On New Year’s Eve, as we approached the end of the year and the start of a new decade, one person weighed heavily on my mind: my friend Mays Abu Ghosh, a 21-year old journalism student from Palestine, who was spending her new year incarcerated without charge or trial in an Israeli military prison.
I had only met Mays once briefly, but the encounter and our subsequent online friendship left a deep impact on me.
Mays has been imprisoned by the Israeli military since August, when she was kidnapped from her home at 4 in the morning while studying for exams. Mays spent more than four months being held without charge and subject to ever-moving court dates that kept postponing the announcement her charges and subjecting her to psychological warfare about when she would get out of jail.
In December, her parents reported that Israeli soldiers had tortured her so badly they could not recognize her during a prison visit. These acts are cowardly and representative of Zionist abuse of Palestinians since before 1948.
This week, Israel finally made charges against Mays, which include speaking at a conference in Lebanon in support of Palestinians’ right to return to their homelands inside what is now ‘Israel,’ organizing a summer camp for progressive youth in Palestine, and allegedly being in possession of materials that could have made a molotov cocktail.
It is worth noting that Mays comes from a family that has been involved in – and punished for – resistance to the zionist occupation of Palestine. Mays’s 17 year old brother was killed in 2016 defending Palestinian land from Israeli settlement. Her family’s home was demolished by the Israeli military after her brother was killed. Her 19 year old cousin was killed exactly a year after her brother. The Israeli military is currently imprisoning another brother of Mays’s – also 17 years old – without charge or trial.
Whatever logic Israel claims for imprisoning Mays is invalid. I know this because I was similarly arrested by Israel under false pretenses after visiting Lebanon in solidarity with Palestinian refugees. In my case, they falsely accused me of smuggling drugs and supporting Al Qaeda and ISIS. Israel knowingly made up these accusations and charges to punish and intimidate me for speaking out for Palestinian freedom.
Mays is a political prisoner and her family members are martyrs of a revolutionary struggle against colonialism and racism. Mays, her family, and Palestinians are in the same vein as Black, Indigenous, and Puerto Rican revolutionaries who have been imprisoned by the US for decades due to their resistance to the indignities of racism and colonization.
Mays and her loved ones are part of the global family of those killed with impunity by police and soldiers—which are two sides of the same coin. Israel’s retribution against Mays and her family are similar to the attacks US police make on the family and friends of police murder victims – from stalking and intimidation, to frivolous arrests, to imprisonment in the case of Ramsey Orta who filmed the police choking Eric Garner to death and was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison on made up charges, and even death in the case of Joshua Brown – the witness who testified to the police murder of Botham Jean and who was later killed under mysterious circumstances.
It is around these connections of shared struggle that I connected with Mays. When I met Mays, she was giving a speech about her brother who had been killed by the Israeli military. She spoke through tears in the memory of her brother, the violence of Israel’s execution of him, and the violence of living under Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. Despite the pain and the tears, there was also pride: pride in knowing that she comes from a revolutionary lineage and a revolutionary struggle, so unwilling to live under oppression that they died fighting for freedom.
I was with other African-Americans who shared with Mays news of our own martyrs gunned down by the civilian wing of the US military (the police). Her empathy and solidarity with the Black struggle for freedom was immediate and deep. And she understood why developing solidarity between the Black and Palestinian freedom movements was so important.
Though we have not seen each other since then, Mays became a surprisingly consistent friend – commenting on things as heavy as news of oppression in the US to thing as light as an effusive note of love for my mother (whom she’s never met) on her birthday.
Knowing that Israel is caging and torturing someone so young and full of love, light, and thirst for freedom is infuriating. And while Mays is the only Palestinian political prisoner I know personally, I feel the same fury for the thousands of other students, women, and people that Israel is holding in captivity to maintain its exploitation of Palestine.
There are plenty of statistics about Palestinian prisoners – you can read them here if numbers and data help humanize Palestinians to you. For me, it is enough to say that no person resisting occupation or colonization should be imprisoned, whether they are a young woman like Mays, or an older man.
I call for the freedom of Mays and all Palestinian political prisoners from racist and illegitimate Israeli jails, just as I call for the freedom of all prisoners from racist and illegitimate US jails.
I wish we were organized enough to make abolition and liberation a reality, but until that day, all love, strength, and solidarity to Mays and her family. Their hatred and oppression can never cage or crush our love and struggle for justice.
Stay strong comrade.