Despite an unprecedented public outcry, Finland’s Ministry of Defense is set to go ahead with a controversial collaboration with Israeli arms companies deeply involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Finland is turning to Israel for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) — commonly known as a “drones” — in a deal with more than 17 million euros.
On 10 October last year, the main Finnish daily and the largest subscription newspaper in the Nordic countries Helsingin Sanomat published in its Sunday edition a full page article titled “Israel, Our Brother-in-arms” (“Aseveljemme Israel“ [PDF]).
With the newspaper’s one million-strong Sunday circulation, the Helsingin Sanomat article was the most prominent of the many reports dealing with Finland’s arms trade with Israel. Among the factors giving impetus to the article was a petition of more than a hundred Finnish dignitaries from the arts, sciences and politics calling for the immediate discontinuation of Finnish-Israeli arms trade and military technology cooperation in all forms (“Vetoomus Suomen ja Israelin asekaupan lakkauttamiseksi,” via ICAHD Finland).
During the months that followed, the number of signatories grew from 100 to more than 250. Among those insisting on a cessation of all forms of military cooperation with Israel are Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, world-renowned expert on international law Martti Koskenniemi and the most distinguished Finnish filmmaker of all time, Aki Kaurismäki. They were joined by more than forty professors, a number of Finlandia Prize winners, Finnish MEPs and MPs, stage and film directors, actors, writers and scholars. The petition encompasses an impressive and exhaustive array of the who’s who in Finnish arts, sciences and politics.
Moreover, earlier this month, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) issued a call for “an immediate and comprehensive military embargo on Israel” similar to the one that had been imposed on apartheid South Africa. The call, which marked the seventh anniversary of the still unenforced International Court of Justice decision declaring Israel’s wall in the West Bank illegal, was endorsed by Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Perez Esquivel.
It has also been endorsed by the European Network Against Arms Trade.
The two Israeli finalists in the Finnish UAV bid
In June, the Ministry of Defense announced that it had chosen the two finalists in a UAV tender worth more than 17 million euros for 30-45 unmanned systems. Both finalists are Israeli military technology manufacturers, and the winner will be announced in November.
The companies competing for the Finnish UAV contract are Bluebird Aero Systems and Aeronautics Defense Systems. Both BlueBird and Aeronautics are candid and vocal about their partnership with the Israeli military as this is what the companies regard as a decisive advantage over their competitors in the multi-billion euro international arms markets.
On its website, a BlueBird video commercial states: “BlueBird’s mini-electrical UASs [unmanned aerial systems] are combat-proven, flying with the Israeli Air Force, Israeli MOD [Ministry of Defense], US Special Forces and others while continually demonstrating reliable performance and outstanding results” (the video is also on Youtube).
Among the many links between Bluebird and the criminal actions of the Israeli military, Bluebird’s UAVs were used in air strike executions perpetrated in Gaza by the Israeli Air Force, according to the watchdog group Who Profits? (BlueBird Aero Systems company page on whoprofits.org)
As for the “outstanding results” and “reliable performance,” the Israeli military killed at least 87 civilians in more than forty UAV attacks during the three week long assault on Gaza that begin on 27 December 2008, according to a June 2009 report by Human Rights Watch which cited evidence from B’Tselem, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (“Precisely Wrong – Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles”).
Likewise, Aeronautics’ UAVs were also reportedly used during Israel’s three week-long assault on the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Aeronautics is one of the companies that have created a perimeter-control system for the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The company is also developing hi-tech systems with military applications, such as perimeter control radar systems and bomb fuses.
Aeronautics also holds shares in Controp Precision Technologies which has sold electro-optical intrusion detection systems for the illegal wall Israel has built inside the occupied West Bank. Additionally, Controp is running a joint project with the off-road utility vehicle manufacturer Tomcar and the private Israeli military powerhouse Elbit Systems, developing a UAV for military purposes, and selling cameras for UAVs used by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to Who Profits? (see the Aeronautics Defense Systems listing on whoprofits.org).
Deepening ties with human rights violators
Israel is investing extraordinary resources in military exports and, as a result, a stunning 80 percent of Israel’s military production is exported to foreign markets. Last year, Israel exported military equipment for more than 5.1 billion euros. The defense budget of Finland, by comparison, is approximately 2.7 billion euros. Therefore, the total value of military exports from Israel is roughly twice the defense budget of Finland (in spite of Israel’s GDP being smaller than that of Finland). Furthermore, Israel’s defense budget is 3.5 times that of Finland.
