Historic Hunger Strikes: Lightning in the Skies of Palestine

8 May


 

There is ongoing militant expression of Palestinian resistance to the abuses of Israel’s 45 years of occupation and de facto annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and five year blockade of Gaza taking the form of a series of hunger strikes. Recourse to this desperate tactic of courageous self-sacrifice is an extreme form of nonviolence, and should whenever and wherever it occurs be given close attention. Palestinians have protested by hunger strikes in the past but failed to inspire the imagination of the wider Palestinian community or shake the confidence of Israeli officialdom. Despite the averted gaze of the West, especially here in North America, there are some signs that this time the hunger strikes have crossed a historic threshold of no return.

 

These strikes started by the individual exploit of a single person, Khader Adnan, at the end of 2011. Dragged from his home in the village of Arraba near Jenin by a night raid by dozens of Israeli soldiers, humiliated and roughed up in the presence of his two and four year old daughter, carried away shackled and blindfolded, roughly interrogated, and then made subject to an administrative decree for the eighth time in his young life, Adnan’s inner conscience must have screamed ‘Enough!’ and he embarked on an open-ended hunger strike. He continued it for 66 days, and agreed to take food again only after the Israeli authorities relented somewhat, including a pledge not to subject Adnan to a further period of administrative detention unless further incriminating evidence came to the surface. Upon release, Adnan to depersonalize his ordeal insisted on visiting the families of other Palestinians currently under administrative detention before returning to his own home.

He has spoken out with firm gentleness and invited persons of conscience everywhere to join in the struggle to induce Israel to abandon administrative detention, and the accompanying violations of Palestinian human rights. Khader Adnan’s open letter to the people of the world is reproduced below to convey the tone and substance of his struggle.

 

Following Adnan, and inspired by him, was Hana Shalabi, a young Palestinian woman subject to a similar abusive arrest, accompanied by humiliations associated with her dress and sexual identity. Shalabi was from the villange of Burqin also near Jenin, and had been released a few months earlier in October 2011 as part of the prisoner exchange that was negotiated to obtain the release of the sole Israeli captive, Gilad Shalit. She had seldom strayed from her family home prior to the re-arrest on February 16, 2012, and her life was described as follows by her devoted sister, Zahra: “The four months between October and February were trouble-free days, bursting with dreams and ambitions. Hana loved to socialize and meet with people. She was busy with getting her papers in order to register for university, with her eyes set on enrolling at the American University in Jenin. She wanted to get her driver’s license, and later buy a car. She went on a shopping spree, buying new carpets and curtains for her bedroom…and she dreamed of getting married and of finding the perfect man to spend the rest of her life with.” It is little wonder that when arrested in the middle of the night she reacted in the manner described by Zahra: “She was panicking, and kept repeating over and over again that she was not going with the soldiers because she didn’t do anything.”

 

As with Adnan, Shalabi was released after she was in critical condition, but in a vindictive manner, being sent to live in Gaza for three years, thereby separated from her family and village, which were her places of refuge, love, and nurturing. She also made it clear that her experience of resistance was not meant for herself alone, but was intended to contribute to the struggle against prison abuse and the practice e of administrative detention, but even more generally as engagement in the struggle for Palestinian rights, so long denied. The example set by Adnan and Shalabi inspired others subject to similar treatment at the hands of the Israelis arrest and prison service. Several Palestinians detained by administrative detention decrees commenced hunger strikes at the end of February, and as many as 1650 others, and possibly more,  initiated a massive hunger strike on Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, April 17th that is continuing, and has been named ‘the battle of empty stomachs.’ The main battlefield is the mind of the oppressor, whether to give in and seem weak or remain firm and invite escalating censure, as well as Palestinian militancy, should any of those now in grave condition die.     

 

The latest news suggests that Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, continuing their hunger strike that started on February 28th of this year, are clinging to life by a thread. A few days ago they were both been finally transferred to civilian hospitals. Mr. Halahleh after the 70th day without food announced that he was  no longer willing even to drink any water or accept further medication.

 

As might be expected the voices of concern from the international community have been muted and belated. The International Committee of the Red Cross has finally expressed in public its concern for the lives of these strikers. The UN Envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, never someone outspoken, acknowledged a few days ago in a brief and perfunctory statement that he was ‘deeply troubled’ by the danger to these hunger strikers, as if such a sentiment was somehow sufficient to the outrages being inflicted.

 

 

More persuasively, several human rights NGOs, including Physicians for Human Rights–Israel have been reminding Israel of its obligation to allow family visits, which prison authorities have repeatedly denied, despite it being an accepted tenet of medical ethics that is affirmed in Israel’s Patient’s Rights Law.

