Starving for Justice

There are issues the corporate media just won’t touch. The hunger strike by political prisoners in Palestine is one of them. With the exception of one much maligned piece...

There are issues the corporate media just won’t touch. The hunger strike by political prisoners in Palestine is one of them. With the exception of one much maligned piece in the New York Times, the corporate media has been dutifully silent on this crisis.

On April 17, 1,500 of the 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike. Led by Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah Party’s most popular leader, these political prisoners are asking for an end to the denial of family visits, proper medical care, access to higher education, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention (imprisonment without charges or trial). Barghouti has been allowed to see one of his sons twice and the other three times over the last fifteen years. Hunger strikers have been stopped from meeting with observers from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

With the strike now in its second month, prisoners are wobbly and dizzy. Many have fainted; some are vomiting blood. Several have been hospitalized. Israel’s response has been to confiscate clothing and personal belongings, to isolate prisoners in solitary confinement, and to transfer strike leaders to other prisons. In Nitzan and Ramla prisons, Israeli officials have unleashed dogs on hunger strikers, while outside of Ofer prison, Jewish Home Party agitators fired up barbeques to taunt the strikers. Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman stated, “When it comes to the hunger strike by terrorists in Israeli jails, I take the approach of Margaret Thatcher.” Prime Minister Thatcher allowed Irish hunger strikers to starve to death in prisons in 1981.

Outside the prisons, Palestinians are protesting in support of the strikers. This has been fraught with danger: 23-year-old Moataz Hussein Bani Shamsa was murdered by an armed Israeli settler who opened fire on an unarmed crowd of protesting Palestinians. Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett has portrayed the settler as the victim, frightened by dark-skinned protesters (where have I heard that before?). Bennett is on record as having stated, “I’ve killed many Arabs. There’s nothing wrong with that.” No charges were filed against the settler. In the illegally occupied territories, Israeli settlers are required to carry guns, while Palestinians are forbidden from doing so. When armed settlers enter a Palestinian home, toss out the owners, and then occupy the home, the Israeli Defense Force is there to protect them. This is an occupation, and there’s nothing fair about an occupation.

On May 17, Israeli occupation forces shot tear gas and live rounds at marchers in the Qalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah. On Monday, May 22, hundreds of Palestinians blocked roads in the West Bank. Stores and offices shut down, and public transit stopped. Cities and villages were closed, except for the business of protesting in support of the hunger strikers. By nightfall the Palestinian news agency Ma’an had reported that eleven Palestinians had been shot and injured.

During Trump’s visit the following day, a “day of rage” shut down much of the West Bank, including Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel had wanted to end the strike and protests before Tuesday, but resistance was too strong to be denied.

On Saturday, May 27, after forty days, the hunger strike ended. Israeli jailers and striking Palestinians reached a deal where the twice-monthly family visits were reinstated. We’ll see how this plays out. More significantly, Israel negotiated despite statements to the contrary. In the end, Palestinian samud won out.

“The time is now for the world to end Israel military rule,” Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, told Al Jazeera. “It’s not going to come through negotiations; it’s only going to come through exerted efforts to hold the Israelis accountable by boycotting through sanctions and bringing them before the international criminal court.”

One way to follow her advice and help the Palestinians is to join the BDS Movement. In 2005, Palestinian civil society called on all people of conscience to boycott, divest, and enact sanctions against companies profiting from the occupation, which is now in its fiftieth year. G4S, Veolia, Ahava, Soda Stream, and other corporations have left the illegally occupied territories. Some have left Israel all together. Currently, there is a call to boycott Hewett-Packard for its active participation in providing the biometric identification devices used by the Israelis at their checkpoints both at the borders between Israel and Palestine and within Palestine itself. The nonviolent tool of BDS worked in apartheid South Africa. It’ll work in the apartheid state of Israel, too.

Additional source: KPFA evening news 5/27/17

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Op-Ed

Rebel Fagin is a writer who has been politically active in Sonoma County since the 1970’s. He writes regularly for the Sonoma County Peace Press and the Global Critical Media Literacy Project (gcml.org). He has a book documenting nearly forty years of street activism in Sonoma County called Tales from the Perpetual Oppositional Culture – a Journey into Resistance. He lives in Santa Rosa, California and is active with many activists’ organizations.
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