Israel is regarded as arguably the most militarized state in the world (see Martin van Creveld’s The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force, 1998, p. 123) with a sizable private military industry fully intertwined with the Israeli army, police and intelligence agencies, all of which are involved in blatantly criminal activities.
Finnish policy makers’ choice to persistently offer new military contracts to Israel is part of the legitimization of Israeli illegalities and a culture of unaccountability, which are characteristic of the EU and US’ approach toward Israel. The military trade with Israel doesn’t quite contribute to the ending of the conflict, either, yet this is officially the stated aim of the Finnish government’s Middle East policy.
As the total value of the arms trade between Finland and Israel approaches 200 million euros, the continuing military transactions have imposed collective responsibility and therefore complicity on Finnish taxpayers. The links between the Finnish taxpayer to the longest illegal and ongoing military occupation in the post-Second Word War era are sealed by the UAV contract. At what point exactly Finnish decision-makers start to pay heed to public opposition with the military trade with Israel remains to be seen.
Bruno Jäntti is the founder of ICAHD Finland, the Finnish branch of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He can be reached at brunojantti (at) yahoo dot com.
The Israeli navy attacked Civil Peace Service Gaza volunteers along with international press and Palestinian fishermen today. One of the Israeli ships targeted the boats with high pressure water cannons.
Meanwhile, a small naval boat approached the Oliva and hit it from behind, stopping the boat and causing serious damage to the engine. The crew aboard the Oliva was evacuated to other boats and all the boats at sea were forced to turn back.
Joe Catron, an American human rights worker aboard the Oliva, stated, “Israel has been regularly attacking Palestinian fishermen within the purported 3 nautical mile fishing limit. The livelihood of many Gazans relies on fishing and Israel has been using live ammunition and water cannons to prevent fishermen from doing their work. We will continue to go out with the Palestinians and document human rights violations, despite the powerful threats we and Gazan fishermen face.”
Journalists and TV Crews are invited to join the CPSGaza boat.
Civil Peace Service Gaza is an international, third party, non-violent initiative to monitor potential human rights violations in Gazan territorial waters.
Gaza – The Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH) has condemned recent Israeli airstrikes that have resulted in damaged water and sanitation infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.
EWASH, a coalition of 30 prominent humanitarian organisations working in the Palestinian territories, in a press release today detailed the damage caused by one particular air strike on Sunday. The air strike destroyed an agricultural well in Beit Hanoun, injuring 4 children and 3 women in the process. The well provided water for the Az-Za’anin family and 39 dunams of agricultural land.
The same strike also caused damage to 9 water tanks that served five households of 59 people. EWASH condemns such strikes on essential civilian infrastructure.
Earlier this year in March an Israeli airstrike hit a warehouse in Khuza’a municipality destroying $60,000 worth of essential water and sanitation materials. Similarly in April, a strike on Al-Mintar water reservoir in Al-Quba area of Gaza City left 30,000 people without water for three days.
Israel because of the siege it is imposing on Gaza must make sure Palestinians have access to essential services; this is a right Palestinians have enshrined by International law.
Ghada Snunu, the EWASH Advocacy Task Force Officer in Gaza explained that rather than carrying out such international obligations “what we keep witnessing is the opposite – civilian infrastructure, in particular water-related facilities, are often hit during Israeli airstrikes depriving people of indispensable services.”
EWASH states that the water and wastewater infrastructure in Gaza is already under critical strain, as a result of Israel’s siege on the small strip of land and the heavy restrictions Israel has put in place. Air strikes that damage Gaza’s civilian structure only furthers the dire humanitarian situation that is imposed on 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
Damage to Palestinian civilian infrastructure by Israel is not limited to Gaza. This year, 20 water collection cisterns have already been destroyed in parts of Area C in the West Bank.
During Israel’s military bombardment ‘Opertaion Cast Lead’ in 2008/09, Israeli air strikes destroyed over 30 kilometres of water networks in total: more than twice the width of the Gaza Strip at its widest point.
