Palestinian Hunger Strike: An All Out Victory

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Palestinians hold posters depicting prisoners Al-Sarsak and al-Rekhawi during a rally in solidarity with them, in Rafah on 9 June 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

By: Ameer Makhoul

Published Saturday, June 9, 2012

These two letters were sent from prison by Ameer Makhoul on May 19 and May 30 respectively. They were only received this week as Israeli prison authority had stopped all mail deliveries from Palestinian prisoners during the “Battle of Empty Stomachs” hunger strike.

Palestinians have achieved three consecutive victories in the last few months. In October 2011, there was the release of prisoners (the exchange deal involving the kidnapped Israeli soldier).

Then there was a series of individual hunger strikes, which lasted for unparalleled periods of time. These began with Khader Adnan, who went on hunger strike to protest against the Israeli policy of administrative detention.

Adnan’s action spurred an open-ended hunger strike by prisoners, started by more than a thousand prisoners on April 17. It ended on May 14, with more than two thousand prisoners taking part. The strike began a new page in the history of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, written by the prisoners along with their Arab and international supporters.

The agreement signed on 14 May 2012 between the authorities in charge of the strike and Israel – with Egyptian and international mediation and guarantees – confirmed that the prisoner movement not only scored a major achievement, but realized a clear victory. We can now speak of two periods, the before and after, with the watershed moment being the hunger strike of 2012.

From the beginning, the strike had several strong points. The most important of these was the clarity of its aims – key goals achievable through struggle and determination. These goals fused with the significant and highly conscious coordination between the prisoners on strike and those leading it inside the prisons, and between the latter and the wider political authorities outside.

Strong points became clear. There was no detailed involvement with everyday demands and issues. Thereby, a situation was avoided where larger aims would become entangled with specific demands. This tied the hands of the occupation, which could not manipulate these aims.

A huge role was also played by the strong, clear approach to the media taken by the leadership of the strike, while Israel failed in its attempts to broadcast a contrary view. There was also an accurate reading of Palestinian, Arab, and international realities. A central goal was determined through prior planning – the possibility of reviving the Palestinian popular movement and making the most of the significant Egyptian role as a principal party to support the strike and guarantee the achievement of its goals. This risk proved worthwhile as was evident in the Egyptian sponsorship of the agreement to end the strike.

Another significant achievement was the clear preparation and the impressive readiness of the international solidarity movements to launch their campaigns all over the world, particularly in Europe and America, to support the prisoners in their fight for freedom. They declared April 17 as Palestinian Prisoner Day.

This resulted in international public pressure in favor of the Palestinians’ right to confront the collusion of their government with the Israeli occupiers. These movements adopted a clear discourse on the humanitarian and political rights demanded by the prisoners. They also proved the importance of cumulative efforts to internationalize the cause of the prisoners and the cause of Palestine.

The strike adopted an approach which has blown the policy of “postponement” – imposed by Israel with official American and European support – out of the water. This is what happened in Oslo, where crucial components of the Palestinian issue were postponed to fit the policy of dictation and domination over the Palestinian leadership.

One of the issues postponed under that formula was the release of prisoners, but this too was brought back to the top of the official Palestinian agenda by the strike. The strikers refused to accept that the prisoners were pawns under the mercy of the occupation.

The strike also succeeded in neutralizing the negative effect of Israeli public opinion by not addressing it at all. This is because if it had moved, it would have gone against the just demands of the prisoners. It is a colonialist public opinion, extremely hostile to Palestinian rights, and therefore cannot support its own victims.

Why a Victory and Not Just an Achievement?

There is a difference between achieving specific matters within a wider set of demands and achieving all the goals of a decisive act of struggle. There is also a difference between a clear victory and a case in which each side thinks they’ve won. The outcome of the strike, as expressed in the agreement, is clear – there is only one victorious side, the prisoners.

This was the first time that negotiations were carried out directly with those involved in the case. It is also the first time a decision has been made by the occupier – the General Security Apparatus (Shabak) – not the Prison Authority, which in the scale of Israeli oppression is just a subcontractor of the Shabak and the security services.

The strike neutralized the Prison Authority and the longer it went on the more direct the dealings with the principal player, the Shabak, became. This is because of the strength of the strike and its solid basis. It forced the Israeli apparatus to reveal itself, because it limited its ability to manipulate and maneuver.

But the most important issue here is the success of the strike in removing the strategic oppression tools the Shabak has used for decades, particularly the laws of administrative detention and solitary confinement in prisons. In this way, the rules of a deeply rooted coercive game were broken.

As a result of its strength, the strike also revealed the hostility and criminality of the Israeli judicial system, which since its conception has been an instrument to whitewash the racist colonialist project, the Israeli state’s crimes. It gave them legitimacy, justifying administrative procedures, the British mandate’s emergency laws, and continuous solitary confinement, all under the guise of security. And here we saw the Shabak forced to back down over some of them, confirming that the Israeli judicial system played and still plays the role of “palace guards” for the ruling security apparatus.

As for the popular international movement, which turned into official efforts, the Arab role, particularly the Egyptian, and the carrying out of multi-sided negotiations (the prisoners, Israel, Egypt, and international pressure) – all these created a new atmosphere, an equation more akin to real negotiations than simply an occupying country dealing with its victims. The strike also confirmed that Israel’s power is not absolute, that its strength and sway can crumble in the face of targeted Palestinian efforts.

