Beginning on 17 April, over 1,700 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails joined a hunger strike, demanding improvements in the conditions they currently endure as a result of the Israeli authorities’ incarceration policies.
On Monday 15 May, Marwan Barghouti, the prominent Fatah leader and activist who led the strike from solitary confinement, issued a list of demands to prison service commissioner Ofra Klinger, stressing that, should the authorities maintain their intransigence on the matter of negotiations, the strike would be escalated, with prisoners beginning to refuse not just food but also water.
The main demands of the hunger strike related to the right of prisoners to receive family and legal visits, annual medical examinations for all prisoners – with more frequent medical examinations for prisoners over the age of 50 – as well as an end to the practice of placing prisoners in solitary confinement.
The strike met with support from a wide range of organisations, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Hamas, and the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, as well as numerous organisations across the world standing in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.
On 1 May, International Workers Day, the imprisoned general secretary of the PFLP, Comrade Ahmad Sa’adat, sent a message of solidarity to the striking prisoners, along with workers marching around the world, from his cell, and joined the hunger strike days later.
Speaking at an event held by the Democratic People’s Unity Party of Jordan in Amman, the PFLP’s legendary Leila Khaled also announced her participation, praising the principled stand taken by Barghouti and the prisoners answering his call.
Addressing the crowd at the event, Comrade Khaled stated: “The prisoners on hunger strike are in direct confrontation with the enemy, but they have only the weapon of an empty stomach … We must uphold the right of return, the liberation of Palestine, and the establishment of a democratic Palestine on the entire land of Palestine … To the heroes on strike in Israeli prisons, I join you in this strike from this moment.” (Revolutionary Leila Khaled Begins Hunger Strike in Solidarity With Palestinian Prisoners, Telesur, 7 May 2017)
Previously, on 2 May, Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah had sharply condemned the silence from Arab leaders and muslim organisations in relation to conditions facing prisoners in Israel, drawing attention to the increasingly overt cosy relationship between Israel and the Arab monarchies of the Gulf states, whilst reiterating his organisation’s unwavering support for incarcerated Palestinian resistance fighters. (Hezbollah chief raps Arab leaders over inaction on Palestinian hunger strike, Press TV, 2 May 2017)
In addition, there have been demonstrations in a number of countries to show support for the prisoners. Sana, the Syrian Arab news agency, reported on a sit-in held in front of the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, organised by the Syrian Arab Popular Committee for Supporting the Palestinian People and Resisting the Zionist Project, at which a statement from the strike’s organisers was read out, affirming that the hunger strike of the detainees is a form of resistance, and expressing their support to Syria in its war against terrorism.
Following the completion of a symbolic 24-hour hunger strike in solidarity by fellow cabinet ministers, South Africa’s trade and industry minister Rob Davies said: “This is a very small gesture of solidarity with those brave freedom fighters of Palestine struggling for the very same rights many of us now take for granted in South Africa, but which were in fact won through the same spirit of selfless commitment.” (Palestine’s ongoing journey of pain by Hildegade Manzvanzvike, Zimbabwe Herald, 18 May 2017)
On 6 May, fans of Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club, true to their long-term identification with militant Irish republicanism and hence also with other national-liberation struggles, unfurled a huge Palestinian flag and large banners featuring the slogans ‘Freedom and dignity’ and ‘Hungering for justice’ during a match against fellow Scottish team St Johnstone FC. (Celtic fans show their solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers at Glasgow match, Samidoun, 7 May 2017)
Awareness of the prisoners’ plight was also raised through the ‘viral marketing’ tactics that have become established over recent years on social media, with a ‘saltwater challenge’ campaign launched on Facebook by Marwan Barghouti’s son Aarab, in which Arab celebrities and their fans were filmed drinking glasses of salt water – the only nourishment then being taken by the strike’s participants.
The hunger strike comes at a point where the imperialist puppet masters standing behind the zionist project are desperately trying to stem the rising tide of criticism that threatens to engulf Israel. The more that the zionists’ remaining credibility ebbs away, the more supporters of Palestinian liberation (or even politicians expressing relatively mild criticisms of the Israeli authorities) are finding themselves subject to the most vitriolic attacks on the basis of their supposed ‘anti-semitism’, and the more pressure is being applied to businesses, churches, trade unions and other organisations the world over in order to try and stop the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in its tracks – in particular by pushing through anti-BDS laws wherever possible.
Speaking at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual policy conference in March, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley bragged about having ‘booted out’ former Palestinian Authority prime minister and finance minister Salam Fayyad from his appointment as the next UN special representative to Libya, before proceeding, in a typically arrogant and uncouth manner, to dismiss a UN commissioned report on Palestine as anti-Israel propaganda, owing to it having found that the discriminatory way Palestinians are treated under Israel’s laws, regardless of background or status, does indeed conform to the definition of apartheid set out in the 1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the International Crime of Apartheid, and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. (‘The days of Israel bashing are over!’ Nikki Haley AIPAC 2017 speech, MoxNews on YouTube, 28 March 2017)
The authors of the report, Richard Falk, emeritus professor of international law at Princeton university, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois university, responded to the ambassador’s behaviour within the UN (and her willingness to act as Israel’s protector there, displayed so brazenly at the AIPAC conference) with an open letter, explaining why the report had been commissioned and the conditions under which the authors had worked, and which had led to their conclusions.
