By Internationalist Struggle, the Spanish section of the IWU-FI
14 November 2021. Interview with Sahar Francis, director of the Palestinian NGO Addameer: “If Israel accuses us of being terrorists, it is because we are achieving victories”.
Since 2006, Sahar Francis has been the director-general of Addameer, an organisation based in Ramallah that provides legal support to Palestinian political prisoners inside Palestinian and Israeli jails. The Israeli Ministry of Defence has just labelled them “terrorists”, along with five other Palestinian human rights organisations.
LI.- Israel has just labelled six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations. Addameer is one of them.
Sahar Francis: In fact, this is nothing new. Israel has always claimed that Palestinian organisations, trade unions, student movements and all activists who oppose the occupation from day one are associated with terrorism. And they use military orders to outlaw organisations, of all political parties, those affiliated with Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, left-wing parties like the Popular Front (PFLP).
After 11 September, with the “war on terror” led by the US and Israel at the international level, they went after not only terrorists but also civil society networks. And this is how Israel targeted Hamas-affiliated charities, sports clubs, student movements ….. And even left-wing organisations. In the years of the Second Intifada, they were all shut down and their staff imprisoned.
And now Israel has targeted human rights, humanitarian and development organisations, which are winning victories by supporting Palestinians on the ground, especially farmers and workers, and exposing Israel’s gross human rights violations and war crimes. They have convinced the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and also to convince the UN Human Rights Council to publish its list of international companies complicit in the occupation.
Addameer’s headquarters have been raided by Israeli police, and members of our team have been arrested and are threatened with expulsion.
LI: How does Israel treat Palestinian prisoners?
SF: Let’s start by pointing out that they are all illegally transferred to Israeli prisons, which makes up a war crime. They are kept away to make it easier for the system to control their whole lives, especially communication with lawyers and their families. They used the pandemic to cancel all family visits, so they force prisoners to cut all contact as they had no access to telephones, either.
There is a serious problem with the health treatment provided by the prison system. Dozens of prisoners develop chronic illnesses and serious diseases such as heart attacks or kidney failure. In the last two years, we have lost five prisoners to health neglect in Israeli prisons. Israeli interrogation centres use severe torture and subject prisoners to daily punishments in the name of security, such as raiding their cells and strip-searching them.
After six prisoners freed themselves last September, they imposed collective punishment on all prisoners, the 4,600 Palestinian prisoners currently detained (including 200 children): they were locked in the cells for 23 hours a day, and could not communicate with their families. As a result, many took resistance actions, such as disobeying orders inside the prison by standing up (when the guards forced them to sit down) or by hunger strikes. In one case, they ended up setting fire to their cells.
LI: How many Palestinians are under administrative detention right now and what people are they?
SF: We have about 500 administrative detainees. This includes children: now two 17-year-olds. There are many students, political activists, former parliamentarians and activists who were thinking of running in the elections that had been called for May 2020. And, of course, they detain all these prisoners based on secret information. The major problem with administrative detention is that it can be renewed. Someone can spend two years, three years, four years without knowing why they are behind bars.
LI.- Last spring we saw a popular revolt against the role of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian police, who are seen by a large percentage of the Palestinian population as part of the employment system.
SF: Exactly. I think most of the Palestinian people think the PA is playing the role of a sub-contractor. People know from their daily experience that the Israeli occupation controls everything in the occupied Palestinian territories. What happened last May was the response to the decision to delay the elections because everyone, including the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, is fully aware that they no longer represent the people. The people protesting demanded unity and elections. That’s why when people criticised the Palestinian Authority, unfortunately, the Palestinian security forces started arresting activists and besieging and torturing them.
And one of them was Nizar Banat, the well-known activist who was going to run in the elections, who had founded a new political party. They initially arrested him. Then, they released him because of public pressure. And again, when they came to arrest him in his uncle’s house one more time, they beat and tortured him to death.
A lot of tension in Palestinian civil society broke out, Palestinian police and plainclothes security services assaulted demonstrations in several cities. For us, it was shocking to see that level of abuse, sexual harassment, physical attacks on demonstrators, including well-known activists, political leaders, who were arrested. They used covid as an excuse to say that these demonstrations were in breach of the restrictions, while shops and restaurants had already reopened. This caused even more distrust towards the PA. There is a tremendous gap between the people and the institutions, a gap that is deepening. And this tension continues because we don’t see that they are learning their lesson. We don’t believe in them, and as human rights organisations, we are demanding an actual change in Palestinian law and policies. But, unfortunately, they don’t take it seriously.
LI.- one key in this process was the feeling of unity among Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and the 48 Palestinians
SF.- It means a lot because young people and ordinary people also started it. It was not a decision of the political parties. The political parties had to act.
The left parties were not prepared, and that was a pity. It is a powerful message from our young people to the political leaders: “give us space”. Over 40% of the Palestinian people are under 30 years old. All these people have never lived in a democracy. They have elected none of these political leaders. Now they can mobilise, coordinate, provide powerful ideas.
They have shown their commitment to the cause. But no Palestinian political party is taking them seriously. They have to change their strategies and include more young people and listen to their demands. And start thinking about a new national programme, a liberation strategy. You can’t keep talking to this new generation about the 1970s and what was then the PLO’s programme.
Originally published on www.luchainternacionalista.org