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London chapter rallies for the rights of Palestinian prisoners

The Council of Canadians London chapter took part in a Nakba (Catastrophe) Day gathering yesterday afternoon.

Nakba Day refers to an annual commemoration of the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians that occurred in 1948 when Palestine was partitioned. Aljazeera reports, “Nearly seven decades on, the number of registered Palestinian refugees has swelled to more than 5.3 million. They live in United Nations-run camps throughout the region, including in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.”

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank, separated from each other geographically by Israeli territory, now comprise the Palestinian territories. Gaza, which is now under a naval blockade deemed by the United Nations as illegal, has been described by Noam Chomsky as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

In October 2011, the Council of Canadians passed a resolution calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza in accordance with international law. In July 2014, Council of Canadians vice-chairperson Leo Broderick stated, “We need to show that the people of Canada are opposed to the collective punishment of civilians in Gaza and that we support peace and justice in the area — not violence.”

Since April 17, more than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners have been on an open-ended hunger strike. Those prisoners are demanding the reinstatement of bimonthly family visits, better medical treatment, the right to education in prison, an end to solitary confinement, and an end to so-called administrative detention (detention for months or even years based on ‘secret evidence’ without charge or trial). 

Jewish Voice for Peace says, “This hunger strike comes in a long tradition of hunger strikes and prisoners strikes as non-violent protest tactics used by movements for liberation around the world.”

The group further explains, “Since the occupation of 1967, roughly 20 per cent of the Palestinian population has been imprisoned by the occupying power at one point or another. The Palestinian prisoners organization Addameer reports that Israel currently holds approximately 6300 Palestinian political prisoners, including 300 children and approximately 56 women as well as an estimated 500 Palestinians in administrative detention (including 2 children).”

Amnesty International has commented, “Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law… Under international humanitarian law, detainees from occupied territories must be detained in the occupied territory, not in the territory of the occupying power.”

They also note, “According to Israeli Prison Service regulations, all prisoners are entitled to family visits once every two weeks. However, in reality, because Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories must apply for permits to enter Israel, they can visit much less frequently. …The 365 prisoners from Gaza are the most affected by Israel’s restrictions as the Israeli military grants permits to families from the Strip only once every two months. …[And] most West Bank residents visiting detained relatives the journey to prison takes between eight to 15 hours depending on the prison and place of residence.”

On May 12, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) passed a resolution that says it will: 1) call on the Canadian Government to pressure Israel to stop violating international law by illegally detaining Palestinians and depriving them of their basic human, civil and political rights; and 2) work with global union federations, affiliates and civil society organizations in Canada on campaigns in support of Palestinian prisoners.

The London chapter responded to that CLC call to civil society with their participation in yesterday’s rally in Victoria Park.