Outlining their methods of research, the authors said: “It does not rely on definitions developed in polemics about the conflict or taken casually from online sources. As the 1973 convention and the Rome statute are part of the same body of law that protects jews, as well as all people in the world, from discrimination, this authoritative definition should not be set aside.
“Any responsible critique must therefore engage with these legal definitions, and the larger body of international human rights jurisprudence in which they are situated, so as to address the report for what it actually says rather than concocting a straw man that can easily be dismissed. We hope you will reconsider the report in this light.
“Secondly, the member states of ESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) requested that a study be commissioned to examine whether Israel’s apartheid policies encompassed the Palestinian people as a whole. This meant that, as authors, we were asked to consider Palestinians living in four geographic regions within four legal categories or ‘domains’: those living in the occupied territories, those resident in Jerusalem, those living as citizens within Israel, and those living in refugee camps or involuntary exile.
“For each domain, we found that Israeli policies and practices are, by law, internally discriminatory. But more importantly, we found that all four operate as one comprehensive system that is designed to dominate and oppress Palestinians in order to preserve Israel as a jewish state. It is this whole system of domination, too long misinterpreted by treating Palestinians as situated in unrelated categories, that generates the regime of domination that conforms to the definition of apartheid in international law.” (Open letter to UN ambassador Nikki Haley on our report on apartheid in Israel by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, The Nation, 25 April 2017)
Understandably for the imperialist bourgeoisie, which has long used the zionist settler colonial project as its principle weapon to dominate the middle east and control the region’s resources, the possibility of renewed global support for Palestinian liberation on the basis of an anti-apartheid struggle is, to say the least, an uncomfortable prospect, so it is not in the least surprising that the office of the US ambassador used its influence to have the report removed from the ESCWA website.
Friends of Palestine, on the other hand, can take courage from the fact that the futile attempts of the imperialists to hold back the tide of international outrage are indicative of a project in terminal decline. By refused to actually implement the historic compromise that the Palestinians accepted at Oslo in 1993, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) signed up to a two-state solution (in the process giving up their right to 78 percent of their country), and grabbing all the rest of historic Palestine anyway, the Israelis have signed the death warrant on the ‘jewish state’.
For included within their stolen borders are all the Palestinians who have so stubbornly refused to leave their homeland. These Palestinians are as much ‘facts on the ground’ as Israel’s illegal settlements, and have proven themselves to be even more immovable. Ultimately, an anti-apartheid struggle for equal rights for all those living within the borders of historic Palestine (presently Israel) can have only one outcome: the end of the zionist project to create a ‘jews-only’ state in the middle east, and, with it, a tremendous weakening of Anglo-American imperialism.
Meanwhile, on 27 May, the Xinhua news agency reported from Ramallah that the hunger strikers had ended their 40-day hunger strike after a deal with the Israeli prisons authority. Xinhua quoted Fatah recruitment commissioner Jamal Muheisen as saying: “the national committee of the strike stresses that the great and legendary victory of the detainees has refuted all Israeli bets and their oppressive measures as it has forced the Israeli government to hold negotiations with leader of the strike, Marwan Barghouti, after it had rejected that for 40 days …”
“They [the Israeli authorities] realised that the detainees are determined to continue their strike until victory or martyrdom and that violence and the tools of oppression have not weakened them, but, to the contrary, they have increased their willpower.”
The report continued: ”The head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Detainees Commission Eassa Qaraqe told Xinhua that the deal was reached after nearly 20 hours of negotiations involving Fatah leading figure, Marwan Barghouti, the International Red Cross and the Palestinian Authority. …. (Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails end hunger strike after deal – official)
The demands of the detainees included visitation rights, use of a public phone and ending solitary confinement and administrative detention, which is imprisonment without charges or trial. Under the deal that was reached, nearly 80 percent of prisoners’ demands have now been met:
“The Israeli prisons service agreed to include expanding access to telephones; lifting the security ban on hundreds of family members of Palestinian prisoners, including the 140 children who were denied visits from parents; allowing distant family members to visit their imprisoned relatives; and improving the conditions of both women and children prisoners.
“Other met demands include establishing in every prison department a separate kitchen area for the preparation of food; allowing photographs with parents once annually, or with a prisoner’s spouse; stocking prison stores with higher-quality goods, including fruits and vegetables; introducing modern recreational equipment in the recreation yards; and transferring prisoners to prisons closer to their families’ places of residence.
“The end of the strike will also see the return of prisoners who were transferred to their original locations and the lifting of sanctions imposed on hunger-striking prisoners. Additional negotiations will be held around the prisoners’ other demands.” (Victory for Palestinian prisoners as 80 percent of strike demands met, Telesur, 28 May 2017)
What is abundantly clear with this victory is that the struggle of the Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people as a whole must and will go on until final victory, and must and will be resolutely supported by progressive people throughout the world.
Freedom for Palestine!