Abla Sa’adat: A Palestinian Stateswoman


By Christof Lehmann

abla_saadatAbla Sa’adat, the Chairwoman of the Palestinian Women Organizations and wife of the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) visited Denmark. I met Abla Sa’adat at a meeting where she told a group of mostly young Danes about Palestine. Had one expected an Abla Sa’adat who conforms with the dehumanizing stereotyping of Palestinians by Israeli and western politicians and main stream media, one would have been surprised by the depth and complexity of Abla Sa ‘adat, her perception of the Palestinian problems and possible solutions.

Behind the veil of the “terrorist” stereotype one discovers an Abla Sa’adat who is a true stateswoman, humanist, human rights advocate, an advocate for international law, justice and peace, the wife of a long term prisoner of war and political prisoner, as well as a mother and grandmother who puts the systematic dehumanization and stereotyping of Palestinians to shame.

In spite of the Hamas – Israeli negotiated prisoner exchange earlier this year, Abla Sa’adat states, more than 5.000 Palestinians remain in prison under administrative detention. She is active in organizations which advocate Palestinian prisoners rights. It is not for personal reasons, so she states, that she is using her husband, PFLP Secretary General Ahmad Sa’adat as an example for how Israel systematically terrorizes politically active Palestinians and their families, but because due to her own experience she knows his case best and because his case is representative of those of thousands of other prisoners and their families.

On the other hand, who would blame Abla Sa’adat for wanting to advocate for her illegally detained husband, the father of her children and grandfather to her grandchildren. At a recent appearance of Ahmad Sa’adat in an Israeli court he was denied physical contact with Abla and his newborn granddaughter Mayar. The destruction of politically active Palestinian families family ties and the destruction of Palestinians’ family systems is systemic and systematic.

After the PLO signed the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories within the 1967 borders has not improved and the Israeli governments have systematically avoided adhering to the provisions of the Oslo Accords. Contrary to improvements, the reality of the matter is that: Israel has confiscated more land, increased its infringements on Palestinians’ water rights, built more settlements and settler only roads and railways, built the so called “security wall” which isolates Palestinian West Bank villages in micro enclaves, continued a policy that devastates Palestine’s economy; Israel continues to illegally arrest and detain Palestinians under illegal forms of imprisonment, the use of torture is endemic, the use of disproportionate military force is well documented, and these items only touch the surface of the daily violations of the Oslo Accords. According to the Oslo Accords Palestinian prisoners should have been released from prison. Israel did not adhere to this provision either.

What Palestinians gained by signing the Oslo Accords can be described with a few words. The right to establish a Palestinian Authority, which is utterly dependent on the goodwill of Israel. The political factions have gained the privilege to compete with each other for the Presidency over the self-administrated Zionist genocide on themselves while splitting the PLO, rendering it in a state of internal conflict rather than fighting for the liberation of Palestine. In other words, the PLO was entrapped in the glory of Presidency over its own destruction and the destruction of Palestine.

It is within this context one has to understand the arrest and detainment of Ahmad Sa’adat. Israel demanded that the Palestinian Authority arrest him for “terrorism,” and the Fatah led PA made sure that he was arrested and detained. The tragic irony of the situation is that the Oslo Accords resulted in the Palestinian Authority arresting and detaining the Secretary General of the PFLP Ahmad Sa’adat on behalf of Israel, and that Israeli pressure and US and British complicity since have resulted in Sa’adat being imprisoned in an Israeli prison and not, as initially, in a Palestinian prison with US and UK military guards. In fact each and every detail of Ahmed Sa’adat’s imprisonment is in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions against the use of Torture and other bodies of international law. Ahmed Sa’adat was sentenced to thirty years in prison for being the Secretary General of the PFLP, which is designated as a “terrorist organization” by the USA, Israel and the E.U. He has spent years on end in isolation.

Prior to his arrest Ahmed Sa’adat was elected to the Palestinian parliament. Abla Sa’adat explained that 22 members of parliament are currently imprisoned in Israeli prisons, many of them in isolation. The occupation is in fact preventing the functioning of Palestine’s democratic institutions.