 

On May 7, 2012 the Israel’s High Court of Justice denied urgent petitions for release from administrative detention filed on behalf of Mr. Diab and Mr. Halahleh. The Court in a classic example of the twisted way judges choose to serve the state rather than the cause of justice declared: “Hunger strikes cannot serve as an element in a decision on the very validity of administrative detention, since that would be confusing the issue.” Would it be so confusing to say that without some demonstration of evidence of criminality rejecting such a petition amounts to imposing a death sentence without even the pretensions of ‘a show trial’ that relies on coerced confessions? Israel’s highest judicial body leaves no doubt about their priorities by invoking anti-terrorism as a blanket justification, saying that Israel “should not have to apologize for securing its own safety.”

 

Other reports that the Israeli government has yet to feel pressure from European governments to act in a more humanitarian manner in response to these hunger strikes, but is worried that such pressure might come soon. After

remaining silent for a long time, Robert Serry, the UN Envoy to the Middle East, a few days ago timidly issued a public statement saying that he was ‘deeply troubled’ by the near death condition of the Mr. Diab and Mr. Halahleh.

 

On a wider canvas, the hunger strikes are clearly having some effect on Israeli prison policy, although it is not clearly discernible as yet. The Israeli Public Security Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, convened a meeting in which he voiced the opinion that Israeli reliance on administrative detention was excessive, and should be reduced. There is also some discussion with officials of the Israeli Prison Service and a committee representing some of the April 17th prisoners on a series of demands relating to prison conditions.

 

The following demands have been articulated by the April 17th hunger strikers, under the banner of ‘The Prisoners Revolution’:

 

1. Ending the Israeli Administrative detention and solitary confinement, in which Palestinians were imprisoned for more than ten consecutive years, in solitary cells that lack basic human necessities of life.

2. Allowing family visits to those from the Gaza Strip due to political decisions and unjust laws, such as the so-called “law of Shalit.

3. Improving the livelihood of prisoners inside Israeli Jails and allowing basic needs such as a proper health treatment, education and TV channels and newspapers.

4. Putting an end to the humiliation policy carried by the Israeli Prison Service against Palestinian prisoners and their families, through humiliating naked inspection, group punishment, and night raids.   

 ***********

 

Khader Adnan’s Open Letter to the Free People of the World

 

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,*

 

 * Praise be to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of

 Allah.*

 

 Dear free people of the world. Dear oppressed and disenfranchised around

 the globe. Dear friends of our people, who stood with me with a stern belief in     freedom and dignity for my people and our prisoners languishing

in the Occupation’s prisons.

 

 Dear free women and men, young and elderly, ordinary people as well as

 intellectual elites everywhere – I address you today with an outpouring of

 hope and pain for every Palestinian that suffers from the occupation of his

 land, for each of us that has been killed, wounded or imprisoned by the

 state of terror, that denies anything beautiful in our lives, even the

 smile of our children and families. I am addressing you in my first letter

 following my release – praying it will not be the last – after Allah

 granted me freedom, pride and dignity. I was an “administrative detainee”

 in the jail of occupation for four months, out of which I have spent 66

 days on hunger strike.

 

 

 I was driven to declare an open-ended hunger strike by the daily harassment

 and violation of my people’s rights by the Israeli Zionist occupation. The

 last straw for me were the ongoing arrests, the brutal nighttime raid on my

 house, my violent detention, during which I was taken to the “Mavo Dotan”

 settlement on our land occupied 1967, and the beatings and humiliation I

 was treated to during arrest interrogation. The way I was treated during

 the interrogation at the Jalameh detention center, using the worse and

 lowest verbal insults in the dictionary. After questioning, I was sentenced

 to imprisonment under administrative detention with no charges, which

 proves mine and others’ arrests serve only to maintain a quota of

 prisoners, to harass us, to restrict our freedom and to undermine our

 determination, pride and dignity.

 

 

 I write today to thank all those who stood tall in support of my people,

 with our prisoners, with Hana al-Shalabi and with myself. I call on you to

 stand for justice pride and dignity in the face of occupation. The assault

 on the freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people is an assault on free

 people of the world by a criminal occupation that threatens the security,

 freedom and dignity of all, no matter where.

 

 

 Please, continue in exposing this occupation, boycotting and isolating it

 internationally. Expose its true face, the one that was clearly exposed in

 the attack of an Israeli officer on our Danish cohort. Unlike that attack,

 the murder our people is a crime that goes by unspoken of and slips away

 from the lens of the camera. Our prisoners are dying in silence. Hundreds

 of defenders of freedom are on hunger strike inside the prisons, including

 the eight knights, Bilal Diab and Thaer Hlahalh, who are now on their 61st

 day of hunger strike, Hassan Safadi, Omar Abu Shalal, Mahmoud Sarsak,

 Mahmoud Sarsal, Mohammad Taj, Jaafar Azzedine (who was arrested solely           for standing in solidarity with myself) and Ahmad haj Ali. Their lives now are

 in great danger.

