After the ‘Great Palestinian Prison Hunger Strike’
This post has 4 items:
1) Richard Falk reflects on the spirituality of extreme self-sacrifice;
2) Stephen Lendman doubts whether Israel will keep its word
3) PCHR urges Israel to apply international standards to its prisons;
4) Haaretz urges government to reconsider its treatment of political prisoners in general and administrative detainees in particular
Khader Adnan with his children on his release from prison in April
Reflections on the Great Palestinian Prison Hunger Strikes of 2012
Richard Falk, blog
Ché Guevara was once asked what was at the root of his revolutionary commitment. His response, which we should all take some moments to reflect upon, “it is about love.” Reading the words of Khader Adnan (‘Open Letter to the People of the World’) and Thaer Halahleh (‘Letter to my Daughter’), or the comments of Hana Shalabi’s mother and sister, or Bilal Diab’s father, led me to recall Guevara’s illuminating comment. Only those with closed minds can read such words of devotion without feeling that the animating hunger of these Palestinians is for peace and justice, for love and dignity, and that their heroic strikes would have impossible without cherishing life and future freedom for the people of Palestine.
The nature of extreme self-sacrifice, provided it is autonomous and nonviolent, is an inherently spiritual undertaking even when its external appearance is political. For Christians, and others moved to tears by the life of Jesus, the Crucifixion exemplifies this encounter between the political and the spiritual.
We can only marvel at the duplicitous double standards of the media. Without the Internet and Al Jazeera the West, especially the United States, would have rendered invisible these challenges to Israeli abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. Only the settlement of the strike, and to some extent fear of Palestinian unrest should one of these hunger strikes die while in detention, was deemed somewhat newsworthy by the Western press.
As many have observed, the media treatment of the Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, or the global attention given to the Isreael soldier held captive in Gaza, underscores the media victimization of the Palestinian struggle, and exposes the illegitimacy of an information regime that rests upon such a flagrant disregard for objectivity, taking refuge in ill-disguised double standards: magnifying Israeli grievances, disappearing Palestinian wrongs.
The Israeli media did have a cynical preoccupation with the hunger strikes wavering between worries of seeming to give in to pressure exerted by fears if the strikes continued Third Intifada and the characteristic concern of an oppressor that accommodating grievances would be treated as a show of weakness and an encouragement of further Palestinian resistance activity. For this reason the agreement reached to end the main strike has been sharply criticized by Israeli right-wing politicians.
Israel is not alone in addressing prison hunger strikes in a detached manner that refuses to acknowledge the moral motivation, physical courage and discipline, and the righteousness of the demands for reforms. A 2011 protest hunger strike in a notorious California Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons around the state led to this monumentally icy reaction from Nancy Kincaid, Director of Communications for California Correctional Health Service: “They have the right to die of starvation if they wish.” And as the late Kurt Vonnegut so memorably reflected on the terror bombing of Dresden during World War II: “And so it goes.”
The ending of the hunger strikes on the eve of the 64th observance of Nakba Day is above all a protest against the particular reality of these protests against administrative detention, arrest procedures of a police state, and unacceptable prison regulations that include extensive and extended consignment to solitary confinement, taunting of prisoner suffering, denial of family visits (especially for Gaza families), and a variety of forms of inhumane treatment. It also needs to be understood as part of the general Palestinian struggle for protection and rights, above all, the inalienable right of self-determination, which is accorded to every people by virtue of Article 1 of both Human Rights Covenants.
Any agreement reached with Israel should be carefully monitored and scrutinized. It was a disgrace that Israel should have released Hana Shalabi but punitively ‘deported’ her to Gaza where she is required to remain for three years before returning to her family and home in the West Bank village of Burqin. Without charges to sentence Shalabi to what many have called the world’s largest open air prison is to compound the wrong done by detaining her in the first place, and is an implied admission by Israel that it is a punishment to be required to live in blockaded Gaza.
Throughout this period of hunger strikes that was started by Khader Adnan on the day following his December 17th arrest I and others have taken notice of the IRA strike in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in which ten Irish prisoners fasted unto death, including the martyred Irish hero, Bobby Sands. What I have learned of while following the developments in the Palestinian strikes was the earlier celebrated hunger strike of Terrence MacSwiney, the elected lord mayor of county Cork who was arrested, charged, and convicted of his activism in the Irish struggle against British colonial rule.
