The hungerstrikers of Palestine

On the 66th day of hungerstrike, Khader Adnan was given a reprieve following an international campaign on his behalf.  No substantive reasons were given for the change of stance of the Israeli government which right up until the final whistle appeared quite comfortable to have him die in Israeli custody.  Although perhaps the lack of reasons should not be that surprising in the light that none were given  for his detention in the first place.

A number of comparisons have been made between Adnan and the IRA hunger strikers of the 80s – in particular Bobby Sands who, in a sad irony, died on the 66th day of his hungerstrike.  Similarly, those hungerstrikers represented a people who were subjected to arbitrary imprisonment (internment in Northern Ireland, administrative detention in Irael – different name; same principle) within an occupied state backed up by military means.  Another comparision which can be drawn is that of South Africa – As Bobby Sands lay dying in Long Kesh, Nelson Mandela spent his days in solitary in Robbin Island.  Although it is relevant less as a direct comparator the plight of Adnan than with the relevance of the Palestinian struggle in the collective international conciousness.

In the 1980s, South Africa stood out like  a sore thumb amongst the newly liberated African post-colonial states, its racist Apartheid regime and brutal suppression of dissent in apartheid era South Africa became a major focus for the fight for global justice of the time. The Soweto uprising of 1976 had identified to the world a rogue regime who thought little of the murder of hundreds of citizens to enforce its policies.  By the mid-80s, the continual imposition of states of emergency signalled the beginning of the end of a regime which could no longer continue in the face of sustained internal opposition and international solidarity, backed by an increasing number of boycotts of South African products.  Even today, twenty years after apartheid was ended, I still catch my breath on picking up a South African orange, so deeply ingrained was the boycott.

As South Africa was in the 1980s, – a pinpoint of the wider fight against colonialism and its effects – so Palestine has become today. There are few involved in radical activity anywhere in the world who are not at least aware of the Palestinian struggle.  Within the UK, on the streets and on university campuses, information and awareness raising is a regular happening backed up with a variety of campaigning intiatives, events, talks and spectacles.  It is therefore quite inexplicable why prominent members of student unions would accept a trip funded by the Israeli authorities any more than a student leader in my day would have accepted hospitality from the Botha regime. The details of their trip, complete with meetings with Tony Blair and Netanyahu’s chief spokesperson, sandwiched between cocktails and shopping for diamonte phone cases, lay bare the propaganda machine behind the Israeli state, with some quite amazing connections and experiences being laid on for them.  Not quite the same connections and experiences of those who experienced a different kind of Israeli hospitality on a rather less glamourous trip to Palestine, who spent their time with the dispossessed in refugee camps, negotiating border guards, being locked up in israeli detention centres and huckled onto a plane for deportation.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s with the conflict in the Middle East a regular feature of the evening news.  Almost every week there was another bomb, another raid, another tanglement with the focus almost exclusively on Lebanon, where a large number of Palestinian refugees had fled after the six day war.  The role of Israel in the conflict was rather obscure, with the focus on the civil war being fought internally within Lebanon, with Israel being presented as a victim of Arabic disagreements, rather than the root cause of the issue.  I cannnot pretend to understand the complex politics of the region at the time, intertwined with the latent anti-semitism which still existed within Europe despite considerable sympathy for Jews, as one of the groups targetted by the Nazis, befuddled with the Soviet block countries condemnation of Israel’s destabilisation of the region.  It confused me as a child, and even now, I struggle to follow the complexities.  As an adult, however, I have come to realise that confusion of their audience is not a failing of the mainstream media, but its purpose, and the strategy proposed by Oded Yinon lays bare the desire for a divided Middle East in which Israel could claim its land with impunity.

The first intifada, as a grassroots mobilisation, co-opted by the PLO, but not initiated by them, did establish the struggle and demands of the Palestinian people.  A largely peaceable struggle, with a biblical undercurrent of David and Goliath, it first brought the situation of the Palestinian people to mainstream Western consciousness.

The  only news channel available in Palestine up until 1991 was Israeli state television, which broadcast in Hebrew other than for a few hours a day.  The state run networks in the adjacent Arab states, to which there was a level of limited access took a line of reporting the conflict through the perpective of the leaders of Palestinian organisations – most notably Yassar Araffat of the PLO, mindful perhaps of the trouble which the Palestinian cause had created in the region and a desire to ensure a containment of the conflict.  The arrival of Al-Jazeera in 1996, unhindered by state control and chasing ratings to boost its profits ensured a more accurate reflection of Palestinian life.

By the time of the second intifada, the internet had arrived – still limited, still not common, but there.  This allowed news to be transmitted that had not passed editors, or intermediaries.  The raw voices and screams could be heard. Those screams only accelerated with the bombing of Gaza – the brutality of the Israeli regime was laid bare and the mainstream news channels were pushed to cover.  No mere physical walls or checkpoints can separate the Palestinians from the world when they can connect to the world through the ether.

There is a strong Palestinian solidarity network in Glasgow.  In addition to the more formal support to the Palestinian cause given by the Arts, solidarity work goes on in Glasgow city centre every week, fascist attacks not withstanding; trade organisations support Palestinian industry and the BDS campaign seeks to eradicate Israeli products from campuses and council offices and some excellent speakers have been facilitated to give us their take on the current situation in the few months.

The Angry Arab – aka Professor As’ad Abu Khalil – lived up to his name.  Giving a potted history of the horrors of Israeli occupation.  Finkelstein gave a far more considered verdict, very…reasonable – but its all very well being reasonable, but when the other guy is about to hit you in the face with a baseball bat, maybe reasonable isn’t the way ahead. While Murud Jadallah and other young Palestinians give a grass-roots perspective of what it is like to live under occupation

Khader Adnan, after 66 days is alive and has been promised release.  It remains to be seen whether this promise will be followed through and whether a further administrative detention will follow, once the international spotlight is less bright.  A previous hunger striker, Nader Afouri (TW:torture) was similarly promised release if he ended his hunger strike, only to be detained again a few months later, and when released for the final time having spent ten and a half years out of thirteen in gaol, he was unable to see, hear, speak or walk and was doubly incontinent.

Hana Shabali is now on her 24th day of hungerstrike, held previously for 30 months without charge and released only four months ago, she was re-arrested, stripsearched is being held in solitary confinement.  Like Adnan and Afouri before, no charges have been brought.



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