In 2001, Israel had signed a pledge with the Palestinian Authority to keep the water infrastructure of Palestinians safe in any air strikes and/or conflict. This pledge has repeatedly been ignored.
EWASH ‘calls on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and calls on the international community to step up pressure on Israel to ensure protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.’
Encircled by a grey, metal fence, the Big Mosque in Beer Sheva is an impressive Ottoman-era structure with a towering minaret, white dome and intricate metal detailing on its many windows.
Closed off by the Israeli authorities since 1991, it is suffering from neglect. And after the Israeli high court ruled last month that it should be turned into a museum of Islamic culture instead of being open to prayer, the mosque is once again at the heart of a battle between the area’s Muslim residents and the municipality.
“All the Arab citizens in Beer Sheva don’t have a mosque or place to pray. They asked the city to renovate the mosque so that they can use it to pray and the city refused,” explained Jaber Abu Kaf, a resident of Umm Bateen, a Bedouin village just south of Beer Sheva and a representative of the Regional Council for Unrecognized Bedouin Villages (RCUV) in the Negev.
“As Muslims, we refuse for a mosque like this to be changed into a museum. We ask for the mosque to be used for people to pray,” Abu Kaf told The Electronic Intifada.
Ten years of deliberations
In August 2002, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel — along with the Association for the Support and Protection of the Rights of the Bedouin in Israel, the Islamic Committee in the Naqab (Negev), and 23 Palestinian citizens of Israel from Beer Sheva — submitted a petition to the Israeli high court demanding that the Big Mosque of Beer Sheva be re-opened for prayer.
The Big Mosque was built in 1906 for the use of the Muslim residents of Beir al-Sabe — the original Arabic name of the town which has since been Hebraized to Beer Sheva. Residents and Bedouin communities throughout the Naqab used the mosque for worship until the State of Israel was created in 1948 and Beir al-Sabe ethnically cleansed. From 1948 until 1953, the mosque was used as a court and prison. Then, the structure was used as a museum until 1991, when its contents were finally emptied and the mosque was closed by the state.
In essence, thousands of Muslim residents of contemporary Beer Sheva — and more than 180,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel living in nearby communities — have been denied access to the mosque since 1948.
Latest chapter in a history of injustice
“The opening of the mosque in Beer Sheva is one of the rights that should be given to Beer Sheva’s Muslim citizens and one of the services that Beer Sheva should offer the people of the area,” explained Adel Badir, a lawyer from Adalah who has worked on the case since 2003, shortly after the ruling was delivered on 22 June.
Instead, the municipality of Beer Sheva argued to the high court that the Big Mosque should be used as a general museum. The mosque currently sits a few meters from the Negev Museum, which was built on mosque lands and is housed in an Ottoman-era building known as the Governor’s House. The museum houses pieces of contemporary Israeli art — including video installations, photographs and paintings — all related to the Negev region.
The municipality argued that opening the Big Mosque for prayer would lead to violence and disturb the peace in the community, but did not specify how or why this would be the case. Indeed, high court Justice Salim Jubran criticized the municipality’s argument and asked whether the municipality was saying “that religious ritual by their very nature led to fighting and conflict, or whether it claimed that it was specifically Muslim worship that involved something that could result in confrontations between groups that would otherwise enjoy normal relations with one another,” according to a statement released by Adalah on 24 June (“Israeli Supreme Court Rules to Turn Big Mosque in Beer el-Sabe into an ‘Islamic Museum’”).
According to Badir, the idea that the mosque would create problems in Beer Sheva is wholly unfounded.
“The Beer Sheva municipality’s claim that the opening of the Beer Sheva mosque will cause problems is a weak and mistaken one. There are many mosques in mixed cities. In Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Haifa there are mosques and there isn’t any problem,” Badir said.
According to the same Adalah statement, Justice Ayala Procaccia stated in her ruling that “concerning the stated moral considerations, I doubt that the municipality has given any consideration whatsoever to the legitimate expectations of Muslims to restore their religious connection to the mosque.”
Converting the mosque into a museum of Islamic culture and religion, she added, would “achieve the objectives of the petition, if partially, by restoring the link between the Muslim community and the Big Mosque, as a site that is connected to the cultural values and history of this community.”
