Pre-Oslo Prisoner: “Palestinian Leadership Must Come from the Prisoners”

31 December 2013

Mousa Abu Maria and Riziq Ali Salah

Mousa Abu Maria and Riziq Ali Salah

PSP co-founder Mousa Abu Maria interviewed his friend from prison, Riziq Ali Saeed Salah, who was released in the previous batch of Pre-Oslo prisoners. To date, 26 prisoners arrested by Israeli forces before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1995 have been released as part of a deal with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We asked Riziq his thoughts on the prisoner release, the current state of Palestinian politics, the ongoing “negotiations”, and the future of Palestinian resistance.

Torture in Prison

Riziq, from Al Khader village just outside of Betlehem, was arrested in 1993 as a young man. He was held in the Masqobiyeh, a notorious torture chamber inside the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, for over four months. Israel did not formally ban the use of torture against Palestinian prisoners until 1999 and Riziq described incredible torture, including beatings, electric shock, and being forced to stay in painful stress positions for more than 24 hours at a time. He says, however, that far worse than the physical torture was the psychological torture used.

“They would tell me every hour that they were bringing my mother or my sister to the prison”, he related to Mousa. “They said they would dishonor [rape] them if I did not tell them who I worked with. They asked if I didn’t care about my family. Once, they came and told me that they had demolished my home with my family still inside. I knew they had done things like this to others, so it was not impossible to believe. I had no way to find out if it was true, I was completely isolated for more than four months”.
Eventually, Riziq was sentenced and moved to Juneid prison. There, he began to meet Palestinian prisoners from outside Palestine. He says he became determined to document what was happening in Palestine. He became the prison’s archivist, collecting newspaper articles about Palestinian resistance and the Oslo “peace process”.

Thoughts on Oslo and Resistance

“Our leaders did not have experience in negotiating in Oslo. They believed this was the end, that they would have a state. They trusted the Americans. It was a huge mistake”.

Riziq, who was a member of the majority faction Fateh, believed that the Palestinian leadership of Yassir Arafat and his cadre were not equipped to engage in negotiations, and the Israelis capitalized on it.
“After the agreement was signed, we were happy. But others in the prison knew, the Israelis would not follow their promises. As we waited, and the Pre-Oslo prisoners were not released like Israel agreed, we knew the entire agreement was a lie. This was the most shameful moment in Palestinian history”.

“The Palestinian people have the right to resist in any way they can. This is the right of all occupied people. And the occupation is not just the West Bank and Gaza, it is in Haifa and Yaffa. There is a right to resist. But the best way was during the First Intifada. We had the most participation in that time because people felt they were one people. That was not the same as the Second Intifada, and it is very different now. The Palestinian people must find unity again”.

For the Future
We asked Riziq what he thought about the current state of Palestinian leadership. He said on the one hand, it had accomplished what the others had not done before: procured the release of the pre-Oslo prisoners, but on the other hand, he said, they did not know how to stand up to Israel.

“The next negotiating team should be made up of former prisoners. We know what it is like to sacrifice for Palestine. We will not bend to Israel; we are not afraid of them. We are the most connected to the land and the people, we know how to fight”.

As for Riziq’s future, he has one goal: “We must bring unity back to the Palestinian people. The divide between Fateh and Hamas has destroyed us. Also, we need unity between Palestinians inside Palestine and the refugees. We cannot allow a solution that does not allow the refugees to return”.

“The biggest mistake of Oslo was agreeing before the prisoners were released and the refugees were allowed to return. We cannot make that mistake again.”