Media Microscope: Starved of information
May 29, 2012 | Allon Lee
The humanity of Israel’s system of administrative detention of Palestinian prisoners was the main interest when Israeli-Palestinian issues were covered in the first two weeks of May.
On May 7, Ruth Pollard wrote in the Age/Sydney Morning Herald that “the number of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails has grown to at least 2,800, human rights groups say… Israel’s practice of jailing people without charge – known as administrative detention – is the main issue driving the hunger strikers…About 320 Palestinians are being held in administrative detention in Israeli prisons.”
If there were more than 2,800 Palestinian prisoners starving themselves in protest against administrative detention but only 320 of them are actually there on administrative detention charges, what were the crimes of the 2,480 who were convicted or awaiting trial? (Actually, the Israeli government later revealed that only six of the hunger strikers were in administrative detention). Pollard and most media reports didn’t say, apart from John Lyons (Australian, May 16) who noted “many of the Palestinians are in prison for terrorism-related charges.”
In the Age version Pollard quoted a claim made by UN special rapporteur Richard Falk (a 9/11 conspiracist who has compared Israel to Nazi Germany) that “since the 1967 war, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians, including 23,000 women and 25,000 children, had been held in Israeli jails – this was 20 percent of the total Palestinian population,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (May 7).
Five days later an unattributed story on Palestinian prisoners made a similar claim, Age (May 12).
Likewise, Izzat Abdulhadi, the Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, claimed that “Since 1967, more than 600,000 Palestinian men have been imprisoned in Israeli jails, a staggering 40 percent of the male population,” Australian (May 15).
The provenance for the claim of 600,000-750,000 Palestinians imprisoned can be traced to the Palestinian NGO Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
But these figures are not credible.
As blogger “Elder of Ziyon” noted, accepting the 700,000 claim means that since 1967 “there were, on the average, over 23,000 new prisoners a year…or 500 a week… Even during the height of the intifada, the number of these prisoners never reached 10,000…” He noted that even if you make ridiculous assumptions, such as that each prisoner is detained for only a single year and arrested once, and the unusually high imprisonment rate of the Intifada years has been in place since 1967, you still end up with under 200,000 prisoners in total.
Abdulhadi alleged that the prisoners on a mass hunger strike “are demanding an end to the subhuman conditions forced on them in Israeli jails and an end to the use of administrative detention and imprisonment as a tool of mass fear and cruelty,” Australian (May 15).
Zionist Federation of Australia President Philip Chester responded to Abdulhadi, writing “High-security prisoners with multiple convictions for terrorism and murder should not have expectations of luxury accommodation. Nevertheless, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are entitled to make purchases at a canteen, to receive newspapers, keep books and personal electronic items and have access to numerous television channels. They went on their hunger strike demanding among other things an entitlement to pursue academic studies and access to additional television channels,” Australian (May 18).
Australian-Egyptian-Palestinian writer Randa Abdel-Fatah made an emotional plea. “How many times have we heard Western leaders and commentators preach that Palestinians – victims of Israel’s violent occupation and belligerent dominance since 1948 – must ‘renounce violence’?
When Palestinians who subject themselves to the torment of a hunger strike are ignored, one must ask whether the international media and Western pontificators consider Palestinians a lesser species…?”
Her subtext suggests that the strikers were using non-violent tactics and had “renounced violence”. But these were prisoners – many of them convicted murderers. They had not “renounced violence”. They simply had no ability to use it as a tactic from within prison, so they found another tactic, ABC “Unleashed” (May 15).
AIJAC’s Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz noted that “The organisers of the strike include such ‘peaceful activists’ as senior Hamas operatives Abbas a-Sayyid and Muhanned Sharrim, serving 35 and 29 life sentences respectively for their roles in the 2002 “Passover bombings”, in which 30 civilians were murdered and another 140 were injured as they sat down to Passover dinner in a Netanya hotel… of the 1,600-odd prisoners in the strike, approximately 750 prisoners are aligned with Hamas and about 250 with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ),” ABC “Unleashed” (May 22).