 

 We are all responsible and we will all lose if we anything happen to them.

 Let us take immediate action to pressure the Occupation into releasing them

 immediately, or their children could never forgive us.

 

 Let all those free and revolutionary join hands against the Occupation’s

 oppression, and take to the streets – in front of the Occupation’s prisons,

 in front of its embassies and all other institutions backing it around the

 world.

 

 With deep appreciation,

 

*Khader Adnan *

 

++++

 

Having followed these hunger strikes for several months, I am convinced that these individuals subject to administrative detention are ordinary persons living a normal life, although chafing under the daily rigors and indignities of prolonged occupation. Israeli commentary tends to divert humanitarian concerns by branding these individuals as ‘terrorists,’ taking note of their alleged affiliation with Islamic Jihad. Adnan who is obviously preoccupied with his loving family, a baker by profession, working in his village, does not seem a particularly political person beyond the unavoidable political response to a structure of domination that is violent, cruel, and abusive. The language of his Open Letter is one that exhibits moral intensity, and seeks support for the Palestinian struggle for a sustainable peace with justice. It has none of the violent imagery or murderous declarations found in Al Qaeda’s characteristic calls for holy warfare against the infidels.

 

I was impressed by Hana Shalabi’s sister’s response when asked about the alleged connection with Islamic Jihad. Zahra responded to the question with a smile saying, ‘She’s not really Islamic Jihad. She doesn’t belong to any faction. When Israel imprisons you, their security forces ask which political faction you belong to. Hana chose Islamic Jihad on a whim.’ Even if it was than a whim, for a religious person to identify with Islamic Jihad it does not at all imply a commitment to or support for terrorist tactics of resistance. Zahra asks rhetorically, ‘Does she have missiles or rockets? Where is the threat to Israel? ..Why can’t we visit her? She has done nothing.’ And finally, ‘I would never place my enemy in my sister’s position…I would not wish this on anyone.’

 

Israel has by vague allegations of links to terrorist activities tried its best to dehumanize these hunger strikers, or to dismiss such actions as the foolish or vain bravado of persons ready to renounce their lives by their own free will. But their acts and words if heeded with empathy, their show of spiritual stamina and sense of mission, convey an altogether different message, one that exhibits the finest qualities that human beings can ever hope to achieve. Those of us who watch such heroic dramas unfold should at least do our best to honor these hunger strikers, and not avert our eyes, and do our utmost to act in solidarity with their struggles in whatever way we can.

 

We cannot now know whether these hunger strikes will spark Palestinian resistance in new and creative ways. What we can already say with confidence is that these hunger strikers are writing a new chapter in the story line of resistance sumud, and their steadfastness is for me a Gandhian Moment in the Palestinian struggle.  

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12 Responses to “Historic Hunger Strikes: Lightning in the Skies of Palestine”

  1. Joshua Blakeney May 8, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    Thank you Professor Falk for this thoughtful update on the hunger strikes in Palestine. We should all be standing in solidarity with our brave brothers and sisters in Palestine who are resisting Zionist colonization with such courage and zeal.

  2. Peri Pamir May 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    A very moving account of a very inhuman situation.

    I wonder why the Turkish PM who discovered Gaza after the last Israeli bombardment of 2008-2009 (and who was quick to claim a significant role in the release of Gilad Shalid last year) hasn’t said anything in support of these hunger strikes and to condemn detention conditions in Israel in recent weeks? Possibly because the period of public hostility with Israel is now deemed over ?..

    What is “the Law of Shalit” ? Sounds like “the Law of Vengeance”?..

    What would be a great gift for humanity would be for Gilad Shalit himself to come up in support for the cause of Palestinian hunger strikers..

    Thanks to Richard Falk for his dedicated campaign to bring this urgent matter to western public’s view..
     
     
     
     
     

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    • Richard Falk May 9, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Thanks, Peri, for your sensitive support, which means a lot to me!

      The ‘Law of Shalit’ was enacted by the Knesset during the period in which Gilad Shalit was being held captive, and instructed Israeli prison officials to withhold normal rights of prisoners, and make the experience more harsh. It was supposedly aimed at exerting pressure on Hamas to agree to a prisoner exchange, but is a clear example of unlawful collective punishment. Turkish silence on the hunger strikes is probably associated with two concerns: a reluctance to comment on ‘internal’ issues in other countries; and a desire to leave the door open to an eventual normalization of relations with Israel.

      Hope you are fine!

      Richard

  3. monalisa May 9, 2012 at 5:03 am #

    Dear Richard,
    thank you so much for your efforts concerning the Palestinians.

    I am more realistic: the only chance that this inhuman situation will end will be, when pictures of reality will be distributed over the Internet and into the open.

