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An Explosive Letter From Israel's Longest-serving Palestinian Prisoner

Karim Younes is above the calculations of power and personal profit that are eating up the Fatah movement. That’s why the accusatory letter he sent is so important

Amira Hass
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The Ofer Prison in the West Bank.
The Ofer Prison in the West Bank.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amira Hass

Karim Younes, the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail, sent a letter to the Fatah Central Committee (of which he is a member) in which he details allegations against another Fatah prisoner. The gist of it: Thanks to his relations with the Israel Prison Service and the Shin Bet security service, that prisoner has accumulated personal power and money and maintains his authority by intimidating other prisoners, “If even only half the accusations are true, it’s enough to shock and concern all of us,” several Fatah members told Haaretz.

The prisoner’s brother told Haaretz twice, within a week, that the letter is a forgery and insisted that “There are no problems between him and Karim.” He said that those behind the forgery are “entities who work with the occupation.” He also said that there is no way of speaking directly with his brother, since he is in prison. Other attempts to contact the man were unsuccessful, and therefore I will remain vague: I won’t mention his name or detail the serious accusations. But the letter is true, not forged.

The Shin Bet did not answer Haaretz’s questions. The Israel Prison Service said: “This is a prisoner like all the others, who receives no privileges. The issues mentioned in the question are unfamiliar to us. The Israel Prison Service transfers prisoners [to other prisons] all the time based on internal considerations.”

If anyone else had made such accusations against the prisoner, the claims could have been dismissed as part of the factionalism and war between rival groups and senior officials that is so typical of Fatah, especially since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority when it became the backbone of the government (limited and handicapped as it may be) and of the security services.

But everyone agrees that Younes is above the internal rivalries and calculations of power and personal profit that are consuming Fatah and causing its disintegration. Younes, from the village of Ara within Israel’s borders, who has been in prison for the past 38 years, has no aspirations to prestige and no desire to become part of the Palestinian regime upon his release in about two years from now. He is affectionately dubbed “the dean of the prisoners” thanks to his character, his age, his fatherly attitude towards young prisoners, his many years in prison and his cumulative experience.

Younes sent his letter about six weeks ago. Its existence was leaked to the media about three weeks ago in an article published on August 18 on the independent Palestinian news and culture website Metras. The independent news website Wattan and several others followed suit. The official media outlets have maintained silence. The general public, it seems, has not been exposed to the fact of its existence. Similar allegations against the same prisoner hovered in the air already several years ago. Slight hints – which concealed more than they revealed – could be found in the condemnations published in the past about harming his reputation.

Megiddo Prison.
Megiddo Prison.Credit: Alon Ron

Fatah members knew of the letter and spoke about its contents even before it was leaked. Apparently the leakers were afraid that the investigation committee established in Fatah (headed by Abbas Zaki of the Central Committee) is planning to bury the subject. The committee members denied that and said that they were meeting with many released prisoners in order to hear testimony, and are receiving letters from prisoners and addressing the issue.

On August 17 the Fatah Revolutionary Council convened. Council secretary Majed al-Fatiani told Wattan that the letter was not discussed in the meeting because it’s the business of the Central Committee, but the harm caused to Younes was discussed (apparently referring to verbal attacks against him by supporters of the prisoner who is the object of his letter, and his transfer to Gilboa Prison and then to Megiddo Prison). At the same time, al-Fatiani confirmed that “there are problems” in Fatah that must be repaired.

Younes’ letter is not petty gossip. It points to a presumably severe phenomenon, which is not merely about two prisoners, but relates to Fatah inside and outside prison, and is likely to have consequences beyond the movement. An extended family of another Fatah member has already “declared war” – according to their Facebook post – against the extended family of the prisoner accused in Younes’ letter, claiming that he urged the prison service to place their son in solitary confinement in prison. This declaration of war comes with the full consent of the families of other prisoners, according to the post. After considerable efforts, and after weeks of high tension, that same “declaration of war” was removed, but there are other prisoners with similar complaints against the prisoner cited in Younes’ letter.

Now, six weeks after it was sent, it looks as though the matter really has been buried. There are more urgent issues on the agenda, according to the Central Committee, like the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed. On Friday PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed a presidential order declaring a state of emergency for 30 days: the number of people infected and ill is increasing daily, since people fail to adhere to cautionary measures. In the Nablus district alone the police broke up six weddings last Friday. Then there is the normalization agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, not to mention the economic distress.

It’s all true. But it’s also true that the prisoner under discussion has strong family support, which is mopping up the fears and claims of Fatah members. In a society where everyone is afraid of a bloody battle between the would-be successors of Abu Mazen, evading the content and significance of the letter is like hiding additional explosives under the rug, instead of neutralizing them.

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