PALESTINE/KASHMIR: Enforced disappearances: Women resist in both Palestine and Kashmir

Thursday, March 8, 2012
SM Palestine
Western Asia
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Arbitrary arrests. Administrative detention. Abductions. Enforced disappearances. Torture. Rape. Beatings. Interrogation centers. Detention camps. Secret prisons. Unprovoked attacks on peaceful protesters. No right of free movement. Censorship of Information. Discrimination. Intimidation. Humiliation. Military-enforced curfew. Property destruction. Mass graves. Gang rapes. Ethnic cleansing. Occupation. These are words that immediately bring to mind the brutal 64-year-old occupation of Palestine by the Apartheid State of Israel. However the perpetrator of these identical heinous crimes committed under a 62-year military occupation in Kashmir, is the Republic of India.

Today is International Women's Day, and so we celebrate women from around the world for their dedication, compassion, and strength. It is among them that we must acknowledge the valiant women of Palestine and Kashmir, who continue to endure decades of brutal, repressive, and inhumane military occupations. Under the belligerent occupation by Israel and India, countless women have lost their loved ones to a a systematic and predetermined crime, as Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.

International Human Rights Law states that an enforced disappearance is an arbitrary abduction or detention of a person by a state or a political organization, who conceals the whereabouts and denies custody, which ultimately, places the detainee outside of the protection of the law. Amnesty International recognizes enforced disappearances a crime against humanity, as it directly violates, "the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to a fair trial, or if killed, the right to life."

Kashmir was once hailed "a paradise on Earth," a valley of crystal blue rivers, lakes, and lush, green fields nestled in the heart of the majestic Himalaya Mountains. Today, Kashmir is the largest, most militarized state in the world, home to over a staggering half a million Indian security forces. Under the draconian law Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the massive military presence enjoys complete impunity from prosecution of decades of human rights violations. A direct result of the AFSPA, the widespread use of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, murder, and indefinite detention is systematically employed to instill fear and cripple any form of resistance among the Kashmiri citizens.

Under the protection of AFSPA, Indian forces often conduct arbitrary beatings, arrests, and torture journalists in order to censor any documentation or credible reports from exposing the barbaric occupation. In September of 2011, the unearthing of 2,700 unmarked graves spanning over 55 villages of Srinagar put the monstrosity of Indian forces under scrutiny of international media, reputable organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and recently the United Nations. Regrettably, the excavations of mass graves account for only a small fraction of the 8,000 missing and assumed to be dead; due to lack of proper reports, statistics of persons missing and/or dead cannot be verified. However, the families of victims and other local individuals have provided figures that nearly double those documented.

Among the myriad of victims of the Indian security forces are mothers of 8000 disappeared persons plagued by the agony of uncertainty of their sons' wellbeing. Parveena Ahangar, an illiterate, fifty year old housewife whose nineteen-year-old son Javaid Ahangar was abducted by Indian forces while studying in his Uncle's house is one of the 8000 disappeared persons. Ahangar, distraught by her son's abduction, visited every police station, interrogation center, detention camp, and hospital in search of him. In her desperate but courageous quest to seek answers about her son's whereabouts, she met many other families looking for similar answers. With the help of human rights lawyers in Kashmir, Ahangar co-founded the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in 1994 and mobilized hundreds of families to protest, hunger strike, demonstrate sit-ins and demand the whereabouts of their vanished loved ones. Known as the "Iron Lady" of Kashmir for her relentless and defiant pursuit for justice, Ahangar says her "fear disappeared along with her son," and will continue to fight the repressive Indian regime till her last breath. In 2005, Parveena Ahangar was nominated for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for her incredible, nonviolent resistance. She was also CNN-IBN's nomination for 'Indian of the Year 2011'; however, she publicly rejected and condemned the "gratuitous nomination… being yet another attempt by corporate Indian media to cover-up and neutralize the crimes of the Indian state in Kashmir."

Censorship of enforced disappearances in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is even more prevalent than in Kashmir. Israeli courts impose a number of draconian practices on Palestinians, namely the indefinite administrative detention, placements in secret prisons, ambiguous court gag orders to censor their horrendous occupation. The Working Group, established by Human Rights Council, works closely with families of disappeared persons to document and investigate claims of enforced disappearances. Since 1971, the Working Group has reported only three cases of Palestinians subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, followed by an enforced disappearance. One case concerns a US citizen of Palestinian origin abducted by Israeli Defense Forces near an Israeli settlement of Ofrah. These cases led HaMoked, a human rights organization in Israel, to file two habeas corpus petitions demanding the whereabouts of the disappeared persons. HaMoked was also able to verify the existence of a secret prison known as "Facility 1391." Despite several attempts by HaMoked to investigate and document the number of Palestinians currently imprisoned, whether Facility 1391 is a single or a collection of secret prisons, these questions remain unanswered.

The majority of the enforced disappearances that systematically target Palestinians are conducted by the Israeli central intelligence, Mossad. In February of 2011, Gaza's chief power plant engineer, Dirar Abu Seesi, was reported missing for 10 days while traveling in Ukraine. After international media, including Abu Seesi's wife, raised numerous suspicions the United Nations confirmed that Mossad was responsible for Abu Seesi's abduction. According to AP, Mossad "illegally rendered him to an Israeli torture center and then prison, where he is currently held" based on allegations that Abu Seesi built weapons for Hamas. Abu Seesi's abduction and transfer across international lines to an Israeli prison are a direct violation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced, which despite strong insistence from France and Argentina, Israel fails to sign and ratify.

Despite Israel's continued efforts to censor, Palestinians through their remarkable nonviolent resistance, continue to challenge and bring to light the cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment Israeli custody. Just short of an enforced disappearance is the procedure of administrative detention, which allows the Israeli army to detain a person up to six months without a charge or trial and can be indefinitely renewed. Recently, the entire world witnessed Khader Adnan's 66-day hunger strike against the administrative detention that he and 300 other Palestinians are currently subject to in the occupied West Bank. His unwavering resilience sent a wave of courage across Israeli prisons that inspired fellow political prisoners to hunger strike.

Hana Shalabi, inspired by Adnan's victory, is becoming an inspiration of her own as she enters her 21st day of hunger strike against her second administrative detention. Hana Shalabi, who previously completed two years in Israeli administrative detention, was re-arrested on February 16th just months after her release in a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israeli government. During the detainment and interrogation following the arrest, she was subjected to solitary confinement, sexual harassment, physical beatings, humiliating strip search, and an array of degrading verbal abuses. Since 1967, over 10,000 Palestinian women have been placed under administrative detention and subjected to such barbaric and appalling ill treatment.

Hana Shalabi, Lina Jarbuni, Wurud Qassem, Salwa Hassan, Alaa Jubeh, Yusra Qaadan and Manal Suwan are currently the only women detainees in Israeli administrative detention.

On March 7, Hana Shalabi's hearing regarding her four-month administrative detention order was postponed yet again. In a press release, Addameer, a prisoner support and human rights association, representing Shalabi reported "her undeterred intention to continue her hunger strike, now on its 21st day, until she is released."

The narrative of the Kashmiri and Palestinian occupation is nearly identical, but what unites the two in the fight for the right to self-determination is their incredible resilience, not their victimhood. With such continued, blatant disregard for human rights, Israel and India only continue to delegitimize their occupations.