All prisoners are political, from DC to Palestine #FreeThemAll

Since May, there has been an unprecedented amount of public support for Palestinian liberation in response to Israeli oppression, including systemic land dispossessions in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan supported by US-funded settler groups. The Unity Intifada and Palestinian resistance have brought us to a powerful moment where the conversation on Palestine is shifting. Thousands of people across the US — including Metro DC DSA members — have attended local Palestine solidarity actions in DC such as the Nakba 73rd year commemoration action on May 15th, the National March for Palestine on May 29th and the August 26th action to reject Prime Minister Bennett’s visit with Biden, and we are continuing to build our chapter’s organizing work in solidarity with the BDS movement and Palestinian liberation.

A similar version of this essay was given as a speech at a September 12th rally organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement’s DMV Chapter calling for freedom for all political prisoners. During the rally, protestors left hundreds of spoons at the Israeli embassy, pictured above — a show of support for the Palestinians who dug their way free from Israeli captivity days earlier.

We must first recognize that in Washington, DC, we are on the stolen Indigenous land of the Piscataway and Nacotchtank people, and that this land was also built off of the stolen labor and lives of enslaved Africans.

I am from D8 for Justice, a grassroots network that formed around a #FreeThemAll campaign demanding Maryland’s 8th District Representative, Jamie Raskin, make a public statement supporting freedom for all incarcerated people, from the US to Palestine. For over a year now, we have been calling on Raskin to cosponsor Congressional legislation introduced by Betty McCollum to stop US aid from going towards detention and torture of Palestinian children, among other human rights abuses. Betty McCollum introduced H.R. 2407 in April 2019, which has more recently been introduced as H.R. 2590, The Palestinian Children and Families Act, and expanded in scope to include restricting aid from being used for demolition of Palestinian homes and further annexation of Palestinian land. But our demands to ensure our taxpayer dollars do not fund these inhumane injustices and violations of international law have been repeatedly ignored and discounted. Through this campaign we met with Raskin’s office, engaged the community, and in May had an action at his district office in Rockville calling on him to make a public statement supporting #FreeThemAll and cosponsor H.R. 2590.

But when you’re talking to nominally progressive elected officials about #FreeThemAll and abolition, they almost always refuse to accept that we are not willing to negotiate on who is and isn’t deserving of freedom and justice.

Angela Davis writes: “Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings.” We do not get justice through a punitive system, by putting people in cages and keeping them in inhumane conditions that do not provide the love and care that we all need to heal and thrive. The pandemic makes this all the more clear, and the realities of today make it harder to ignore the truth: no human being deserves to be incarcerated, pandemic or no pandemic.

In April, while only 5% of Palestinians were vaccinated and hospitals were overflowing, the vaccination rate in Israel was 60% and the economy was reopening. Despite Israel refusing its obligations under the international law to facilitate and provide access to vaccines and medical supplies for Palestinians living under Israeli military control, there has been underwhelming pushback from the international community about the disparities in vaccine access. And in the United States, racial disparities in health outcomes and experiences show that systemic racism is endemic in our healthcare system and society. The pandemic shows us, quite literally, that our health and safety is tied to the health and safety of those around us — a compelling reason to divest from prisons and reinvest in community support. Prisons posed a public health risk even before the pandemic by keeping people isolated from their loved ones, physically and emotionally neglected, and without proper medical care.

When we look at our neighbors and community members who are being incarcerated in DC, Maryland and Virginia, we can’t ignore the reality that all prisoners are political. What about the crimes that are being committed by Jeff Bezos and other corporate execs that put workers in unsafe conditions and at risk every single day? What about the crimes of NABISCO, of CEOs making billions off of our labor and exploitation, especially in the Global South? What about the crimes of white collar criminals working in the financial sector who are making millions while people are defaulting on medical debt during a pandemic? What about the crimes of Enbridge execs, the pipeline company that is responsible for countless oil spills and just finished a pipeline in violation of indigenous treaties and land rights? We don’t see billionaires and perpetrators of state violence in prisons, we see them in our highest branches of government.

Rich and powerful people rarely go to prison in this country because they own the system; who does and doesn’t go to prison is a political and intentional choice. Prisons are for the poor, the homeless, those without an education and those without white skin. There is not a single person on death row in the United States with money or resources: the death penalty, just like prisons, is almost exclusively a punishment for poor people and people of color.

The carceral system, punishment and prisons are not here to keep our communities safe. Prisons in both the US and Palestine perpetuate systemic inequality, remove agency, and fragment families and communities through colonial and state violence that protects the interests of the state and capitalist class. The US uses family separation and caging kids as a tool to deter migration, and routinely separates children from their families as a result of mass incarceration. Israeli occupation forces invade Palestinian homes in the middle of the night separating children from their families, and treating Palestinian kids in ways that amount to torture.

The Israeli apartheid system is given $3.8 billion in aid annually in a unique Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that gives unparalleled opacity in how the aid is used. Further, illegal Israeli settlements are backed by US-funded settler groups. While Israeli settlers committing racist violence against Palestinians are protected by the Israeli occupation forces, unhoused folks in DC are being violently and permanently evicted by the DC police and local government in order to make way for development, like we saw in the first week of October with the dangerous evictions at the NoMa encampments. Immigrant detention and the illegal turning back of migrants at the border further show how prisons, borders and colonialism work together to protect the interests of settler-colonial states. Haitians seeking asylum are being illegally deported and attacked by CBP in violation of international law, while the Press Secretary for the White House denies that they are deportations. Who are these systems and laws in place to protect? Being poor, homeless, not white, or undocumented is treated as more of a crime than violating indigenous sovereignty and international law. 

In Palestine, the Israeli occupation forces and military surveillance apparatus target Palestinian students, families, using fear, intimidation, and torture tactics in order to repress Palestinian resistance and autonomy. Palestinians are systematically held in military detention without charge or trial and face over a 99% conviction rate in Israeli military courts. Their detention is often arbitrarily extended or court dates postponed — a common tactic the Israeli government uses to stall and delay until people stop paying attention — and we also see this happening right now with the illegal land dispossession court cases in Sheikh Jarrah.

The US Congress recently voted to authorize an additional $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome “missile defense system,” which the DSA NPC condemned. Disappointingly, two DSA-endorsed elected officials, Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, failed to vote against this increased military spending. When it comes to Palestine, even our own DSA-endorsed officials will try to “complicate” a clear reality of settler-colonialism, which “obfuscates a clear distinction between victim and aggressor.”

US empire, the Zionist settler-colonial project and the carceral state are all connected. We must fight for freedom for all human beings incarcerated, all victims of state violence and the US empire, from DC to Arlington ICE immigrant detention centers to Palestine. We won’t stop until everyone is free, from the river to the sea.

The Unity Intifada of Palestinians rising up in Jerusalem, Gaza, across ’48, and refugee camps in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, as well as throughout the diaspora demonstrates the unification of Palestinians across the world, despite Israel's attempts to divide, fragment and isolate Palestinian communities. The six Palestinians who recently escaped had spoons going up against the military might of the Israeli occupation forces, and by extension the US empire. While the six Palestinians who escaped on September 6th have since been re-captured by Israeli forces, their story is a remarkable one of resilience and courage. We are constantly inspired by the steadfastness, the determination and the humanity of our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and our incarcerated comrades here in the US and across the world. Free them all, from Turtle Island to Palestine!

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