A Palestinian man's death in an Israeli jail raises new questions – and suggests a way to put pressure on Israel.
Peaceful protest to keep pressure on Israeli policy
Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian petrol-station attendant and father of two young children, was arrested on February 18 after a protest at an Israeli settlement near Hebron. After he died in jail on Saturday, Israeli officials said with bland effrontery that a heart attack was the probable cause of death.
But cardiac arrest is not exactly common among fit 30-year olds. As The National reported yesterday, a Palestinian doctor allowed to attend the autopsy said he saw bruising, broken ribs and signs that the man had been lashed. The Israelis argued that the trauma marks were from resuscitation efforts.
The case cries out for a proper inquiry, just as proposed by Issa Qaraqaa, the Palestinian Authority's minister for prisoners. However Jaradat died, Israel cannot be allowed to make him into just another forgotten victim. The best memorial he could have would be a determined new wave of peaceful protests against Israel's drastic detention and interrogation policies and jail conditions in general.
Israel has more than 4,800 Palestinians in its jails; 178 of them are being held indefinitely, without trial.
On Sunday some 3,000 prisoners held a one-day hunger strike, to denounce Jaradat's death. And four prisoners on a protracted hunger strike have spurred protests by their supporters across the West Bank.
This unrest has spurred talk of a third intifada, peaceful or otherwise. That seems unlikely in the near term, but there is an urgent need to keep the spotlight on pervasive Israeli abuses.
One year ago this week, Israel agreed to release a jailed baker and Islamic Jihad member, Khader Adnan, whose 66-day hunger strike had brought him to death's door - but also held Israeli policies up to the merciless light of global public opinion, as the case became progressively better-known around the world.
After Mr Adnan's release, up to 2,000 other prisoners began hunger strikes. To discourage this tactic the authorities stopped family visits for these men, and confiscated their humble personal effects. The hunger strikes fizzled out. Clearly Israel will not tolerate even the most peaceful of protests.
That severe reaction signals a weakness: the more the world knows about how Israel really treats Palestinians, in prison and in the occupied territories, the greater the world's revulsion will be. Persistent, peaceful and fully-reported prisoner protests, backed by their supporters outside, pose a potent challenge to Israel's unsustainable occupation.