Skip to main content

'Prisoner X' Draws Attention To Palestinians in Israeli Jails

The case of Israel’s Prisoner X is drawing attention to other cases of Palestinians in Israeli jails, Daoud Kuttab writes.
A Palestinian protester throws a stone towards Israeli security forces during clashes at a protest in solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike, outside Ofer prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah October 22, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR39FGM

The issue of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, and especially those held without being charged or tried, received a publicity boost this week from an unexpected source.

The revelation by Australian television of the disappearance of Ben Zygier, a dual Australian-Israeli citizen, and the accompanying self-censorship practiced by Israeli media, has once again put the limelight on the secret world of Israel’s prison system. The silence regarding the case has angered human-rights activists and has continued even after an Australian television investigation revealed that Zygier, who had been referred to as "Prisoner X," reportedly committed suicide in a high-security cell that is supposedly watched around-the-clock by prison officials. The story was finally published in Israel after three left-wing members of the Knesset, Zahava Gal-On, Ahmad Tibi and Dov Khenin, raised the issue.

In his weekly column in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, Gideon Levy picked up the story in an op-ed entitled “Dark Deeds,” and made the connection to Palestinian prisoners: "Okay, an Australian, and an investigative program in his country. And what about Arabs and Palestinians, who don't have an investigative reporting TV program on Channel 2? How many of them have been made to disappear and have disappeared, 'committed suicide' and died?"

Palestinian prisoners today are fighting an even more basic goal. Hunger-striking prisoners like Samer Issawi — whose continuous hunger strike defies nature — are demanding humane prison conditions and the right not to rot in prison without charge or trial.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) reports that Israel is currently holding 4,600 Palestinians, including 182 children and 11 women. Their latest report indicates that 1,200 detainees are ill, including 20 who are continuously held at a prison clinic. 

The PPS reported Wednesday (Feb. 13) that 360 Palestinian detainees at the Ramon Israeli prison, as well as detained Islamic Jihad leaders in all Israeli prisons and detention facilities, will hold a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with other hunger-striking detainees. The strike will be conducted on Thursday by returning meals, and is a first step towards additional protests in response to escalating Israeli violations. 

While the general prisoner issue remains a major source of friction for Palestinians, Issawi's case has captured significant attention both in Palestine and outside. For more than six months, this prisoner from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya has been on a hunger strike. Of course, it hasn't been a full hunger strike because each time his health situation deteriorates, the Israelis take him to a clinic where he is clinically fed.

Photos of Issawi during a court appearance have been broadcast all over the world and have been converted into a graphic that supporters have used on their social-media accounts. Songs have been produced, cartoons have been drawn by respected cartoonists and demonstrations have taken place across the world, including outside BBC headquarters — all in protest of the continued administrative detention, without formal charges, of Issawi and other Palestinians, as well as the silence of the world press about their plight. Hashtags such as #palhunger and #samerissawi have also trended on Twitter.

It is unclear how much Palestinians will be able to leverage Zygier's case into attention to the plight of Issawi and other Palestinian prisoners. But there is no doubt that continued protests about a Palestinian prisoner held without charge or trial in Israel will continue to weaken Israel's claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East.

Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial