Banging on the Walls of the Tank

Banging on the Walls of the Tank

by Andrew Ross

Over the last century, Palestinians have lived under four different colonial rulers. Each had different legal systems. At their convenience, Israeli authorities pick and choose which of the laws of the three others they want to apply and enforce.

For example, an 1858 Ottoman law regarding “underutilized” (mahlul) land is routinely used by the Civil Administration to expropriate Palestinians’ arable property. Factory owners in West Bank settlement industrial zones claim they are bound by Jordanian labor law (which is much weaker than its Israeli counterpart). And as for administrative detention, responsible for the incarceration--without charge or trial--of many Palestinian prisoners, this practice was introduced by the British as part of the Mandate’s 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations. These British procedures were picked up and recycled during the first intifada in the form of Israel’s Authority in States of Emergency. That “emergency” has now lasted almost thirty years, and like all other aspects of the Occupation, a “temporary” state of affairs has become a normalized, if not permanent, condition.

Administrative detention, which can be authorized by any Israeli district army commander, and for any reason they see fit, is for a six month term, but it can be extended indefinitely, which happens almost routinely, and often on the basis of no evidence presented in any court of law.

Unlike the barbarous practice of administrative detention—a favorite of authoritarian states around the world--the hunger strike cannot be extended. Its terminal phase is approaching. Whether or not their lives are lost, the strikers are all martyrs on account of their sacrifices. They stand up, even with weakened bodies, for the rights of political prisoners everywhere, for the dignity of their families, and for the struggle over their land.

Their frailty makes them powerful. Look! They are rattling the cage. They are banging on the walls of the tank. The ground all over Palestine is shaking.

Manager Sqaure, Bethlehem