    As long as they are suffering and no foreign independent inspections take place, no pictures of their prisons and under which conditions they are imprisoned as well as why on earth they are in prison

    as long I don’t see any positive developments of all these circumstances whether in prisons or in their plight will take place.
    The only thing I see is that wordlwide communities should use their voice to end these situations, respectively that the Israel government feels some pressure by the public eye.

    And therefore I am so thankful that you are bringing these circumstances into light.

    Hopefully the truth will spread more and more
    and more and more people in different countries, foremost the Western ones, will see that their support for Israel does also support political motivated inhumane and sometimes cruel actions inclusive murder of innocent children.

    PS: Considering the last more than sixty years what Israel is doing against the Palestinians points clearly to – at least my own conclusion through obervations of developments – the fact, that as more Palestinians are death as more happy is the Israeli government. If it would be otherwise their opression and “wars” against these poor and helpless people wouldn’t still be prevalent. Israel wants to silence the voice of Palestinians, they don’t want that anybody knows how Israel’s government is treating the Palestinians, that there are still robberies taking place.
    Alone to build such a big wall shows how the Israeli government thinks and these robberies of taking Paelstinian soil for Israeli settlers shows which kind their way of thinking is. Somehow this reminds me on the former South Africa with its apartheit as well as the former DDR.

    I admire you for all what you are doing for the Palestinians,

    thank you,
    take care of yourself

    monalisa

    • sherrimunnerlyn May 9, 2012 at 8:07 am #

      Thank you for your insightful letter. I have also been seeing the Palestinian prisoners as the Gandhis of Today, resembling Gandhi, the Prophets, even Jesus Christ, by their sacrifices of self for others. I feel thankful and blessed to behold all that is unfolding here, seeing the good man is capable of in the acts of these hunger strike prisoners.

      On the issue of showing solidarity with these prisoners, I have been struggling with this. I would appreciate any advice from you on how any of us can get involved to show solidarity with them in meaningful ways.

      What I have done so far is tell everyone I know what is happening, engage in internet discussions about the prisoners, sign petitions, pray and ask for prayers from others, and respond to Amnesty Intl’s call for action last week by sending the letter below by email to the officials named by Amnesty, as well as PM Netanyahu, President Obama, and each individual member of the Knesset.

      Hanna Swaid
      Hadash

      hswaid@knesset.gov.il

      Dear MK Hanna Swaid,

      I am forwarding you an email I sent to PM Netanyahu yesterday morning, and I want to try to ensure all members of the Knesset know about these Palestinian prisoners under threat of imminent death. Two of the prisoners are today in day 70 of their hunger strikes. I know you do not want their deaths on your conscience. Thank you for considering their plight and anything you can do to help improve the situation.

      Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

      I am very concerned about the safety and welfare of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel under administrative detentions who are on hunger strikes, in particular six prisoners who have been identified by Amnesty International as facing imminent death, Bilal Diab and Tha’er Halahleh, who are today on Day 69 of their hunger strikes, Hassan Safadi, Omar Abu Shalal, Ja’afar Izz al-Din, and Mahmoud al-Sarsak.

      These administrative detentions Israel is holding Palestinian prisoners under, that include the six prisoners named above, violate international treaties Israel is bound to which internationally recognize rights to a fair trial for detainees and prisoners, to include the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

      Evidence heard in secret, which provides neither the defendant nor his attorney being allowed to examine the evidence or challenge it, violates the requirements of international law that mandate fair legal proceedings and due process in detentions of prisoners. These detentions are war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

      I urge you to ensure Israel abides by her obligations under international law and call on the Israeli authorities to release these six detainees in imminent danger of death, as well as all other Palestinians in administrative detention, unless they are promptly charged with internationally recognizable criminal offenses and brought to trial in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards.

      I urge you to ensure the immediate transfer of Tha’er Halahleh and other detainees on prolonged hunger strikes to a fully-equipped hospital so they can receive specialized medical care.

      I urge you to ensure that all detainees on hunger strike are allowed regular, private access to independent doctors, families and lawyers, treated humanely, and not punished in any way for their hunger strike.

      I urge you to end the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of administrative detainees, such as shackling detainees on prolonged hunger strike, that the human rights organizations and NGO’s are reporting Israel is engaging in.

      I urge you to ensure Israel abides by her obligations under international law and deals humanely with Palestinian prisoners she holds captive and in detention.

      Sincerely,

      Sherri Munnerlyn

      • Richard Falk May 9, 2012 at 11:58 am #

        You are doing lots, and I am thankful for those good persons, such as yourself, who are raising their voices and lifting the consciousness of others. I believe we are slowly, too slowly, having an impact, even in Israel, although of course it will not be acknowledged until much later. Thanks for your supportive message. Richard

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