Lessons for the Internal Palestinian Situation

It is true that the strike was not comprehensive. It was Hamas who took the decision to launch it, along with Islamic Jihad, and with the support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Members of the PLO-Fatah took part in it. Those who initiated the strike kept their word when they guaranteed that all factions were represented in the authoritative body and leadership of the strike, each according to their role and numbers.

Although the strike included no more than a third of the prisoners, with Hamas being the most heavily represented, this in no way weakens its legitimacy. There might have been an argument prior to the strike about declaring it officially, but the moment it began, it became the prisoners’ strike. It became the responsibility of those prisoners taking part in it, and even those who were not, to make it succeed, support it, and share responsibility over it.

The strike proved that when our people or the prisoners’ movement engage in large-scale battles with the occupying oppressive state, the whole nation gets involved, because the Palestinian people are reconciled with the original cause.

It is worth confirming that support for the Palestinian cause and Palestinian rights in their entirety is above political factions, rendering such divisions marginal and the people united. When the struggle of our people in Galilee, the Triangle, the Naqab desert, and the coast meets with that in Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and those in exile, all boundaries between our people dissolve.

Reconciliation is not the goal of the Palestinian people, it is the responsibility of the political factions involved. The goals of the Palestinian people are return, freedom, liberating the homeland and the people, and self-determination. What is more important than reconciliation is the unity of the struggle and its integration on the basis of the fundamentals of Palestinian rights, not on curtailing them.

This is where the strike succeeded in mobilizing an unprecedented Palestinian movement in every corner of the homeland. With the support of the international movement, this turned the equation on its head in the last stages of the strike, when the prisoners became the ones holding the occupiers and the prisons under siege.

The Palestinian popular movement was followed by an important and effective movement. The initiative launched by the prisoners’ affairs ministry, the freed prisoners, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and the PLO is a promising model for overcoming factional divisions.

It is now clear that coordination is possible, roles can be complementary, even if the divisions continue. It is clear that the unity of the goal and the people over the prisoners’ struggle is the basis. This is an integrated working model which is capable of achieving victories.

In his last speech in February 1965, Malcolm X said: “The only thing power respects is power.” This is one of the most important lessons of the strike. How do we create this power through determination and justice, and how do we use it well as prisoners and as a people? We must not forget that the most important goal of the prisoners, and the people, is freedom, and that requires more power. The hunger strike in 2012 is a victory on the road to freedom.

This letter was translated from Arabic.


To All Supporters of Palestinian Prisoners for Freedom in Israeli Colonial Jails

Dear Friend, Dear Partner;

The 2,400 prisoners hunger strike of 17 April to 14 May 2012 is over. It has reaped a great victory. Much more than an achievement. The strike goals have been achieved, while what is not less important is that the rules of the game have been changed.

The Israeli intelligent services (Shabak) had laid down (at least formally) two major oppression tools: The administrative detention and the isolation tool against the Palestinian Prisoners for Freedom (PPF). The Shabak also agreed to fulfill after the strike major demands to allow families from Gaza to visit their beloved prisoners after more than five years of forced disconnection. A "dialogue committee" to deal with the details of daily prison life conditions has been set up between PPF and Shabak with Egyptian direct involvement to guarantee the outcomes will be implemented.

All the achievements are not outcomes of Israeli "good will" but of PPF will of struggle, supported by their community and people, and supported by the worldwide solidarity movement, by you as a partner of both Palestinian and global struggle for the freedom of Palestinian prisoners and for justice for Palestinians and for Palestine.

I’m sure you don't feel comfortable to hear "thank you" although you deserve more. You acted because you are committed to your values, to human values and you relate to your support and solidarity as a human duty and responsibility. But be sure that PPF highly valued your support and recognize you as a partner of the victory, hope, freedom and justice. We followed your work of solidarity with great respect.

The Colonialist State’s War on PPF Victory

The oppression machine, motivated by revenge, is trying to take every step possible through the prisons commission in order to confiscate the prisoners victory and, more importantly, to dominate the rules of the game once more.

The new policy is demonstrated through the departing and moving of prisoners from jail to jail, threatening to take ventilators from prisoners, cancelling permits for sick and elderly prisoners to have more daily time in the prison courtyard, to reduce the non-fat bread used by sick prisoners, to decrease the number of plastic tables (from ten to three) and chairs (from 24 to ten) in the courtyard, to slow down the clinic services, and prison doctor check-ups to be limited to three hours a week for 120 prisoners, to remove the sponge half-mattresses from the iron metal beds, to slow down delivery of letters sent to prisoners, to make prisoners lives harder and full of insults, and to sow the feeling among prisoners that they can lose their victory. This policy is an attempt to deflate the PPF wheel and break their spirit and morality.

There is a crucial need to make the prison state aware that they are still under international control and open eyes. It's crucial for PPF to be assured that your solidarity is ongoing.

Your role is as partners of freedom and justice in Palestine.

Please keep up with your proactive support and solidarity.

Ameer Makhoul is a Palestinian civil society leader and political prisoner at Gilboa Prison.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

This article is co-published by The Electronic Intifida.

Comments

A very brave and also so encouraging, and this from prison! The letters are very informative about the Palestinian struggle and the hunger strike and the gains they've made

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