Isolated prisoners are locked up for 23 hours a day. For one hour they can leave their cells and spend their time in an indoor yard, in shackles and hand-cuffs, without the possibility to exercise. There is absolutely no contact to other prisoners. Ahmed Sa’adat was isolated for three years before he was granted ” the privilege” to have his first visitor. Other families, Abla Sa’adat said, have been waiting ten years before they could see their imprisoned husband or father for the first time. Many can not even visit their relatives even if they are granted permission because road blocks and bureaucracy make it impossible to get to the prison and back.

Both Amnesty International, the Red Cross and lawyers complained that this form for imprisonment constitutes torture as well as a breach of the Geneva Conventions, but to no avail. Israel disregards these organizations and laws as well as it has disregarded almost any of the UN Resolutions pertaining Israel, Palestine or the Situation in the Middle East. Ironically, Israel is claiming the legitimacy of the state of Israel from the very organization whose resolutions it systematically disregards.

The impact of isolation and sensory deprivation on prisoners is well documented in numerous and comprehensive scientific studies. Even short term isolation for one to two weeks has a significant impact on a prisoners ability to concentrate, on memory, and general psychological well-being. Longer term and long term isolation for months to years on end have a devastating effect on the human being. Already after a few weeks most isolated prisoners experience several of the following symptoms.

  • Loss of the ability to concentrate

  • Loss of the ability to think coherent thoughts.

  • Loss of short and long-term memory.

  • Visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations, such as the sensation that the entire cell is driving like a train carriage or rotating.

  • Severe mood disorders.

  • Severe dissociative symptoms or dissociative disorders.

  • Suicidal ideas and increased prevalence of suicide attempts and death due to suicide compared to non-isolated prisoner populations.

  • Symptoms of learned helplessness.

  • Inability to participate as an active part of a legal defense.

  • And a cohort of other, severe symptoms.

It is for very good, science-based reasons that long term isolation is internationally recognized as torture. Israel is systematically using isolation to psychologically and physically destroy politically active Palestinian prisoners.

While the systematic and wide spread use of long-term isolation has a devastating effect on the prisoners themselves has a devastating effect on the isolated prisoners family systems as well. Spouses who have not seen one another for years on end risk growing strangers to one another. Children who are infants when a parent is imprisoned often see their father or mother for the first time when they are teens. It is impossible to remedy the lack of early attachment and the lack of a possibility to to know ones parents or ones children intimately or at least to such a degree as a normal imprisonment allows, which is devastating enough.

One of the long term prisoners, Nabeel Barghouti was imprisoned for 30 years. His wife who was pregnant when he was imprisoned gave birth to a son, Fahdi. At the age of 16 his son decided that the only way to see his father was to become a prisoner. After his arrest and imprisonment he fought for the right to be imprisoned under conditions that made it possible for him to see his father. Incidents like these are not extraordinary, although they are extraordinarily tragic.

At a visit, Ahmad Sa’adat would have been unable to recognize his own son on a photograph had it not been for the fact that the boy held a trumpet and that he knew that his son is playing the trumpet. Abla Sa’adat’s worst concern about her husband, she said, is not that he is breaking down mentally. Naturally the long term isolation has set its marks but he is determined in his struggle for liberation. What concerns her most is that she can see, that her husband is suffering the physical effects on the body which long term prisoners in Israel are suffering.

It took a months long hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners to finally end all long-term isolation of Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s prison industry; and it is a prison industry, in the literal sense of the word. E.U. Subsidies per prisoner exceed Israel’s costs per prisoner per day, and there are other methods such as fines which make it a lucrative business for Israel to hold as many prisoners as possible.

Years ago, Abla Sa’adat recalled, she was arrested while her husband already was imprisoned. Who would take care of the children? Israel is systematically using illegal forms of arrest and imprisonment to terrorize and destroy politically active families, and those who help targeted families in coping risk being targeted too.

