About fifty members of the Palestinian Prisons Society met nearby the Red Cross headquarters in Bethlehem at 11 am on Thursday. The Society meets once or twice a month to show solidarity and give support for more than 11,000 detainees suffering under bad conditions in Israeli prisons.
A poster displayed the faces of resisters sentenced to life terms by the Israeli court. About fifty children under the age of eighteen are presently in prison. Some are pressured to make them collaborate with the Israelis, a spokesperson said. Most of the men who came to the meeting said they had served terms in prison and were there to show solidarity in their support for the others still imprisoned.
Mothers and relatives held pictures of detainees. Some such as Issa Abed Rrabbo and Marwan Barghouthi had been sentenced to life terms for resistance activities and have already spent twenty five years in prison. The mother of Barghouthi, supported by a walker, came with his other relatives including young children.
One woman, Muna Kanaâ€™n, had spent a year in prison during the first Intifada. She said she had been taken prisoner in 1988 when she was eighteen for organizing activists in the Bethlehem area. A member of the PLO, she said at the time it had been forbidden to be a member of a political party, to hang the Palestinian flag or in any way to show resistance to the occupying forces. The result was usually arrest.
Imprisonment touches every family, said a woman, everyone has had a son, brother, cousin or some other relative that is now or at one time has been imprisoned. There have been nineteen â€œmartyrsâ€ (men who died in prison) but the Israel government has refused to return the bodies to relatives. â€œThey were just given a number and buried in Israel,â€ said the woman, â€œwe are asking for the return of their bodies for proper burial.â€
Abdullah Zegheri, spokesman for the group, offered encouragement. He said although there are thirty lawyers working for them in the Israeli courts, families and support groups must continue to meet because prisoners have to feel they have outside support and are not forgotten.