To Prison, Again, for Protesting Against Israel’s Colonial Rule

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack pens a powerful Op-Ed in Haaretz on his arrest, putting into context his act of solidarity with Palestinians who face altogether different circumstances than his own.

The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009.
The Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 2, 2009. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Jonathan Pollak, Haaretz, Jan 07, 2020

I am currently detained in an Israeli jail, the result of refusing to attend or cooperate with criminal charges laid against me and two others for joining Palestinian protests in the West Bank against Israel’s colonial rule. Because I am an Israeli citizen, the proceedings in the case are held in an Israeli court in Jerusalem and not at the military court, where Palestinians are tried.

>> Police arrest left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak in Haaretz building

It has been almost nine years since the last time I was incarcerated for more than a day or two. Much has changed since. Politically, reality does not even resemble that of a decade ago, and none of the changes were for the better.

Politically, the world seems to have lost much of its interest in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, placing Israel at one of the historical peaks of its political strength. I am in no position to discuss the profound changes within Israeli society and how even farther to the right it has drifted. Israeli liberals are much better suited for such a task, because they hold their country dear and feel a sense of belonging that I cannot feel and do not want to feel.


Jonathan Pollak at Hermon Prison in 2011. (Yaron Kaminsky)

Personally, I am older, more tired and, mostly, not as healthy as I was. Of course, the price I have paid for my part in the struggle is a fraction of that paid by Palestinian comrades, but I cannot deny its subjective weight on me: from physical injuries, some irreversible, through sporadic despair, anxiety and sense of helplessness, to the encumbering sensation of loss and the presence of death – and the grip all these have on my day-to-day life. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Right now, just as it was back then, sitting in prison is better than any other alternative available to me.

The legal fallacies that riddle the case against us are of little significance. While it is fair to assume that had I agreed to cooperate, the trial would have ended up with an acquittal, my refusal to recognize the court’s legitimacy is based on two main grounds.

The first is that my Palestinian comrades do not enjoy the luxury of being tried in the relatively comfortable conditions of the Israeli courts. Rather, they are tried as subjects in the parody of a legal system that are Israel’s military courts. Unlike me, Palestinians do not have the option of refusing to cooperate with their captors, since the vast majority of them are tried while remanded into custody for the duration of their proceedings.

Additionally, the punishment Palestinians are faced with is significantly harsher than that specified in Israeli law. Thus, in this regard as well, despite refusing to recognize the court’s legitimacy, the price I am likely to pay is significantly lower than that paid by my comrades.

The second, more fundamental ground to refuse to cooperate is that all Israeli courts, military or otherwise, lack any legitimacy to preside over matters of resisting Israeli colonial rule, which employs a hybrid regime, ranging between a distorted and racially discriminatory democracy in its sovereign territory and a flat-out military dictatorship in the occupied territories.

Faced with the tremendous shift to the right in Israeli politics, the shrinking remnants of the Zionist left – once the country’s dominant elite group – are consumed by lamenting the decline of Israeli democracy. But what democracy is it they wish to defend? The one that has dispossessed its Palestinian citizens of their lands and their rights? The one that, at best, views these Palestinian citizens as second-class? Perhaps it is the democracy that governs the Gaza Strip through vicious siege while it reigns as a military dictatorship in the West Bank?

Despite the obvious nature of the Israeli regime, Israeli liberals are not willing to contest the fundamental premise of internal Israeli discourse and acknowledge that the State of Israel simply is not a democracy. Never was.

To join the fight to topple Israeli apartheid, the few Jewish citizens of Israel willing to do so will first have to recognize that they are overprivileged and be willing to pay the price of relinquishing that status. An open rebellion against the regime has been taking place for decades, carried out by the Palestinian resistance movement. The price paid by those involved in it is immense. Jewish citizens of Israel must cross over and walk in their footsteps.

