On the 15th of May we remembered Nakba day, the day roughly 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled, and hundreds of Palestinian villages were depopulated and destroyed following the Israeli declaration of independence. The build up to Nakba day was a tumultuous one as Palestinian rights groups around the world stood in solidarity with some 2000 Palestinian political prisoners enduring a hunger strike in protest of Israels unlawful application of administrative detention and prison conditions that violate prisoners’ Human Rights. They decided that they would live in dignity or starve to death in their isolation cells. Their courage allowed a deal to be brokered where Israel has agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners and lift a ban on visits to prisoners by relatives living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel also agreed to improve other conditions of detention, and to free so-called administrative detainees once they complete their terms unless they are brought to court.
Administrative detention depends on the unlawful accusations contained in secret evidence not disclosed to the detainee or defence lawyers. It allows Israel to imprison Palestinians for six months at a time, without bringing any criminal charges, with terms indefinitely renewable as they expire. Minors are often abducted from the homes in night raids to extract confessions for use in military court to implicate protest organisers. The detention of Bassem Tamimi, a leading Palestinian activist, highlighted this crime. The Israeli police themselves admitted to systematic violations of Palestinian minors rights during police interrogations, when a police interrogator who questioned both material witnesses against Tamimi, said on the stand that in his 25 years as an officer, he cannot recall a single time in which a Palestinian minor was allowed the presence of his parents during questioning.
Since the detainees do not know the evidence against them, they are unable to refute it, and all these injustices draw clear parallels to the infamous Apartheid ‘Terrorism Act’ of 1967, that allowed the repressive regime to imprison so many of own political prisoners. There are some 308 Palestinian prisoners detained under administrative detention.
It was a remarkable act of courage for so many Palestinians and they should be proud of their exemplary expressions of courage, discipline and nonviolent resistance that pushed them further towards the vision of self-determination and justice from the occupation. It has been a transition to such non-violent methods and is of serious moral significance, further highlighting the desperate situation Palestinians and forcing massive pressure on Israel internally. The Zionist project has not faced such resistance since the second intifada. It started with Khader Adnan who started a hunger strike to protest his abusive arrest and administrative detention on December 17, he fasted for 66 days before Israel agreed to ease up on certain terms of detention. Prisoners such as Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahlah who were at the forefront of the hunger strikes, fasted for 76 days and were in a critical condition according to a report by Physicians for Human Rights Israel. There are no previous recorded cases of anyone surviving without food or supplements for more than 75 days. The hunger strike of the IRA’s Bobby Sands ended when he died after 66 days in 1981, indicating the dire condition these prisoners must have been in.
The courage and emotion of their acts was illustrated by a letter by Halahlah to his daughter who has been imprisoned under administrative detention eight times for a total of six and a half years, despite the absence of any signs that he was involved in any violent activity.
“My Beloved Lamar, forgive me…despite the fact that I was deprived from holding you and hearing your voiceand that I was deprived of my role as a father with my daughter, your existence has given me all the power and hope. Lamar my love: I know that you don’t yet understand why your father is going through this battle of hunger strike for the 75th day, but when you grow up you will understand that the battle of freedom is the battle of going back to you, so that I can never be taken away from you again or to be deprived of your smile or seeing you, so that the occupier will never kidnap me again from you.
You will know that your father did not tolerate injustice and submission and that he would never accept insult and compromise, and that he is going through a hunger strike to protest against the Jewish state that wants to turn us into humiliated slaves without any rights or patriotic dignity.”
Despite the remarkable nature of the resistance, the oppressive nature of the Israeli state and what it may portend for future Palestinian politics, there has been scant attention paid by media, governments, and until recently the United Nations.
The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, urged last week that those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay. Surprisingly Tony Blair, a representative of the Middle East quartet, urged Israel to take all necessary measures to prevent a tragic outcome that could have serious implications for stability and security conditions on the ground, stating that he was increasingly concerned about the deteriorating health conditions of hunger strikers.
Regardless of this, Israel has recoiled at the idea of the end of administrative detention, citing it necessary for security purposes; the reality being it just allows them to deal with people like Bassem Tamimi and further impede the actions of popular resistance more easily.
The success of the strike has only contrasted the complete ineffectiveness of the quartet and their usual waffle of illusory diplomacy. It has given the Palestinian people a victory and a hope in an ever increasing uphill battle. This gain unfortunately hardly offsets the facts that illegal settler expansion is ever increasing with the total number of settlers including East Jerusalem settlements well over 500 000. The two-state solution is becoming less and less viable.
That said the growing Palestinian solidarity worldwide has been further galvanised by the strikes. European nations are becoming increasingly fed with condemnations from the UK Deputy Prime minister and the French Parliament. According to a report by EU diplomats in Jerusalem say the European Union should consider legislation to prevent or discourage companies and organisations from doing business which supports Israeli settlements, stating Israel’s actions are undermining the future of the two-state solution. Civil society finds itself in an increasing more powerful position in foreign countries to take action and pressure their governments and media to tackle these issues. These hunger-strikes remind us of the South African hunger-strikes of 1989 that ushered in a new phase in our anti-apartheid struggle for freedom and a single, democratic country for all our people. The same, undoubtedly, now lies ahead for Palestinians.