MacSwiney upon conviction told a stunned court, “I whall be free, alive, or dead, within a month.” He died on October 25, 1920 in the Brixton Prison after an extraordinary 74 day hunger strike, and has been part of the proud tradition of Irish revolutionary iconography ever since. (For a detailed account see Dave Hannigan’s Terrence MacSwiney: The Hunger Strike that Rocked an Empire (Dublin: Obrien Press, 2010)) Unlike the blanket of denial and silence that has accompanied the Palestinian acts of protest, the MacSwiney story “became a worldwide sensation, causing workers to lay down tools on the New York waterfront, sparking riots in Barcelona and mass demonstrations from Buenos Aires to Boston. The international press covered his decline on a daily basis, raising the profile of the cause of Irish Independence to previously unheard-of-heights.” (from back cover material)
Aside from the contrast in media coverage, there is the notable fact that MacSwiney faced charges in an open court, and was allowed to speak in his own defense. Governments that claim to be democracies and respectful of human rights and the rule of law should waste no time in abolishing administrative detention provisions. And if that is not done, at least the pretension of being a constitutional democracy should be abandoned. Is not time that we demanded that ‘power speak truth to the people’!
Hunger Strike Aftermath
By Stephen Lendman, Op Ed News
As they say, it’s not over ’till it’s over. Palestinian prisoners have been mass hunger striking since April 17. Others began earlier. Some hadn’t eaten for two months or longer.
On May 14, a deal was announced. Egypt negotiated one with the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and striker representatives. Palestine Prisoners Society head Qadura Fares confirmed it. So did Israeli authorities.
Independent verification didn’t follow. Nor did full clarification of terms. Israel’s adept at creating considerable opt out wiggle room. Deals aren’t always as they seem. Broken ones reveal charades.
Israel offered concessions. Prisoners agreed to terms. Some remain vague. The devil’s in the details. What’s ahead remains uncertain. Israel’s history reflects promises made and broken. Palestinians know well.
For decades, peace process hypocrisy betrayed them. Oslo was a Palestinian Versailles. Subsequent deals were one-way. Israel alone benefitted. Expecting hunger strikers to fare better is problematic.
Last October, Israel agreed to swap hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit. After release, many are repeatedly hounded, monitored, and threatened. Others were rearrested and imprisoned. No one’s safe in Occupied Palestine. It’s a militarized armed camp.
On May 14, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halehel reached hunger strike day 77. Early reports said they’d continue unless immediately freed. Updates said both agreed to resume eating in return for release when their current detentions end.
For Thaer, it’s June 5. Bilal will be freed in August. Both will receive public hospital treatment. It’s unclear if all prisoners agreed to terms. Some strikes have been long-term. It’s unknown if issues mattering most to everyone are resolved.
It’s uncertain if Jamil Khatib was present and agreed to terms. He represents Bilal and Thaer. Israel consistently denied prisoners attorney access. Instead Jawad Boulos represented them. He arranged deals for Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi.
Khader’s free at home in the West Bank. Hana was deported to Gaza. Boulos and PA authorities said she agreed to terms. She and her father challenged official reports. She demanded clarification of issues not explained. She never got them to her satisfaction.
Currently at issue is whether deal terms represent victory or betrayal. Bilal, Thaer, and others vowed to keep striking unless freed. They’re still imprisoned with no certainty what awaits them.
Moreover, thousands of Palestinians remain imprisoned. Virtually all are detained for political reasons. Among them are 220 children, seven women, and 27 Palestinian lawmakers.
Israel calls challenging occupation harshness illegal. So is belonging to the wrong political party. Virtually anything can be called terrorism. Life under occupation, in or out of prison, is cruel and unusual punishment.
Israel violates civil and human rights with impunity. Palestinians never got fair treatment, don’t now, and won’t easily ahead. Israel has contempt for anyone not Jewish. Even many Jews are treated harshly. Imagine how much worse Palestinians fare.
Israel wanted resolution before Nakba Day. Security force violence usually accompanies it. Concern reflected greater public passion if IPS authorities and prisoners remained deadlocked. Whether Israeli concessions match official reports remains very much uncertain.
Addameer was pleased with developments so far. At the same time, it expressed concern that Israel won’t implement policy changes.
According to Addameer attorney Ahed Abu Gholmeh, nine hunger strike committee members met Monday. The written agreement contained five main provisions.
Prisoners would resume eating after signing. Long-term isolation will end, including for security reasons. Nineteen isolated prisoners will return to the general prison population within 72 hours. Gazan families will have visitation privileges restored.
Israeli intelligence assures that a committee will be formed to facilitate meetings between the IPS and prisoners. Improving incarceration conditions will be discussed. Details on what this means, if anything, weren’t mentioned.