Related Articles

October 27, 2019
DREAMING OF FREEDOM Update



Palestinian Youth Under Siege and Occupation
with Yousef Aljamal, Gaza Writer and Activist

Sunday, October 27, 2019
2-4 pm
Christ Presbyterian Church,
944 E Gorham St, Madison, WI

Meet Yousef Aljamal, a young writer who grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza and lived through the three devastating Israeli military assaults between 2008 and 2014. He will share his experiences and insights about the lives of youth there and elsewhere in Palestine, including tens of thousands imprisoned by Israel’s military regime in the West Bank since 1967.

A contributor to the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, Aljamal has recently translated into English the book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak.

Both books will be available for purchase at the event. Yousef’s talk will be preceded by brief remarks from Rep. Mark Pocan.

Refreshments including baklawa will be served, and Fair Trade Palestinian olive oil, olive oil soap and crafts will be sold. This event is free and open to the public, but donations will be gratefully accepted to fund another clean water project for Gaza kids.

Local Sponsors: Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Jewish Voice for Peace-Madison, UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, and Playgrounds for Palestine-Madison. This is a national tour sponsored by Just World Educational.


Welcomed by WORT Radio. More information here and on Facebook. Listen to Yousef on WORT’s A Public Affair with host Allen Ruff:


Yousef Aljamal to speak on Gaza, detention of Palestinian kids, in USA, October

Just World Admin Anti-imperialism, Blog, Gaza, JWE news, Palestine

Just World Ed is delighted that October 13-29 we will be hosting Palestinian rights activist Yousef Aljamal on a speaking tour that will take him to the Greater NYC area, the Washington DC area, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Madison (WI), and Portland (OR). From Portland he’ll travel to Honolulu where he has another whole program arranged.

This is Yousef’s second time touring the United States. In 2014, he was part of a team that toured the country under the auspices of Just World Books and the American Friends Service Committee. They were launching the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, to which Yousef contributed a very moving story.

More recently, he has contributed several great pieces of writing to our blog, that explore various aspects of Palestinian life. (1, 2, 3…)

Yousef’s October tour will be very timely, because he has a wealth of information about the situation of Palestinian children incarcerated, sometimes for several years, by the military “justice” system that Israel has run in the occupied West Bank since 1967. He was the translator into English of the recent book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak (which is now newly available in North America as a paperback, as well as a Kindle e-book.)

Earlier this year, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced into the House of Representatives a path-breaking bill, H.R. 2407, the “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”, that seeks to hold Israel accountable for that portion of the military aid the U.S. government provides to it which is used to maintain the brutal military courts and incarceration systems that are used to violate the rights of Palestinian minors.

The campaign to win support for H.R. 2407 will continue until early Fall 2020. (You can learn more about it, here.) So we’re delighted that Yousef Aljamal’s speaking tour can help to inform broad sections of the U.S. public about this crucial issue.

Continue reading

Act now to free Heba Al-Labadi

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Oct 28, 2019

Please take a moment to sign our latest petition demanding progressive U.S. presidential candidates speak out for Heba Al-Labadi, a 24-year-old Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship now hospitalized on her 35th day of an open hunger strike against her “administrative detention,” imprisonment by Israel without charge or trial.

Then comment on the petition – your statements will go to each of their Congressional offices and presidential campaigns! – and ask your friends to join you through the buttons on the site or links from Samidoun’s Facebook page and Twitter account.

Jordan-Israel Ties Strained by Detentions

“We hold the Israeli government responsible for the lives of our citizens whose health conditions have severely deteriorated in illegal arbitrary detention,” Mr. Safadi, the Jordanian foreign minister, wrote. “We will take all necessary legal & diplomatic measures to ensure their safe return home. Administrative detention is illegal.”


Israeli activists in a Monday protest over the arrest of Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian citizen, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank more than two months ago. She has not been charged with a crime. (Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Isabel Kershner, New York Times, Oct. 30, 2019

JERUSALEM — Jordan has recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations and detained an Israeli citizen who it says crossed the border illegally amid a sharpening dispute over Israel’s weekslong detention of two Jordanian citizens on suspicion of vague security violations.

The spike in tensions comes days after the 25th anniversary of the signing of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, which neither side commemorated officially, an indication of the testy state of diplomatic relations between Israel and its Arab neighbor to the east.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, announced on Twitter late Tuesday that the ambassador, who left for Jordan on Wednesday, was being recalled for consultations “as a first step” after the Israeli government had refused to heed what he called Jordan’s legitimate demands for releasing its two citizens, Hiba Labadi and Abdul Rahman Miri.

Ms. Labadi was detained on Aug. 20 and Mr. Miri on Sept. 12 at the border crossing between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to a lawyer representing them, and are being held in administrative detention without charges.

Israel’s Shin Bet security service said in a statement that they had been detained for investigation “in light of suspicion of their involvement in severe security violations.”

The lawyer, Raslan Mahajna, said in an interview on Wednesday that Ms. Labadi was suspected of belonging to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization, of having met Hezbollah contacts in Lebanon and of planning to recruit people.

He said she had denied all the allegations and that no proof had been presented after 32 days of what he described as “harsh and intensive” interrogations, which included being tied to a chair for long periods.

Mr. Mahajna said her administrative detention order was based on secret evidence.

Ms. Labadi, 32, has been on a hunger strike for the past month, only taking water, and has been treated in the hospital, according to Mr. Mahajna. He said Mr. Miri, 27, who is suspected of membership in the political wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic militant group, had suffered in the past from cancer.

“We hold Israeli government responsible for the lives of our citizens whose health conditions have severely deteriorated in illegal arbitrary detention,” Mr. Safadi, the Jordanian foreign minister, wrote. “We will take all necessary legal & diplomatic measures to ensure their safe return home. Administrative detention is illegal.”


Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, Ghassan Majali, center, who was recalled for consultations by Jordan, during a ceremony in Jerusalem last year. (Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock)

Administrative detention is meant as a preventive tool to protect national security, not a punitive measure, according to the Israeli authorities; but the practice, widely used against Palestinians, has led to protests in the past. Administrative detention orders can be issued for a maximum of six months, but can be renewed indefinitely, sometimes for years.

Jawad Boulos, another lawyer involved in the case, said in an interview that Ms. Labadi had been interrogated up until Sept. 24, after which her criminal arrest was changed to an administrative detention order that is valid for another five months. An appeal by her lawyers has yet to be decided on.

Ms. Labadi’s case has drawn more attention than that of Mr. Miri. Her supporters, who have set up a Facebook group as part of their campaign for her release, say she was arrested while crossing from Jordan with her mother and other relatives to attend a relative’s wedding in the West Bank.

Both she and Mr. Miri were born in Jordan but hold Palestinian identity cards because their mothers are from the West Bank. Mr. Mahajna said they did not know each other.

Little is known about the Israeli citizen being held in Jordan, other than that he crossed the border fence on Tuesday somewhere north of the Dead Sea. The Israeli news media reported that he had been wanted for questioning in Israel and fled to Jordan.

The Israeli military said in a statement that the Israeli had been detained for questioning by the Jordanian security forces. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said only that it was checking the reports with the Jordanian authorities.

In another sign of the underlying friction between the two countries, Israel is preparing to hand over full control to Jordan in the coming days of two tracts of land along the border that fall within Jordanian territory, after Jordan refused to renew a special arrangement that gave Israel free access.

Jews historically had private land use rights in the two areas and were given access for 25 years under the terms of the peace agreement. Under internal pressure, King Abdullah II of Jordan gave a year’s notice last October that the arrangement would not be renewed.

Continue reading

Israel Is Accused of Torturing a Prisoner Until His Ribs Were Broken

Now Palestinians Are Demanding Answers

“There’s no excuse for it. This is a war crime at the end of the day.”


An Israeli prison service vehicle leaves the court house in Petah Tikva, Israel, Sunday, July 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Alex Kane, Vice, October 8, 2019

Samir Arbeed was arrested by Israeli forces outside his workplace in the West Bank on September 25 in connection with a bomb attack that killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl. Two days later, the 44-year-old Palestinian and member of the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was rushed to the emergency room, unconscious. Six of his ribs were broken and his kidney had gone into failure.

What happened between his arrest and hospitalization is now a topic of fierce interest for Palestinians, who argue that Arbeed’s injuries are physical proof of a dark reality they’ve long known to be true: Israel’s security forces routinely torture and abuse Palestinian prisoners with impunity.

“This isn’t about two or three interrogators who have gone insane. It’s not about rotten apples. This is a whole system,” said Rachel Stroumsa, head of the Public Committee Against Torture, an independent rights watchdog based in Tel Aviv. “What we see here with Samir Arbeed is unusual in its consequences but not unusual in any other sense.”


“This isn’t about two or three interrogators who have gone insane. It’s not about rotten apples. This is a whole system.”


Since 2001, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has filed over 1,200 torture complaints on behalf of Palestinians to the Israeli Attorney General. The vast majority of cases have never seen the light of day, let alone result in any charges.

But Arbeed’s predicament is unique, because he ended up in the hospital with severe injuries. The Shin Bet did not respond to requests from VICE News for comment, and only told Israeli news outlets that a Shin Bet agent reported Arbeed “did not feel well” and that he was then “transferred to the hospital for medical examinations and treatment.”

“He was tortured severely,” said Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner support group providing Arbeed with legal representation. “There’s no excuse for it. This is a war crime at the end of the day.”

Now, Palestinian activists and human rights watchdogs are calling for greater scrutiny of the Shin Bet’s shadowy practices, and criminal charges for the interrogators and higher-ups who approve of torture.

“Israel’s authorities must end their systematic use of torture and ensure that those responsible for the torture of Samir Arbeed, including those with command and other superior responsibility, are held to account,” said Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, in a statement.


ISRAELI POLICE ARREST A MAN DURING A PROTEST OUTSIDE A HOSPITAL IN JERUSALEM WHERE PALESTINIAN SUSPECT IS BEING TREATED, TUESDAY, OCT. 1, 2019. SAMIR ARBEED, A PALESTINIAN SUSPECT IN A DEADLY WEST BANK BOMBING WAS IN SEVERE CONDITION AT AN ISRAELI HOSPITAL, AS ISRAELI MEDIA REPORTED AN INVESTIGATION WAS OPENED INTO POSSIBLE WRONGDOING BY ISRAELI SECURITY OFFICERS DURING INTERROGATION. (AP PHOTO/MAHMOUD ILLEAN)

Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the FBI, has long been accused of using torture tactics such as sleep deprivation, beatings, extreme pressure on the back, consecutive, periodical crouches on a suspect’s toes — known as the “frog position”— and psychological threats, including threats of rape. These tactics are typically reserved for Palestinians suspected of involvement in militant activity.

Arbeed’s story isn’t the first time the public has been confronted with the grisly details of what the shadowy Shin Bet does in carrying out its mission to protect Israelis from Palestinian militant attacks. What has changed, however, is Israeli society’s reaction to such violence.

The last time the Shin Bet’s abuse captured widespread, sustained interest was in 1984, when intelligence agents severely beat and then executed two Palestinians who had just hijacked a bus. That affair, and the attempted cover-up, resulted in the Shin Bet directing blame at a decorated army general. The charges shook Israelis to their core.

“There was huge political turmoil — one of the biggest political scandals in the country,” said Ronen Bergman, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.” “[Israelis] were appalled and shocked that the Shin Bet, in order to save their necks, rebelled against democracy. They used the tools they used against spies and terrorists against their fellow generals and against the prime minister himself.”

But 35 years on, the Israeli public barely seems to care about allegations of Shin Bet abuse anymore. Arbeed’s case has failed to generate much interest beyond local coverage, much less the sort of widespread public outcry that followed the 1984 killings.

“There is a very strong mainstream attitude of, ‘Whatever these people got, they deserve it,’” said Stroumsa of the Public Committee Against Torture.