Destruction, neglect of holy places since 1948
In December 2004, the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) released a report on the destruction and abuse of Muslim and Christian holy places in Israel. According to the report, not only has the Israeli government not fulfilled its obligations to protect the religious rights of Palestinian citizens of the state — which number approximately 1.6 million, or 20 percent of the total population — it has also actively denied their right to practice their religions freely and maintain their places of worship (“Sanctity Denied: The Destruction and Abuse of Muslim and Christian Holy Places in Israel”).
“The destruction of Christian and Muslim holy places should be seen in the context of the wide-scale destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages inside the borders of the new Jewish state during and for many years after the 1948 war,” the report adds. HRA estimates that 249 Muslim and Christian places of worship located inside the boundary between the West Bank and Israel had been destroyed or made unusable since 1948.
The State of Israel has also denied Palestinians access to religious sites, thereby allowing them to deteriorate due to lack of care and neglect, and has allowed places of worship to be converted for other purposes by Jewish communities, the report adds.
The report mentions that Bedouin rights activist Nuri al-Okbi “was arrested for writing ‘This is a mosque’ on the museum sign that remains outside the mosque [in Beer Sheva], and a criminal file was opened against him by the police.”
“This accusation of vandalizing public property was unique,” the report adds. “No police action has been taken over the steady growth of graffiti that has accumulated inside and outside the mosque over the years of its closure and dereliction. In January 2004 the court ordered that he pay a 1,000 shekel [$290 US] fine or serve seven days in prison.”
Ultimately, the HRA finds that “Israel is reneging on its promises and duties under international law to protect the holy places of the two other major faiths in the Holy Land and instead allowing the destruction and mistreatment of sites sacred to Muslims and Christians.”
Such restrictions violate international law, such as Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include … freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
Article 27 of the Covenant also states: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”
Appeal to the planning authorities
According to Adalah attorney Adel Badir, the Israeli high court stated in its ruling that the petitioners in Beer Sheva could approach the planning authorities to request a change of purpose for the Big Mosque from a general museum to a place of worship. Should the planning authorities reject this request, the case can again be taken to the courts.
“This doesn’t finish here,” Badir said. “We will go to the planning authorities and make an application to open this mosque for prayer, not just as a museum.”
For Jaber Abu Kaf, from the Bedouin village of Umm Batin near Beer Sheva, the court’s decision to turn the Big Mosque into an Islamic museum doesn’t address the needs of the area’s Muslim residents and how they continue to lack a suitable place to pray.
“There is no mosque in Beer Sheva. People go to pray in the Arab villages around Beer Sheva, like Tel Sheva, Lakiah, Hura and Rahat. They travel far distances to pray on Friday. Why can’t they pray in the mosque in Beer Sheva?” Abu Kaf said.
“There should be justice and there is no reason not to give people the opportunity to pray [at the Big Mosque],” he added. “We request that the Israeli government and all those responsible allow Muslims to pray there.”
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jkdamours.com.
A UN inquiry says inmates are routinely forced to take off their clothes in secret CIA detention facilities in Afghanistan.
The report also says many prisoners are denied access to lawyers and deprived of the right to visit their relatives.
The developments come as a well-known Afghan prisoner named Shir Khan has said Washington still runs secret jails in Afghanistan despite US President Barack Obama’s claim to the contrary.
Shir Khan says inmates are blindfolded, hanged from the ceiling and dogs are unleashed on them during interrogation.
Several reports have confirmed that American prison guards have mistreated Afghan detainees held at the notorious US-run Bagram prison camp and airbase in Afghanistan.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in May 2010 that it had been informed of the names of several detainees held in the secret prison in Afghanistan.
A number of former inmates of the main US military base at Bagram say they were abused and isolated during detention there.
Human rights groups say Bagram has remained a US torture center since the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan nine years ago.
US officials claim that all inmates in the facility are treated humanely.
Prisoners at the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison have been on a hunger strike since July 1—demanding an end to what amounts to torture and brutally inhumane conditions. The weekend of July 2-3, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) reported that 6,600 prisoners, in 13 different prisons, refused food in solidarity with the strike. And there has been growing support on the outside from people who are demanding that the CDCR meet the prisoners’ demands.