Current administrative detainee terms won’t be extended when expire, unless so-called secret evidence is serious. Of course, that’s in the eye of the beholder and Israel alone will decide.
“Addameer has observed that Israel has consistently failed to respect the agreements it executes with Palestinians regarding prisoners’ issues.”
“For this reason, it will be essential for all supporters of Palestinian political prisoners to actively monitor the events of the next few months to ensure that this agreement is fully implemented.”
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) expressed similar relief and concern [below] about whether Israel will follow through as promised.
The fullness of time will determine what mass hunger strikes gained, if anything. Until then, be skeptical.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”. He is co-author with J.J. Asongu of The Iraq Quagmire: The Price of Imperial Arrogance.Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Media Release, PHR
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) welcomes the agreement reached yesterday, 14 May 2012, between Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the Israeli prisons administration. Based on this agreement, more than 1,600 Palestinians in Israeli jails ended their open-ended hunger strike in exchange for meeting many of their demands. PCHR expresses respect for the prisoners’ decision to end their open-ended hunger strike.
Almost a third of Palestinian prisoners in Israel started a hunger strike on 17 April 2012. Other individual prisoners started to hunger strike on 29 February 2012. The demands of the prisoners on hunger strike included improving detention conditions in Israeli jails and detention centers, allowing family visitations, especially for prisoners from the Gaza Strip, putting an end to solitary confinement, putting an end to administrative detention, allowing prisoners to pursue their education, and putting an end to night searching campaigns.
For many years, Palestinian prisoners could only get their rights recognized by the Israeli prisons’ administration through struggle and hunger strikes. A number of Palestinian prisoners collectively went on hunger strike for 28 days, while others individually went on hunger strike for 76 days. This hunger strike is one of the most serious hunger strikes in the Israeli jails. It is also the most complex as it was the longest. The agreement reached, which will hopefully set a standard for Palestinian prisoners’ demands, would not have been reached without the struggle and persistence of prisoners who put their lives at risk, in one of the highest forms of resistance and peaceful protest.
PCHR hopes that the articles of the agreement will be applied, and that the articles of this agreement will meet the prisoners’ demands, especially the ending of solitary confinement, allowing family visitations, especially for families from Gaza and for families denied visitations on security grounds, improving the detention conditions, and ending the use of administrative detention.
In this context, PCHR reiterates that releasing all of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is a principal demand. Till the release of all these prisoners in Israeli jails, PCHR calls upon:
1. The international community and human rights organizations to exert pressure on Israel to improve detention conditions so that the prisoners do not go on a new hunger strike.
2. The Israeli authorities to respect the terms of the agreement, and to apply these terms, as well as to review its policies implemented against Palestinian prisoners, in a way that ensures respect for international standards relating to the treatment of detainees.
The government must reconsider its treatment of political prisoners in general and administrative detainees in particular.
Palestinian society, like every society waging a struggle for national liberation, feels a special responsibility toward those of its sons and daughters who have sacrificed their lives or their freedom for the collective. Palestinians consider the people we call “terrorists” or “murderers” as “freedom fighters” and “national heroes.” In many cases, as in South Africa and Northern Ireland, it was prisoner leaders who effected reconciliation.
Many of the Palestinians with whom Israel conducts peace talks and security ties, and who are frequently interviewed in Hebrew by the Israeli media, spent the best years of their lives in Israeli prisons. Public opinion polls in the territories show that the fate of some 5,000 prisoners and administrative detainees is of more concern to the Palestinian public than all the issues relating to a final-status arrangement.
Despite this, the situation of these jailed Palestinians has been pushed to the margins of Israel’s security and foreign-policy agenda. Israeli decision makers deal with this issue only when they are negotiating for the release of Israeli captives, or when, as happened recently, they fear the death of hunger-striking prisoners might spark riots in the territories and attract international attention to the human rights situation there.
The recent agreement between the Israel Prison Service and the prisoners’ representatives, with praiseworthy mediation by Egypt, corrected a few of the distortions in Israel’s solitary confinement and family visits policy for prisoners from the Gaza Strip. Israel also promised to review the files of more than 300 administrative detainees, some of whom have been jailed for many months without even being told what their crime is.
In return the prisoners promised to refrain from all terror-related activity in prison. This can be seen as another sign of the Palestinians’ recognition of the advantages of nonviolent protest over armed struggle.
The government must reconsider its treatment of political prisoners in general and administrative detainees in particular. The recently enacted law mandating appropriate conditions for all prisoners, combining proposals by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ) and by the Public Security Ministry – is a step in the right direction.