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Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network Sets Up Local Chapter in Seattle

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

Edited by Gurjot Kang

Nina Kranzdorf, Bissan B. of Samidoun Seattle, and Carmelo Ibanez of Anakbayan UW chapter discuss the different repressive tactics used to silence minority groups in both Palestine and the Philippines on April 17, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Samidoun Seattle)

*Editor’s Note: Some sources in this article have chosen not to share their full name for privacy and safety reasons.

Local organizers of Samidoun Seattle welcomed the public to Masjid al-Taqwa, the Islamic School of Seattle mosque, on April 17 for the opportunity to learn more about their launch and facilitate a discussion about the everyday risk Palestinian prisoners and citizens face in occupied Palestine.

The local chapter of Samidoun shares the same mission the central organization established over a decade ago, to advocate for the rights and freedoms of Palestinian prisoners. According to Nina Kranzdorf, one of the organizers and keynote speakers, Samidoun raises awareness of the harsh conditions and issues Palestinian political prisoners are subjected to under the Israeli prison system.

Samidoun’s goal is to meet the prisoners’ demands and challenge their conditions. The organization consists of an international network of activists standing in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners in their fight for freedom.

The inauguration of the state of Israel, with the support of the United Nations in 1947, resulted in a refugee crisis of over 700,000 Palestinians removed from their homes, neighborhoods, and communities. The 1967 war, in which Israel forcefully took control of the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, West Bank, Golan Heights of Syria, and Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, further displaced 300,000 Palestinians. These significant moments in Palestinian history instated the daily acts of political repression the Palestinian people would face for the next 75 years, all due to the Israeli government’s claim over the land.

Samidoun was founded in 2011 while Palestinian prisoners initiated a hunger strike, from September 27 to October 19. As of 2023, Samidoun has established chapters all over the world in cities across Palestine, the United States, Canada, Germany, Britain, France, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, and more.

In Seattle, many of the activists at this branch are affiliated with other existing organizations, such as the Students United for Palestinian Equality & Return (SUPER) chapter at UW and the International League of Peoples' Struggle (ILPS) Seattle–Tacoma chapter. The creation of this local chapter of Samidoun is accredited to the existing community of outspoken organizers within Seattle, according to Kranzdorf.

The organizers of Samidoun Seattle also invited Carmelo Ibanez, a member of the Anakbayan UW chapter, a "national democratic mass organization of Filipino youth and students in the U.S”, to take part in a discussion on the specific methods of state repression in nations like the U.S and Israel use to target different minority groups.

"We were already connected to people organizing for similar struggles [and] invested in Palestinian liberation," said Kranzdorf. "We thought it would be really important to set the tone of understanding of what's happening in [Palestine] and the context in which why we're launching Samidoun Seattle."

During the event, this meant taking the time to discuss the various methods in which Palestinian citizens and prisoners are targeted and the repressive tactics used to silence Palestinian resistance groups in cities like Huwarra, Jenine, Nablus, and Jericho, as explained by Bissan B., another organizer of Samidoun Seattle. One such tactic is the demolition of Palestinian homes in favor of building Israeli settlements, leaving multiple Palestinian families houseless. This tactic is reminiscent of the 2021 incident in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families were forcefully evicted from their homes, causing Palestinian residents in the area, like Muna el-Kurd and her brother Mohammed el-Kurd, to speak out against the Israeli government.

The Israeli government's method of diffusing Palestinian resistance groups within prisons included planned mass evacuations of prisoners from one location to another. This plan can be traced back to the vow Israel's Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, made during a press conference for Israeli media publications. Ben-Gvir labeled Palestinian prisoners as ‘terrorists’ and commanded their food source be restricted until they answer for their crimes, according to Arab News. Such policies are poignant in breaking the spirits and freedom of Palestinian prisoners. Other policies include implementing water restrictions, denying prisoners medical treatment, and increasing the number of raids and searches.

"They've blocked family visits, isolated dozens of Palestinian political prisoners, and implemented violent raids on [female] Palestinian prisoners," said Bissan.

In response, prisoners initiated the "Volcano of Freedom or Martyrdom" protest, where they blocked security checks and staged sit-ins until the cruel prison policies of Ben-Gvir and the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) were reversed. As a result of the protest, the prisoners successfully met their demands and subsequently held off on a hunger strike they had planned the night before.

During the launch of Samidoun Seattle, keynote speakers at the event discussed the U.S. government’s role in providing resources and funding to the Israeli government and the Department of National Security. The U.S. government is a longstanding ally of Israel, based on the principle that both nations have shared values. Those ‘shared values’ have resulted in the Israeli government receiving 148 billion dollars in "bilateral assistance and military defense funding" from the U.S.

Israel’s relationship with the U.S., which benefits from the multi-billion dollar aid the nation receives, pushes the organizers of Samidoun to hold themselves accountable in advocating for the freedom of Palestinian political prisoners and all Palestinians under apartheid. Currently, the number of Palestinian prisoners held under administrative detention is over 2,800; the most significant number recorded in 15 years. The Israel-U.S. relationship goes beyond just mutual aid for future military endeavors. Still, the U.S. government’s funding is an influential source in how the Israeli government forms its prison and law systems to its advantage.

"In Washington, we see how bail is weaponized against poor and BIPOC communities as a tool to maintain violence,” said Kelly Johnson, one of the organizers for Samidoun Seattle.

The average jail population in King County is 70 percent pretrial defendants who are unable to post bail due to limited financial resources and the potential aftermath that would ensue, such as being evicted or losing their jobs, according to a Seattle University 2021 Race and Washington's Criminal Justice report.

Organizer Kranzdorf shared that Samidoun Seattle specifically targets four oppositional forces that need to be dismantled for all Palestinians to be liberated. These forces include imperialism, colonization, the Israeli state, and Arab reactionary regimes. The organization believes that engaging the public through community spaces brings more attention and action toward the struggle and liberation of the Palestinian people.

On May 13, Samidoun Seattle will hold a community rally and gathering at Cal Anderson Park to observe the 75th anniversary of Nakba, the violent mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948.


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