by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 4, Rajab, 1433)
The unprecedented hunger strike by nearly 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails not only galvanized the entire Palestinian population but also exposed yet again Zionism’s true nature as an ideology of indescribable cruelty, illegal arrests, and indefinite detention and torture.
Under a deal brokered by Egypt on May 14, Palestinian prisoners agreed to end their indefinite hunger strike after Israel gave a commitment to not renew their arbitrary detention without charge or trial upon its expiration. Israel also vowed to allow family visits, especially from Gaza, and end solitary confinement of detainees. Two prisoners, Mahmud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi, however refused to end their hunger strike because their conditions were not met. Palestinians did not use bombs or guns to confront Israel’s monstrous policies; they did not even use stones to vent their anger. Instead, they resorted to a completely non-violent form of resistance: hunger strike, to draw attention to Israel’s illegal “administrative detentions”. Two Palestinians — Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab — went on an indefinite hunger strike on February 28 to protest their detention. They followed in the footsteps of two earlier hunger strikers — Adnan Khader and Hana al-Shalabi — who won release last December. Halahleh and Diab inspired nearly 1,500 other Palestinian political prisoners who joined them in the hunger strike on April 17.
The deal could still unravel because Israel routinely violates its pledges as demonstrated by the case of Hana al-Shalabi. She spent two years in administrative detention before obtaining her release as part of the Hamas-brokered prisoner exchange last October to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Hana al-Shalabi was re-arrested two months later. Israel’s racist policy of indefinite administrative detentions is a throwback to the era of British Mandate that imprisoned people without charge or trial. Such detention is routinely renewed every six months with no recourse to appeal. The process can go on indefinitely as has happened eight times with Halahleh. On the night of June 26, 2010, 50 heavily-armed Israeli soldiers raided his house in the Zionist-occupied West Bank town of al-Khalil (Hebron). He was dragged out, handcuffed and accused of being a “threat to public safety.”
Frustrated by such detention that is not based on any charge much less a trial even in the kangaroo courts of the Zionist regime (their appeal was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court on May 7), and routine humiliation, solitary confinement and torture, Halahleh and Diab decided to go on a hunger strike. Three days before the May 14 deal, Halahleh’s body weight had fallen to 121 pounds, a fraction of his former weight. His lips and gums were bleeding. In March, both he and Diab were transferred to Israel’s Ramleh Medical Prison but despite their critical condition, no doctor outside the prison system was allowed to see them.
Israel currently holds 322 Palestinian prisoners under administrative detention. Many of them have been in prison for years. At least 20% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has suffered administrative detention. At the same time, about 500,000 gun-toting Zionist thugs from North America and Europe have occupied prime land in the West Bank in flagrant contravention of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel cites their “security” as one of the reasons for administrative detentions. These illegal squatters would be much safer if they simply returned to North America or Europe where they rightly belong.
The total number of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails exceeds 4,500. This also violates the Fourth Geneva Convention that explicitly forbids transfer of detainees to the occupying power’s territory. “Administrative detention” is one of 1,500 occupation laws that apply only to Palestinians. This act of criminality is compounded by the Israeli military’s routine denial of permission for family members to visit relatives detained in Israeli jails. Since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip through military aggression in 1967, it has imprisoned 650,000 Palestinians — around 20% of the population, and 40% of all males. Figures since 1948, when the Zionist colonial settler entity was created through a terror campaign, would raise the number of Palestinian prisoners to 800,000. Thus, there is not a single Palestinian family that has not had a member imprisoned, tortured or killed by the Zionistss. Both the West Bank and Gaza are little more than prison camps. Apologists for the Zionist monstrosity still insist it is the “only democracy” in the Muslim East.
Palestinian casualty figures based on UN data are equally horrendous. Since 1967, avoidable mortality among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza totaled 300,000. Infant mortality for children under five years of age is 183,000. At least 90% of these are avoidable deaths, according to the UN. Israeli deaths from Palestinian violence in the same period as reported by Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs stand at 2,178. Thus Palestinian casualties are nearly 15 times higher than those of Israel’s.
Although Palestinian suffering has not received much media attention or even expressions of concern from Western politicians that work themselves into a frenzy if an Israeli is harmed or killed, the mass hunger strike has shaken Israel’s grip on the narrative of suffering. It is not the tiny state in a sea of hostile neighbours as it is so fond of claiming even as its functionaries indulge in brutal practices. Israel’s victimhood no longer holds water with most people even in the West as is evident in the widening campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
While the case of blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, whose escape from house arrest to the US Embassy in Beijing and out to the US was facilitated by US officials, including intervention by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the case of Palestinian hunger strikers has gone largely unnoticed. There is a deafening silence from the same self-proclaimed champions of human rights because the perpetrator is their Zionist ally. Such hypocrisy has not escaped attention of people elsewhere in the world.