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Security Prisoners Are Human Beings

Israel's inhumane treatment of security prisoners is often overlooked. Don't they deserve at least the same treatment as convicted murderers? | Opinion

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas arrives for questioning in relation to accusations that he smuggled cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners, December 21, 2016.
Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas arrives for questioning in relation to accusations that he smuggled cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners, December 21, 2016.Credit: Nir Keidar
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

If Israel were a nation of justice and equality, Walid Daka would have been released from prison years ago. If Israel were a country that honored its international commitments, he would have been released more than two years ago, in the fourth batch of prisoner releases. If Israel were a humane nation, Daka would be eligible for furloughs and phone calls from prison. If Israel understood all this, it wouldn’t engage in such wild incitement against MK Basel Ghattas. And if Ghattas would have smuggled phones to Prisoners of Zion or prisoners from the underground movements in that time, he would be considered a national hero.

But none of this happened. None of this could happen in 2016 Israel, where Arabs are hated. Daka has been imprisoned for 31 years in inhuman conditions, and meanwhile the Knesset wants the Shin Bet security service to determine the “level of danger” posed by Ghattas – another new low.

Ghattas tried to challenge the unjust treatment of security prisoners. He did so in an allegedly illegal way. Had Israel treated them properly, Ghattas would not have undertaken his brave, foolish and desperate step. Ilana Hammerman and her friends, who smuggle Palestinian children to the seashore, are also breaking the law, and their actions are praiseworthy. But for the Israeli incitement system – a combination of (nearly all) politicians and (nearly all) media – Ghattas passed “coded messages” and the nationalist Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein had the gall to call him a “terrorist.”

Daka’s fate is even more maddening. In 1986, he was convicted of being part of the cell that kidnapped and murdered soldier Moshe Tamam. He denied the charges. Had he been a Jew who murdered a Palestinian, he would have been released after a few years, if he was ever even brought to trial. Were he a Palestinian from the territories, he would have been released in one of the prisoner exchanges. And if he were a criminal murderer, he would have served 18-24 years and been released a while ago. But Daka is not a Jewish terrorist or a Palestinian from the territories or a criminal murderer. He is an Arab-Israeli security prisoner.

No one else in Israeli prison has been oppressed the way he and the other 14 pre-Oslo prisoners have been. No shortened sentences, no furloughs, no pardons, no phone calls, no deals, no conjugal visits. Thirty-one years. “Phones no longer have dials, tires no longer have inner tubes, we’re here since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and time stands still for us,” Daka wrote 11 years ago. Time has stood still for him ever since, too.

The week he was due to be released in 2014, I was at his family’s home in Baka al-Garbiyeh: A road had been paved in his honor, schoolchildren had put up a sign that said “Huriya – Freedom” opposite his house, hundreds of T-shirts had been printed with a picture of him and his mother, thousands of candles and fireworks and sweets had been bought. And then Israel decided it didn’t feel like letting him go. The emotional upheaval this caused in the town is hard to describe.

Now his brother As’ad has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the big smuggling caper. Last weekend, As’ad called me all upset by what he says are false suspicions about his brother, who was moved into isolation.

Daka and his fellow security prisoners are human beings. Some of them are freedom fighters. Some are political prisoners. All are imprisoned without trial. And all have been severely punished. This tends to get lost amid all the incitement that is whipped up against them.

I met Daka once in prison. He’s an impressive person, but that’s not relevant. His family is human too. His 88-year-old mother Farida has long dreamed of getting to hug her son. That likely won’t happen now. She is seriously ailing, and Daka hasn’t been allowed a phone call to say goodbye. His brother is dedicating his life to the fight to free him.

Don’t these prisoners deserve at least the same treatment as every convicted murderer in Israel? Shouldn’t Ghattas’ clumsy attempt to break the cruel isolation that Israel imposes on these prisoners merely for the sake of abuse arouse at least a drop of sympathy and understanding? A little humanity? Something?

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