Political Prisoners Speak

Richard Hugus

September 23, 2006

On Sunday, September 17 The New England Committee to Defend Palestine and the Boston chapter of the Jericho Movement* held an event in Boston to raise funds for Palestinian political prisoners. The opening talk was from  Ahmad Kawash, a Palestinian refugee from Miamia camp in Lebanon, who spoke of the human effect of imprisonment on prisoners and their families in Palestine, and the prisoner status of the majority of Palestinians, whether enclosed by the Wall in the West Bank, or living in camps as refugees. Ahmad Kawash said that since the U.S. and Israelis don’t care about international law, the only way to free this imprisoned society is through organized resistance, as exemplified by Hizbollah and Hamas.

There are currently 10,163 Palestinians imprisoned for political reasons by the “Israeli” colonial occupiers. 50,000 residents of the West Bank and Gaza have been detained since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September, 2000. 5,000 of these detainees have been children. 700,000 people – 25% of the total population – have been detained since 1967. It is estimated that this includes more than 40% of the total male population. For adult males, the number is probably higher than 80%. Detention routinely involves torture.

The September 17 event was held in memory of Black September, the month in 1970 when Jordanian forces under King Hussein massacred as many as 5,000 Palestinian refugees in Amman. Those familiar with the history of Palestine know that other “Black Septembers” followed. In September of 1982, in an effort to crush Palestinian resistance  in Lebanon, Phalangist forces under the supervision of Ariel Sharon slaughtered 2,000 Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. In September of 1993, the official signing of the Oslo Accords legitimized the theft of 78% of Palestine and created an infrastructure for settlement expansion in what remained. In September of 2000, Zionist forces murdered 13 Palestinians, marking the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Now, in September 2006, the entire territory of Gaza is under a siege of killing and starvation, and Lebanon is reeling from the recent destruction from U.S.-sponsored Israeli bombing.

But this September also comes at the beginning of new resistance to U.S. and Zionist imperialism in western Asia. Hizbollah has emerged victorious and stronger than ever in Lebanon, and the popularity of Hamas in Palestine signals the resolve of Palestinians to continue to stand up and fight back. In both cases the greatest resistance seems to come in the midst of the greatest hardship and punishment. The same current has reached the US, where the strongest support for Palestine now comes from those who have endured the worst prisons the U.S. has to offer, from those who have proven their commitment to national liberation and anti-imperial struggles over the past fifty years, and who are the first to say that their struggle is the same as that of the Palestinians. These are the leaders  and resistance fighters of the New Afrikan, Native, and Puerto Rican independence movements.

At the September 17 commemoration, unqualified messages of support for Palestine were read from Rafael Cancel Miranda, David Gilbert, Bill Dunne, Marilyn Buck, Russell “Maroon” Shoats, Jalil Muntaqim, Debbie Sims Africa, Albert Woodfox, Jaan Laaman, and Byron Chubbuck.

National co-chairs of the national Jericho movement, former political prisoners Kazi Touré and Ashanti Allston delivered messages in person at the event. The tone and strength of all the messages  put to shame the white liberal and impotent discourse which dominate most of what is called the “antiwar movement” in the U.S. today. Even more, the prisoners’ statements may be a first major step in redressing the long-standing problem of the betrayal of Palestine by the U.S. left going back many years. Once it was the betrayal of silence. Now, at a time when no one can ignore Palestine, it is the betrayal of purposely remaining too weak to take a meaningful stand.

Jalil Muntaqim, who was instrumental in the founding of the Jericho movement in 1998, sent a statement to Palestinian political prisoners which spoke to the need for the U.S. left to act decisively:

“When we in North America fail to act, fail to confront and engage our common enemy we have betrayed you and our words of solidarity become empty and hollow. Therefore, it is the duty of political activist and progressive folks in this country to build a mass and popular movement that specifically challenges white supremacy and national oppression here. The struggle in the U.S. needs to grow and evolve in a consistent level of resistance that corresponds to—if not exceeds—the degree of oppression and reaction by U.S. imperialism. Unfortunately, that is not happening here, and because of this failing, more Palestinians are dying who could have possibly been saved. Harsh truths, but truths none the less, and it is far time that progressive forces in the U.S. come to terms with this reality.”

Jalil Muntaqim is currently in prison in Auburn N.Y. Like many other political prisoners, he is not mentioned at popular rallies, nor honored by the antiwar movement. According to one organizer of the September 17 event, people in Boston Jericho and the New England Committee to Defend Palestine  “felt it was important to bring forward the voice of U.S. political prisoners not only to support and build the resistance struggles they represent, but also because their existence helps to unmask the falsehood about ‘American democracy’ that the U.S. tries to project while at the same time promoting its own imperial interests. Thus the event also had the purpose of reminding people of these political prisoners, their history of struggle, the history of domestic repression, and the utter sham of a U.S. ‘democracy’ promoting ‘democracy’ worldwide.”

Myriam Ortiz, a Puerto Rican independentista, spoke at the event of the many similarities between the 108 year old occupation of Puerto Rico and the 58 year old occupation of Palestine and cautioned against accepting either as established fact because of these long years. The similarities she cited between Puerto Rico and Palestine were that both countries have been plagued by foreign occupation throughout their histories, that both were denied status as countries in their own right due to these histories, that exile was forced on many of their inhabitants, that they were both then invaded by settler societies, that racism and attacks on indigenous culture typify those settler societies, that economic dependence was intentionally imposed on them, and that they were subject to genocidal experiments and practices.

