residing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. If you have more questions about the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine and our activism on campus and beyond, visit our website at tuftssjp.com.
Caitlyn Doucette is a senior majoring in international relations and Arabic. She can be reached at Caitlyn.Doucette@tufts.edu.