The Stateswoman in Abla Sa’adat came out when she raised concerns about the targeting and imprisonment of Palestinian children. Stateswoman in the true sense of the word, as a politician, a revolutionary, as well as a mother for her own children, and a politician who has a motherly love for the plight of the children of Palestine and families with children.

Children are regularly arrested, beaten, shot at and killed for protesting the occupation. Many of them are provoked into conflicts with the occupation forces. Tanks rattling near school buildings for hours, stressing the children and making it impossible for them to follow a normal schedule are just one of hundreds of ways to provoke the throwing of a stone. The response can be everything from being beaten, arrested and imprisoned, injured or killed.

Abla Sa’adat draws attention to the fact that the international conventions and laws which regulate the rights of imprisoned children are also systematically circumvented or ignored by Israel. Besides that the child prisoners have become a lucrative form of income for Israel. The fines are high and children are often not released before the fine is paid.

Another way of destroying Palestinian family systems is the placement of children who are sentenced to house arrest with family members so far away from their parents that road blocks and daily chicane makes it impossible for the parents to maintain contact with the children.

Abla Sa’adat is drawing attention to the fact that the prevalence of psychological disorders among Palestinian children is extremely high. In fact, the prevalence of psychological disorders is extremely high in the general Palestinian population, regardless which age group one studies. Many of these psychological problems are caused by the occupation, and the prevalence of trauma-related problems is staggering.

A 1996 Study by Save the Child documented that most children internalize the conflict with the occupation. The violent problem-solving models are then transferred into the family system and into school teacher relations, leading to immense pedagogical problems. The violent problem solving models are also transferred to child on child relations. Children growing up under such conditions are, as adults, prone to use violent problem solving models. The effect is not only felt in the resistance against the occupation. In fact, the effect is more likely to manifest in spousal abuse, child abuse, proneness to the use of violence to settle family disputes, political disputes, financial disputes, and so forth. This internalization during childhood has an all pervasive and devastating effect on all levels, individual, family, community level, and in the halls of government.

The Oslo Accords, says Abla Sa’adat, have not brought any improvements for Palestinians and the debate among Palestinian factions to abandon the Oslo Accords and all subsequent agreements is finally being seriously debated among the factions.

Abla Sa’adat made a point of clarifying that she has nothing against Jews in Palestine or anywhere else. Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Secular people have been living in Palestine for centuries. The often used propaganda, that Palestinians want to drive the Jews back into the sea, she states, has nothing to do with reality. Her cause and the cause of the Palestinian liberation is not directed against Jews but against Zionism and Zionists. There is a difference, she states, between Jewish families who have been living in Palestine for centuries, and those who came and still are coming to Palestine to steal Palestinian land and evict or murder Palestinians.

A two State solution, says Abla Sa’adat, is the very minimum and it would be difficult to implement. She asks, if a Palestinian state should be established within the borders of 1967, what about those families who have been refugees since 1948? The most realistic solution would be, she said, to establish one secular state in all of Palestine. One secular, democratic state for Jews, Christians, Muslims and Secularists within all of the Palestinian territories. The greatest obstacle to the establishment of such a state is, that Zionists insist on a Jewish State, where Muslims, Christians and Secularists alike have no place, and if at all, then as second class citizens.

With a Middle East on fire, with a Libya that has fallen into the hands of Islamic extremism, and with Syria under attack from western sponsored extremists and Al Qaeda associated organizations from throughout the world, with Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., the USA, NATO member states and Israel sponsoring and backing the extremists’ subversion of Syria, Abla Sa’adat, who is widely decried as “terrorist,” sounds like one of the most reasonable Middle Eastern voices of moderation I have heard since the onset of the so-called Arab Spring. If Abla Sa’adat is marked by terrorism, it is because a lifetime of enduring the terror of the Zionist occupation is as imprinted in her as it is in every Palestinian.

* Dr. Christof Lehmann, a life time peace activist, psychologist, and advisor in behavior, finance, economics and politics.