Myriam Ortiz also touched on the co-optation that has occurred in “progressive” circles within the imperium:

“The invader’s propaganda is not just present in the schools we attend, and the media we watch or read. Often it infiltrates what is supposed to be our progressive discourse.

Pacifism, human rights, and feminism are often co-opted to attack anti-colonial resistance and deny its legitimacy. Always bombarded by colonial propaganda, we sometimes echo that anti resistance language disguised as progressivism, as if it were some universally held truth.

In the case of Puerto Rico, the American “leftists” who swoon over the Cuban revolution, quote Che Guevara, and supported the Sandinistas, argue that armed struggle would be a bad option for us, because it would alienate the American “working class;” a working class that has always been complicit with the U.S.’s colonial projects.

In the case of Palestine, the “Israeli” and American left reject armed struggle, because they see the settlers as “innocent” “civilians;” never mind that those settlers are responsible for the exodus of about 900,000 Palestinians already; never mind they’ve built their homes on the ruins of destroyed Palestinian homes, and continue to do so; never mind they all join the “Israeli” military that protects the theft perpetrated against Palestinians; never mind that those same “innocent” “civilians” often engage in the persecution and humiliation of Palestinians. Curiously, that “socialism loving” zionist left, who praised the armed resistance against Hitler, who often praises the Cuban revolution, suddenly discovers the “merits” of Gandhi and nonviolence when it comes to Palestine.”

Marta Rodriguez, another Puerto Rican independentista, sent the following message from her home in Puerto Rico:

“You should all be very happy, not only because of the money raised for Palestinian political prisoners, but because you struck quite a blow at the zionists, and most particularly the left zionists. For years they’ve gotten away with denying Palestine’s place among the nations fighting colonialism and invasion by arguing that “the situation is complicated” without being challenged by non-Palestinians. On September 17 we heard from representatives of different resistance  anticolonial movements who said otherwise. The next time some “soft” zionist comes to argue that “the “Palestine/Israel” “conflict” is “more complicated,” tell her/him to ask Don Rafael, or any of the Resistance prisoners who partook of the event via their solidarity messages. Eventually they will have no place to hide.”

Who are the left Zionists? They’re the people who fill books and give long speeches  about the suffering of the Palestinians, and don’t mention a word about the absolute legitimacy of armed resistance to the colonizers who caused this suffering. They’re the people who say we need to “listen to both sides”, implying that the murderer and thief has as much right to be heard as the victim. They’re the people who will criticize “Israel” up one side and down the other, but only for the purpose of making “Israel” nicer — a kind of clever blockade against the much more obvious conclusion that “Israel” should be done away with altogether. They’re the people who say Palestinians should have equal rights and a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza, but of course not any of the land stolen by colonial settlers since 1948. Left Zionists have a comfortable home in the United States, because the U.S. was founded on the same crimes, and is open to the same condemnation.

From at least the 1960’s the U.S. left has been influenced by activists and intellectuals who took principled stands on almost every issue but Palestine. Some were Zionists intentionally working for the cause. Some were simply afraid to face the mountain of guilt laid at the feet of the West in general for genocide committed against Jewish people. But it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the genocide being committed today under the aegis of Zionism, and to separate Zionism from its benefactor, U.S. imperialism. The killing never stops. Gaza is being punished again and again. The restrictions on Palestinian life become more and more severe. Lebanon has again been devastated by Israeli bombs and missiles.  Yet no one speaks.

Those who took most to heart and led the important struggles of the sixties for the liberation of Puerto Rico, of Vietnam, of Afrikan and native people under racist oppression – have now demonstrated their strength again, most of them from behind bars, with a message of great significance: Palestine too is a struggle for national liberation, and there is no time for us to dither. It is interesting that these prisoners, who come from different experiences, who don’t know each other, all concluded that Palestine is a nation fighting colonialism and has a right to resist. It speaks volumes of Palestine’s rightful place among nations resisting colonialism that all it takes is for someone to recognize her/his own colonial experience in order to see Palestinians as involved in the same struggle. In his message, Rafael Cancel Miranda said:

“I admire the Palestinian people, because I know how much love and courage it takes to struggle with their determination.  My people, the people of Puerto Rico are engaged in a similar struggle.  I can say without fear of self deception that we will win; not only because truth and reason are on our side, but because we are ready to do whatever is necessary to secure the rights of our peoples.”

Rafael Cancel Miranda is  a Puerto Rican nationalist and former political prisoner for 28 years, who, along with Andrés Figueroa Cordero, Irvin Flores and Lolita Lebrón, protested the criminal nature of the U.S. colonial domination of Puerto Rico by opening fire on the U.S. Congress in 1954. Don Rafael was sentenced to eighty-four years for “an attempt to overthrow the government by force and violence.” As a result of pressure from the Puerto Rican Independence movement and the international community, he was released without conditions in 1979.

It is time for activists in the U.S. to realize that their country too, like Israel, is founded on genocide and wars of aggression, and needs to be dealt with from a revolutionary, not a reformist, perspective. It can’t be changed from within; it can’t be made nicer. Our duty to the rest of the world whom the U.S. has so long oppressed is to work where we are  to stop this unbelievable monster from going any further.

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*New England Committee to Defend Palestine: http://www.onepalestine.org, Jericho Boston : http://www.jerichoboston.org/