The 13th day of the strike, alarming, urgent reports started coming out that the medical condition of some of the prisoners was at a severe crisis. Mediators in contact with prisoners reported that some of the strikers had lost 25-35 pounds. According to a July 13 press release from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a source with access to the medical condition of the prisoners, who asked to remain anonymous, said the health of the hunger strikers was quickly and severely deteriorating—that some were in renal failure and had been unable to make urine for three days; and some had blood sugars measuring in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated. Legal representatives who visited prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU on Tuesday, July 12, reported that many prisoners were experiencing irregular heartbeats and palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and other respiratory problems; some were suffering from diagnosed cardiac arrhythmia. There were reports that prisoners at Calipatria State Prison and Corcoran, on a hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners at Pelican Bay, were also in a dangerous medical condition.
Now consider this: By the time you read this, it will be at least one week since these reports started coming out. And the CDCR is still refusing to even consider any of the demands of the prisoners.
What are these demands? To be treated like human beings. The prisoners want an end to long-term solitary confinement where they are kept in windowless cells with no human contact for 23 hours a day. They want an end to collective punishment, and the practice of “debriefing,” which amounts to forced interrogation on gang affiliation. They are asking for decent food, rehabilitation and education programs, one phone call per week, one photo per year, two packages a year, more visiting time, permission to have wall calendars, and warm clothing. (See “Prisoners at Pelican Bay SHU Announce Hunger Strike,” Revolution #237, June 26, 2011, for the prisoners’ demands.)
Now think about this: Hundreds of prisoners, right now, are willing to die for these basic and just demands. They are doing everything they can, in the most isolated, inhumane conditions, to refuse to be treated like animals. And because of this, a light is being shined on the torture and inhumanity going on behind these prison walls. We can’t say “We didn’t know.”
So the question is: What are people on the outside going to do? People have the moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners’ demands and the urgency of the situation.
The CDCR does not treat these prisoners like human beings. It argues that these prisoners are the “worst of the worst” and deserve what they are getting. But as human beings, we need to be clear: NOBODY—no matter what they have done—deserves to be tortured. NOBODY deserves to be put in such extreme conditions of isolation where prison guards try to extinguish everything that makes you human, that keeps you physically and mentally alive, that connects you with the world and other people, that gives you a reason to live, to love, to learn and think. And this is not just being done in the SHU at Pelican Bay. There are tens of thousands of people in prisons throughout the U.S. caged up in maximum security units, subjected to this kind of torture.
Many of the prisoners have made it clear they are willing to die if their demands are not met. And what people on the outside do will be a big factor in what happens now, for good… or bad. In this kind of urgent, life and death situation, there can be no excuse for standing to the side. There is no justification for not joining the fight for these demands, for not taking a stand here in the interest of humanity.
Ask yourself this: What would it mean if people on the outside don’t stand up and do everything they can to make sure these prisoners don’t die, to really fight for these prisoners to be treated like human beings? What would this say about our humanity? But also, what will it mean if hundreds and thousands of people do stand up together, wage a determined struggle for the just demands of these prisoners, and in this way, assert our own humanity?
As a statement from prisoners in Corcoran Prison put it: “It is important for all to know Pelican Bay is not alone in this struggle and the broader the participation and support for this hunger strike and other such efforts, the greater the potential that our sacrifice now will mean a more humane world for us in the future.”
NOBODY Deserves To Be Treated Like This
Close your eyes and imagine you’re in a cell that’s 8 x 10 feet—with no windows, no air, just concrete walls all around you. This tomb includes a slab of cement to sleep on, a toilet and sink. That’s it. You’re deprived of human contact. Your food is shoved through a slot in the door. You can’t take a photo of yourself to send to your family. Maybe once a day, but maybe not, you are let out of this cell for one hour, into a space a little bigger, with a little bit more air. You are denied medical care. And if the guards decide you’re not cooperating—for something as minor as not returning a food tray or banging on the door—a team of them, in full riot gear, with batons, handcuffs, will “extract” you from your cell, hogtie you and beat you with no mercy. You have been in this cell, subjected to this torture, for five years, or 10 years, or maybe 30 years, deprived of human contact, never feeling the sun, never seeing the sky or a blade of grass, never hearing a note of music.
This is life—or more accurately, a slow death—for 70,000 men and women who have been put in maximum security units in prisons all over the USA. This kind of solitary confinement stands in violation of international human rights standards, including the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This kind of sensory deprivation and lack of human contact is known to create severe psychological disorders, to literally drive people crazy. Putting an END to all this is what the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay State Prison are willing to die for.
