To the Editors:
Israeli government officials have announced that several hundred Arab prisoners from the occupied territories are being force-fed after a hunger strike that has lasted almost a month. The prisoners are reported to be demanding to be treated as prisoners of war rather than as criminals and to be protesting intolerable conditions in the Ashkelon prison. Families have conducted a sit-down strike at the municipal offices demanding intervention on behalf of the prisoners.
In mid-December, many young people were arrested in East Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied West Bank after demonstrations. In Ramallah, three girls were arrested for participating in a demonstration on December 14 and sentenced to three months in jail or to a fine of IL 10,000, according to Attorney Leah Tzemel. Eitan Grossfeld, in a report dated December 18, writes of a group of thirty-nine prisoners, of whom ten were released and twenty-nine remained under detention. Several of those who were released told him that prisoners were brutally beaten and subjected to other atrocities. They alleged that one man was forced to write a statement and that another, Mahmoud El-Mughrabi, a sixteen-year-old boy, was given an electric shock. Mahmoud El-Mughrabi testified in court that as a result of severe beatings he was lame and barely able to move his hands, according to Attorney Tzemel, who was present. She adds that El-Mughrabi was prohibited by the judge from talking to her about this subject, though evidence of beating was visible.
The Israeli press reports the arrest of Arab workers from the occupied territories who were found living in rented apartments without a permit (Maariv, December 15). Earlier this year, the press reported that thousands of Arab workers from the occupied territories are locked into factories at night. This fact, allegedly known to the authorities, became public knowledge when the bodies of three dead Arab workers from Gaza were discovered in a locked room after the destruction of a small Tel Aviv factory by fire. Employers report that workers are locked into the factories because they are not permitted on the streets at night. Even work permits have often not been obtained, because they are costly to the employer. (Yediot Ahronot, March 16, 1976; Ha’aretz, March 19, 1976; London Economist, March 20, 1976.) The “pass system” and its consequences will hardly be avoidable, if the occupation continues, and with it, reliance on a cheap Arab labor force imported from the occupied territories.
There is considerable evidence that the severe repression in the occupied territories is being intensified, as protests mount against the military regime. I would like to report one case, by no means the worst, of which I happen to have some personal knowledge.
In December 1975, a young Arab woman, Sonia Nimr, was sentenced to three years in prison by a military tribunal (no appeal) for allegedly having been a member of an “illegal organization.” The court file indicates that she was never an active member and had terminated membership of her own will. According to the Arab press in Jerusalem (Al Fajr), her sentence was set at twice that of the male organizer of the cell to which she had been recruited on the grounds that she refused to beg for mercy and set a bad example for other women. The court file states that she must be punished “with all severity” (Israleft News Service 90, September 15, 1976, Jerusalem).
I received a letter from Sonia Nimr from prison and responded in July. Hearing nothing from her, I assumed that the letter had been intercepted by the police and asked a journalist who was in contact with her to inform her that I had indeed written. He did so, and she responded in a letter dated November 11 that on the preceding day she had received a letter from me—in Hebrew. This surprised her, since she had written me in English and knows no Hebrew. Of course, my letter was in English. Evidently, the police fabricated the letter. While not on a par with torture and beatings, still fabrication of a letter is a form of psychological cruelty to a prisoner that is, in my experience in these matters, quite beyond the ordinary.
Miss Nimr has requested permission to complete her BA at Bir Zeit college on the West Bank. In the same letter she reports that her request has been denied.
Resistance and repression in the occupied territories must be understood in the context of the international pressures toward a political settlement that would bring the occupation to an end. The occupation has been depicted in the United States as benign—”a model of future cooperation” and a “nine-year experiment in Arab-Israeli coexistence,” in the words of a New York Times editorial (May 19, 1976). This characterization has always been false, outrageously so. The situation now appears to be worsening.
International protests may be effective. To cite one instance, the West Bank journalist Raymonda Tawil, detained under house arrest with no charge for nearly four months, was released in December after protests occasioned in part by reports in the press (New York Times, August 23, November 7). In the coming months, the situation may become even more intolerable than it has been. The repression in the occupied territories is not only entirely indefensible in itself, but will further embitter relations between people who must reach an accommodation if they are to survive at all.