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Collective hunger strikes and Palestinian narratives

March 31, 2016 at 2:45 pm

Individual hunger strikes of Palestinian prisoners have garnered much attention in the media, which dissipates after an agreement is reached, only to be resurrected again once Israel reneges on its word, as is common occurrence. The activism associated with highlighting hunger strikes as a form of protest has unwittingly fallen into the trap of dissociation by prioritising one struggle above another, despite the fact that hunger strikes are a common form of Palestinian resistance.

Ma’an news agency reported yesterday that Palestinian prisoners affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Islamic Jihad have announced a collective decision to embark upon a hunger strike, protesting against solitary confinement and administrative detention. The report also stated that according to Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, the solitary confinement of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails doubled between 2012 and 2014.

The trigger for the collective decision was an announcement by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society office, which declared that two Palestinian prisoners who are serving life sentences and were placed in solitary confinement, as well as three other prisoners placed under administrative detention orders since March would be embarking upon hunger strikes to protest the ongoing violation of their human rights. While the intent to start a collective hunger strike as protest was disseminated in previous months, the news was overshadowed by updates regarding Muhammad Al-Qeeq’s hunger strike.

Unlike the other hunger strikes which have been heralded as heroic, individual acts, the common objective of both Islamic Jihad and PFLP should enable the focus to shift from the resulting drama to an analysis that is delivered with a sense of equity and with respect for the entire Palestinian anti-colonial struggle as embodied by the people. Also, the collective hunger strike must shed light upon Israeli torture practices and the contradictions which prevent a focused approach, thus allowing Israel to act with further impunity.

The normalisation of torture in Israel, while historically enshrined, has gradually ushered increased apathy. Reports and testimony by former prisoners have shed light upon torture practices as well as the collaboration between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, yet little is done beyond highlighting a temporary awareness. This signals an exploitation of Palestinian prisoners and the inhumane treatment suffered at the hands of their torturers – indicative of both helplessness and sensationalism. While limitations exist as regards a proper investigation of human rights abuses, the frequency of reports highlighting violations indicates both rampant abuse as well as guaranteed impunity. The challenge is to decipher means as to how awareness does not fall prey to the vicious cycle of alienation.

Indeed, activism is presented with another opportunity to align itself with the Palestinian struggle as a collective experience, rather than the usual trend of selectivity which usually dictates priority. While the Jerusalem Intifada has sparked a series of disconnected yet enthusiastic efforts at resistance, history has provided ample proof of the important role which Palestinian prisoners have played in shaping the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle. Perhaps the greatest tragedy lies in the constant marginalisation of all Palestinian prisoners in favour of more accessible activist pursuits, thus allowing Israel to isolate an integral component of the narratives which are gradually depleting to mere reports paving the way for further incongruence.

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