Palestinian prisoners have ended their mass hunger strike before anyone died. Now the world needs to ask some serious questions about the mass incarceration of Palestinians as a tool to break their resistance to occupation.
Israel has managed to avert a massive problem for itself...for a while perhaps.
No it hasn’t forsworn a pre-emptive strike on Iran; it hasn’t stopped illegal settlement construction; it hasn’t agreed to comply with all the UNSC resolutions it flips the bird at; it hasn’t given Palestinian citizens of Israel equal rights; it hasn’t ended its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
No, none of the above nor a long list of other blatant breaches of international and humanitarian laws.
It has however agreed to a deal which will end the massive hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners, many of whom rot in jail with no charges and no trial.
Israel has done this for overtly political reasons - as overtly political as the hunger strikes themselves but the latter is the peaceful protesting of injustice, collective punishment, the denial of human rights and other assorted trappings of being subjected to colonial occupation.
Israel needed to stop the hunger strikes before the marches for Nakba (May 15). Literally Nakba means ‘the catastrophe’ referring to (now) 64 years ago when the declaration of the State of Israel meant more than 750,000 Palestinians were forced off their lands, out of their homes and driven into exile and into massive refugee camps. There they and millions of their descendants still ‘exist‘ in the hope of returning to their own country. Today we call this process ethnic cleansing.
Nakba is always marked by marches and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops and militant settlers.
Usually there’s a lot of stone throwing from the Palestinians, met with tear gas, rubber bullets and, as there was last year, live ammunition from the IDF.
The last thing Israel needed this Nakba day was for some of the Palestinians on hunger strike to die.
For weeks Palestinians have demonstrated in their thousands to show support for this most recent hunger strike, inspired by Khader Adnan (66 days without food before given a release date) and Hanah Shalibi (43 days and expulsion to Gaza).
On the eve of the Egyptian/Jordanian brokered deal two of the 1600-2000 hunger strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh had been refusing food for 80 days and were (and probably still are) dangerously near death. Others include Hassan Safadi (73 days), Omar Abu Shalal (71 days), Mohammad Taj, Jaffar Azzedine and Mahmoud Sarsak have been without food for more than 60 days, and still more like Abdullah Barghouti since April 17 - International Palestinian Prisoners Day. (IRA prisoner Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike). These Palestinians have names too.
Behind the push to end the hunger strike is the knowledge that if any of the Palestinian prisoners dies it could trigger a third intifada with disastrous consequences for Israelis and Palestinians.
So why would people imprisoned in the incorrectly named ‘democratic’ Israel take such drastic steps to change their situation.
Why do they starve, and clearly, risk death?
Hunger strikes are one of the very few political tools of the dispossessed and subjugated. Essentially there is nothing else they can do but evoke the peaceful protests of the likes of Gandhi.
They starve over issues including the fact that more than 40% of Palestinian males in the occupied territories have been detained or imprisoned in their lifetimes; there are more than 5,500 in prison at the moment - including women and children; approximately 320 are being held without charge or trial - a practice conveniently whitewashed as ‘Administrative Detention’. The current detainees include 28 elected members of the Palestinian parliament.
In flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel holds Palestinians outside the occupied territories making family visits almost impossible as they negotiate the humiliation of pleading at any one of the hundreds of checkpoints to be allowed through. Those trying to visit from Gaza have been prohibited point blank since the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The soldier has been released, but the ban on Gazans remains (until this latest deal).
While in prison Palestinians are routinely held in solitary confinement, tortured mentally and physically, and those on Administrative Detention can have the maximum six month sentence rolled over many, many times without explanation.
Some of them are in prison on very serious charges, but in real democracies even violent offenders have rights. Otherwise it reveals more about the ruling state.
The reason Israel behaves in this fashion is that it remains in the same state of emergency it has been in for the 64 years of its existence.
Outrageously, critics are reminded of this convenient ‘immunity’ when they question breaches of Palestinian human and legal rights, along with any laws and treaties the rest of the world has developed to protect the inalienable rights of any peoples. It seems you can do anything when ‘security’ is raised.
When a state feels threatened in such a manner, it should surely do a little navel gazing as to why the people it subjugates feel aggrieved. Why indeed.
The wonder is not that Palestinians are protesting in prison. The wonder is they have not (yet) followed Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain.
Now there has been a deal struck between the Israeli authorities and the prisoners.
The hunger strike is off and according to the terms of the agreement, those on Administrative Detention will not have their sentences extended for another six months. They will go free once the 6 months is up.
But of course there is a caveat, and Palestinians would do well to worry about it. The detention will only be abandoned if no new evidence against the prisoner emerges.
Trouble with that is ‘evidence’ in these cases is kept secret.
The fact they can go free at the end of this secret process exposes its dark and bogus nature. If a prisoner really is such a threat to Israel’s security, what’s with the get out of jail free in six months? Logically, why not now?
The other area where there is cause for skepticism is that family members from Gaza will be permitted to visit. However they still have to get past the military checkpoints where no reasons need be given for refusing a Palestinian passage through to Israel.
In return the prisoners have agreed to halt any terrorist activity inside the prisons - that means stop recruiting, financing and other support activities.
If the reality is Israel’s policy of jail without charge does in fact end, this has been a victory for Palestinians willing to put their lives on the line to overhaul a blatant breach of human rights.
Somehow it seems too soon for a victory parade at the end of the ‘War of Empty Stomachs’.
Remember the celebrations when 1027 prisoners were released last year in exchange for Shalit? Within a week of the first tranche of 477 being released, Israel had arrested 470 more, including recent hunger striker Hana Shalibi who upon release, was almost immediately re-incarcerated under administrative detention.
Cynicism here permeates for good reason.