With Ramadan less than a month away, tensions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are on the rise, palpable not only in the streets but also in Israeli prisons where thousands of Palestinian prisoners continue to be an active part of the national conversation. The Palestinian prisoner issue is among the most complex and emotive spheres of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, generating deeply entrenched positions based on conflicting narratives and a lack of understanding between the sides. It is therefore a matter that is worthy of close examination in relation to both current political dynamics and future peace negotiations.
“Prisoners are one of the major factors of the conflict. When there is a political agreement, it will have come mainly as a result of the struggles of many Palestinian prisoners. There will be no political solution without solving the prisoner issue,” says Qadura Fares, Head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, member of the Geneva Initiative’s Palestinian leadership, and signatory of the Geneva Accord.
The very existence of a Palestinian ministry dedicated exclusively to prisoner issues points to its deep societal significance. For decades, prisons have functioned as microcosms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Prisoners have lobbied, organized, and embraced various forms of noncompliance – most notably hunger strikes – to protest unfair treatment and poor conditions inside Israeli prisons and to advance the Palestinian national cause. As such, Palestinian prisoners have become significant political players, and Israeli prisons have for decades provided the Palestinian streets with their national and ideological heroes.