The organised collective hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners headed by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti has evolved into a fast spreading mobilisation of the Palestinians. Outside the prison walls, Palestinians have put the Palestinian Authority and its lone calls for a day of rage to shame. From sit ins, to protests outside prisons, barricades and strikes, Palestinians have imparted an important point: the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners are not embarking upon an isolated effort. What started out as a protest against the inhumane conditions experienced in Israeli jails is now a people’s resistance against the various forms of colonial violence favoured by Israel.
On Monday, a general strike was observed in the occupied West Bank. Ma’an news agency reported the media committee for the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike stating that the action was the first to be organised and implemented since the First Intifada. In addition the Higher Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel is urging Palestinians in Israel to participate in the strike.
Palestinians also participated in a demonstration from Ramallah to the Qalandiya military checkpoint. The march was suppressed by Israeli forces who fired live ammunition and rubber coated steel bullets. Protesters who inhaled tear gas during the Israeli assault were treated near the checkpoint by the Red Crescent.
Last week, an Israeli settler killed 23-year-old Mutaz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa, who was participating in a solidarity march in Nablus. The killing prompted a statement from UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, who demanded that “this deplorable incident must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and all suspected of being involved must be prosecuted.”
The attention which the hunger strike has garnered on an international level is also a departure from the previous clichéd statements concerning individual hunger strikers. As activists around the world drew attention first by taking the salt and water challenge, and later by embarking upon solidarity hunger strikes to draw attention to the demands of Palestinian prisoners, a seamless cooperation between Palestinians and activists emerged.
Unlike other instances where activism overshadowed the cause, the Palestinian prisoners’ demands and non-violent resistance were given their platform. In turn, this led to clarity with regard to the repercussions experienced by both prisoners and families as a result of Israeli violations. Another major accomplishment of the local and international mobilisation is the visibility associated with the collective hunger strike and resistance.
Equally important for Palestinian history and memory, is the prominence allocated once more to Palestinian prisoners. Israel has attempted to smother their existence through several degrading measures, including administrative detention, isolation and medical neglect. As the hunger strike increases its prominence, it is imperative that while Barghouti’s role is acknowledged and validated, it is not glorified beyond what it has ignited.
In the beginning of this non-violent resistance, speculation about Barghouti’s aims overshadowed the cause. By now, it is evident that Palestinians have the potential to change the political landscape, with or without the PA and the factions or individuals traditionally associated with anti-colonial struggle and resistance.
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