Palestinian Prisoners Day Misleads Students Worldwide
JNS.org – This year’s Palestinian Prisoners Day (PPD) took place on April 17. Every year, activists use this occasion in an attempt to draw international attention to the hundreds of Palestinians arrested and detained annually by Israel in the West Bank. Yet much of this campaign is dominated by blatant inaccuracies and exaggerations regarding Israel’s behavior. What’s worse, its supporters all but ignore the Palestinians’ endemic violence against Israel’s citizens.
This year, support for PPD emanated from around the globe. In Israel, the Balad chapter at Tel Aviv University pledged its support for the cause. In the United Kingdom, Warwick University’s Friends of Palestine and King’s College London Action Palestine Society (KCLAP) joined the party. Meanwhile, in the United States, joining the attack were Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) activist and University of California, Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian; assistant professor at the University of Illinois Maryam Kashani; and the Facebook page of national SJP.
The Adalah Justice Project (AJP) also published an infographic to mark the occasion, and numerous individual activists and campus-based organizations around the world shared the material and voiced support for PPD. It’s worth noting that the founder of AJP, Nadia Ben-Youssef, has leveled outrageous accusations against Israel, such as: “There’s no right to equality in Israel — it’s not enshrined in law because [Israel] cannot protect equality and protect [Jewish] privilege.” This alone speaks volumes about AJP’s lack of credibility.
Nevertheless, AJP’s misinformation had far-reaching effects. KCLAP, for example, shared AJP’s graphic with a caption that read: “Between 500-700 Palestinian children are arrested and prosecuted in Israeli military courts every year — one of the most common reasons for this is throwing stones.”
But is this out of the ordinary, when Israel’s actions are compared to that of other democracies?
More than 25,000 youths are cautioned or prosecuted each year in the United Kingdom, for example. Does being under the age of 18 automatically absolve them of criminality? Moreover, the attempt to minimize the crimes often committed by these youths in Israel/the disputed territories is a serious mistake. Hurling stones at vehicles in the West Bank has led to serious injury and even death. Despite Ben-Youssef’s smear decrying Israel’s supposed institutional “Jewish supremacy,” Israelis are subject to the same justice for such crimes. To cite just one example, in January 2019 a Jewish teen was charged for his role in the killing of a Palestinian woman by rock-throwing, and Israeli authorities described the tragedy as “a terror attack in every sense.”
The Palestinian Authority, by contrast, continues to hand out cash rewards to the families of Palestinians killed or injured while attacking Israeli civilians.
More to the point, AJP and their allies approach this topic as if no one under the age of 18 convicted by Israeli courts is deserving of imprisonment. Their widely shared graphic contained the slogan “FREE THEM ALL.” Hardly an isolated incident, this slogan became an integral part of the marketing for the PPD campaign worldwide. The American organizations Palestinian Youth Movement and National Students for Justice in Palestine, for example, hosted an online discussion with that very slogan as its title, in coordination with several activist groups whose missions do not even focus on Middle Eastern politics, including Dream Defenders and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Such coordination deliberately conflates advocacy for freeing all Palestinian prisoners with advocacy for unrelated American concerns. The Middle East and, say, California are vastly different parts of the globe, and Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians should be analyzed on its own, objectively.
However, such propagandistic and superficial slogans have the unfortunate effect of concealing reality from Western student activists. When these often well-meaning students rally around the “Free them all” cry, do they really mean “them all”? What about Amjad Awad and Hakim Awad, who at ages 18 and 17, respectively, murdered a Jewish family in their beds in the Itamar settlement in March 2011? And what about countless others responsible for serious and violent crimes?
The altruistic veneer of groups such as AJP hides the grisly truth that they apparently believe that young Palestinians are justified in any criminal activity against Israelis — no matter how violent — because they are part of virtuous resistance against the “injustices of the occupation.” Moreover, the AJP’s generalization of Palestinians held in Israeli jails as “political prisoners” reads as a deliberate attempt to frame all of them as righteous activists. Given the prominence of violence against Israelis, that is clearly not the case. Ironically, despite spending much of its time promoting the lie of Israeli apartheid, AJP is based in Haifa, where it operates freely. On the other hand, a pro-Israel NGO could not dream of operating within Hamas-ruled Gaza or Palestinian Authority-administered territory.
Despite these facts, Palestinian Prisoners Day activities also proved popular in many segments of Israeli society. At Tel Aviv University, student supporters of the Balad political party commemorated the day by voicing support for Israa Jaabis, who was imprisoned after she tried to murder Israeli police officers by blowing up her car at a checkpoint in 2015. On one of Balad’s official social-media pages, the party called for the release of cousins Ibrahim and Yasin Bakri, according to Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon. The Bakris were convicted for their involvement in the 2002 Meron bus attack that killed nine Israeli citizens.
Calls for a prisoner release were heard in Israeli media as well. Odeh Bisharat, formerly the Secretary-General of the Hadash political party, wrote in Haaretz that the coronavirus has forced people to rethink established norms and implement creative solutions to longstanding problems. Based off of that, Bisharat somehow concluded that Israel should release all Palestinian prisoners, without any negotiations.
It is possible to oppose the policies of Israeli governments in a civil, level-headed manner. Because Israel is a democracy, there are opposition parties in the Knesset that do precisely that. However, groups such as AJP and their allies never explore the realms of democracy or policy, as its misleading PPD campaign confirms.
The mission of AJP and their supporters is not to promote peace, but to mischaracterize Israel and its Jewish citizens as oppressive, alien colonizers in order to lobby for their destruction by any means necessary. Real cases of injustice are of interest to Israelis, Palestinians, and advocates for justice and peace the world over. However, labeling all Palestinian convicts as noble martyrs is a deliberate exercise in untruth and adds fuel to the fire of the conflict, rather than promote dialogue.
Georgia Leigha Leatherdale Gilholy is a CAMERA on Campus UK associate. Eitan Fischberger is a CAMERA on Campus Israel coordinator. Zac Schildcrout is a CAMERA on Campus US advisor and online editor.