Palestinians say this harsh sentiment has created a culture of impunity for Israeli officers who torture suspects, regardless of the laws in place to protect against such abuses.


“There is a very strong mainstream attitude of, ‘whatever these people got, they deserve it.’”


Under a landmark 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, Shin Bet officers were banned from torturing Palestinian suspects. But that ruling carved out a major loophole: Shin Bet agents who apply physical pressure on detainees were shielded from criminal prosecution if it was a “ticking bomb” scenario — one in which a detainee had information about an imminent threat to Israelis.

Last year, the Supreme Court expanded the 1999 ruling’s loophole, by ruling that the extreme physical methods used on a Palestinian suspect were legitimate because he knew where weapons were stashed.

Continue reading

The Torture of Palestinian Detainee Samer al-Arabid


Palestinian Center for Human Rights, October 8, 2019

On 8 October 2019, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Mr. Michael Lynk, and UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Nils Melzer, concerning the situation of Palestinian Detainee Samer al-Arabid, a 44 year old Palestinian, who was hospitalized after undergoing interrogation with Israeli internal security service (Shin Bet).

In its letter, PCHR explained that the use of torture by the Shin Bet to investigate Palestinian prisoners  is still permissible as the Israeli High Court in 1999 ruled that torture can be used  in “ticking time-bomb” circumstances and gave its tacit approval to the use of the defense of necessity contained in section 34(11) of the Penal Law (1977). PCHR stressed that the extra-ordinary measures used by the interrogators which led to the deterioration of Samer’ medical condition, are in violation of Israel’s obligations under Article 2(2) of the Convention against Torture, which provides that the prohibition of torture is absolute and non-derogable and that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify acts of torture. Moreover, it constitutes a grave breach of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 11 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and amounts to a war crime under Article 85 of the Protocol.

PCHR expressed its concern that resuming Samer al-Arabid’s interrogation can lead to a further deterioration in his health and endanger his life. Israel has many precedents proving the security officers involvement in torture against dozens of prisoners, the latest of which was the recent death of Nassar Majed Taqatah (31), from Bethlehem, during his interrogation, only one month after his arrest.

PCHR called on the Special Rapporteurs to publicly condemn Israel’s use of extra-ordinary measures, which amount to torture, against Palestinian prisoners and detainees, including Samer al-Arabid, and to exert pressure to prevent Israel from employing these extra-ordinary measures again if his condition improves and his interrogation continues.

To read PCHR’s urgent appeal letter, click here.

26 Groups Supporting McCollum Legislation for Palestinian Children

Wisconsin Muslim Journal, May 17, 2019

Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes an estimated 500 to 700 children each year in military courts lacking fundamental fair trial rights. Children within the Israeli military system commonly report physical and verbal abuse from the moment of their arrest, and coercion and threats during interrogations.
— No Way To Treat A Child

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) today announced support from national and international religious and human rights organizations in support of H.R. 2407, the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, introduced May 1, 2019.

Congresswoman McCollum released the following statement:
“Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children,” Congresswoman McCollum said. “These organizations are committed to human rights and are working to support another generation of Palestinian children facing cruel and dehumanizing detention at the hands of Mr. Netanyahu’s military. This strong show of support is part of a growing consensus that the Palestinian people deserve justice, equality, human rights, and the right to self-determination. It is also a signal that none of the billions of taxpayer dollars in American foreign aid to Israel should be spent on inhumanely locking up Palestinian children in Israeli military detention facilities.”

The following is a list of organizations in support of H.R. 2407:
Adalah Justice Project
American Friends Service Committee
American Muslims for Palestine
Amnesty International USA
Arab American Institute
Center for Constitutional Rights
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Churches for Middle East Peace
Defense for Children International – Palestine
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA)
Indiana Center for Middle East Peace
Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Palestine Legal
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Project South
Quaker Palestine Israel Network
The Episcopal Church
Tree of Life Educational Fund
United Church of Christ
United Methodist General Board of Church and Society
United Methodists for Kairos Response (UMKR)
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

More information on H.R. 2407