Think about how prisoners in these conditions are on a hunger strike. Many of them have no way of even knowing what is happening outside of their cell. They have no way to communicate with each other and no way—or very limited ways—to talk with friends, family and supporters on the outside. Meanwhile prison officials have tried all kinds of ways to sabotage the strike—including lying to prisoners, telling them the strike is over, and trying to create divisions among the prisoners. And still, a hard core of the prisoners on hunger strike have remained strong and even more determined.
On Friday, July 14, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity issued a press release reporting that the strikers at Pelican Bay had unanimously rejected a CDCR proposal to end the strike. According to PHSS, CDCR responded to the prisoners’ five demands by distributing a vaguely worded document stating it would “effect a comprehensive assessment of its existing policy and procedure” about the security housing units—and this document gave no indication if any changes would be made at all. After this settlement document was distributed to all hunger strikers at Pelican Bay, some prisoners who had gone off the strike resumed refusing food.
This System Is the “Worst of the Worst”
This system wants people to believe these prisoners deserve what they are getting and that everyone else is safer because of this. Prison officials say this hunger strike just goes to show that these prisoners should be in the SHU. Terry Thornton, spokesperson for the CDCR, said, “That so many inmates in other prisons throughout the state are involved really demonstrates how these gangs can influence other inmates, which is one of the reasons we have security housing units in the first place.” (New York Times, July 7, 2011)
But even the mainstream press has reported on how this hunger strike has united prisoners across different nationalities and others divisions which prison officials have always used to set prisoners against each other. The New York Times reported, “The hunger strike has transcended the gang and geographic affiliations that traditionally divide prisoners, with prisoners of many backgrounds participating.”
The SHU at Pelican Bay is a prison within a prison. These supermax prisons were built, prison officials say, for the “worst of the worst.” In fact, a huge percentage of prisoners are in the Pelican Bay SHU simply because prison officials have decided to “validate” them as affiliated with a gang. A prisoner can end up in the SHU because he has a certain tattoo or hangs out with someone who guards say is a gang member. A prisoner in the SHU can target another prisoner as a gang member—whether it is true or not—in order to get out of the SHU. A prisoner can end up in the SHU because they are rebellious, because they dare to think. A letter from a hunger striker at Pelican Bay to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) said:
“Just being a rebellious or progressive prisoner gets one targeted and labeled a ‘gang member’ and sent to Shu. The Shu is made out as a big stick to intimidate the prison population into passivity, (think deportation threats to migrants or the whip shown to the slave). It doesn’t mean it’s going to be used but the thought of it existing is enough to control a large portion of the prison population so it becomes a tool not used for rehabilitation but for social control… It is these conditions where even reading material such as philosophy or history is censored. Pelican Bay Shu is designed to control, nothing more. We’ve seen even Revolution newspaper being censored and banned from this prison at one time. Take a minute to think of living in a certain zip code or apartment building where city officials notify you that Revolution newspaper is banned and is not allowed in your neighborhood. How would you feel about these city officials? How would you feel about the system that upholds the actions of these city officials?”
In many ways this hunger strike is objectively exposing the complete illegitimacy of this system and the hypocrisy of the USA which goes around the world posing as the “leader of the free world” and the protector of democracy and human rights.
Step back and look at the bigger context of the courageous prisoners on a hunger strike and the conditions they are protesting:
How the system uses police murder and brutality, extreme repression, its laws and courts and prisons to maintain the oppressive economic and social relations in society, to maintain control over a section of the people it fears will rebel against their oppression.
This is a system that fears the potential of the millions of people for whom it has no future.
This is what has been behind the so-called “war on drugs” that, over several decades now, has criminalized generations of youth and led to mass incarceration—to a prison population in the USA of over 2.3 million, mostly Black and Latino men.
The demands of the prisoners are completely just. And an incredibly powerful statement is being sent out from behind the bars at Pelican Bay, joined by many in other prisons throughout the country. These prisoners are demanding to be treated like human beings, asserting their humanity and challenging everyone to respond with their own humanity. There is an urgent need for people from all walks of life to speak up with courage and determination to wage a fight to force the CDCR to meet the prisoners’ just demands.