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The Palestinian politics of the individual

Palestinian protesters are injured as a result of Israeli occupation forces using live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse unarmed demonstrators in the Gaza Strip on 12 January 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Mointor]
Palestinian protesters are injured as a result of Israeli occupation forces using live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse unarmed demonstrators in the Gaza Strip on 12 January 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Mointor]

Ever since the launch of Arab protests in Tunis, Egypt and Yemen, efforts to promote the Palestinian cause have generally fallen by the wayside. With the exception of the Israeli war on Gaza and a few major international achievements by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the local, regional and international media have shunned Palestine.

While the absence of media coverage has resulted in the disappearance of the Palestinian cause from regional and international priorities, the effects of the Israeli occupation have not receded. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are still under a land, air and water siege and the political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been totally closed. The right wing settler-influenced Israeli government has decided to manage rather than resolve the conflict; as part of this new thinking military officials have been relaxing the checkpoint and travel policies so as not to be the victims of so-called pressure cooker syndrome. Security officials worry that too much repression and the absence of a political horizon might result in a popular explosion, often referred to as a possible third intifada.

However, while macro-occupation politics, with all of its injustice, appears to be favouring the Israeli attempts at perpetuating the status quo, this "easing" by the army does little to change the situation on the ground. The micro-politics is often focused on a community or an individual. The burning alive of an 18 month old infant in the village of Duma near Nablus on 31 July brought attention back to the realities of life under occupation. The infant, Ali Dawabsheh, became a household name with his picture adorning posters and headlines.

Before that arson attack could be forgotten another personalised case took over the headlines. The hunger strike of a Palestinian lawyer held in prison with neither charge nor trial captured the attention of the Palestinians as well as some of the solidarity activists in Israel. Mohammad Allan started his open-ended hunger strike on 16 June and fell into a coma on 11 August; he had to be taken to the Barzili Hospital in the south of Israel.

Posters depicting Allan adorned with slogans calling for support for the lawyer who is defending our dignity have spread beyond Palestine to Jordan, Lebanon and even New York. According to CNN he is the new face of Palestinian resistance, with daily demonstrations taking place outside his hospital, amongst Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as across the region.

Allan's case received additional attention because of the controversy over force-feeding. The Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a law on 30 July permitting the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, although the Israeli doctors' association has opposed it vehemently and no doctor is willing to lose his or her licence by going against their own association for this.

The gravity of the situation has forced the Israeli security agencies to be on high alert as officials give credit to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for preventing any violent protests. Political concerns about a possible third intifada were the focus of a meeting between the head of the Israeli opposition, Isaac Herzog, and President Abbas on Tuesday. The Israeli politician said that a peace agreement can be reached within two years and that Abbas should be helped by the Egyptians, Jordanians and Saudis to regain control over Gaza. Allan's family members have also been urging the Israeli Supreme Court to rule on his case but on 18 August it postponed a ruling and instead pushed the authorities to find a solution to the problem.

The flurry of Israeli security and political activity was accompanied by what looked like second thoughts by the Israelis with regards to Allan. The security services have no evidence against him but are worried about his Islamic Jihad connections and apparently offered to release him if he agrees to a four-year voluntary deportation. His family and lawyer rejected the offer immediately. Allan himself came out of his coma and regained consciousness early on Wednesday, 19 August, and confirmed that he doesn't accept deportation.

As in the case of another hunger striking prisoner, Khader Adnan, who was released from administrative detention on 12 July after 56 days of his hunger strike, the individuality of these cases and their longevity have a way of galvanizing public support that is much more effective than general attempts to promote the cause. The human story behind such cases along with the clear injustice of holding individuals in prison without trial or charge tends to generate local and international sympathy that ultimately produces results.

Mohammad Allan appears to have won his fight, albeit possibly at grave permanent damage to his body. His supporters feel that he has made a powerful and painful personal sacrifice in order to illustrate the gravity of detention without trial and expose the undemocratic nature of occupation by the supposed "only democracy in the Middle East".

Palestinians and their supporters might not be able to rally enough support to change the basic fundamentals that have helped Israel to continue its occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land. Nevertheless, individual cases like those of Baby Dawabsheh, Mohammad Allan and Khader Adnan put a human face on the conflict and this has a way of cementing long-term support for Palestinian independence and opposition to Israel's brutal occupation.

Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on twitter.com/daoudkuttab

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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