Palestinian Prisoners “At the Edge of Death” As Hunger Strike Continues

by Shahd Abusalama, Electronic Intifada

Palestinians in Gaza City have launched a solidarity hunger strike in a sit-in protest outside the Red Cross. (Ahmad Abu Hussein)

Our Palestinian detainees have been battling the Israel Prison Service (IPS) with their empty stomachs since 24 April, embarking on the longest-known mass hunger strike in the history of the Palestinian prisoners movement. Hunger is the only remaining weapon they can use against the IPS and its well-armed Israeli occupation soldiers.

They launched this hunger strike to call for an end to their detention with no charge or trial based on secret “evidence” submitted to a military court that is kept from the detainees and their lawyers — an unjust policy that Israel calls administrative detention. One hundred and twenty administrative detainees launched this mass hunger strike which grew to involve nearly three hundred prisoners, according to the rights group Addameer.

Our dignified prisoners are striking in protest of Israel’s violation of an agreement reached with the IPS after the 28-day mass hunger strike that ended on 14 May 2012. According to that deal, the use of administrative detention — the key issue behind the hunger strike – would be restricted and administrative detention orders would not be renewed without fresh evidence being brought before a military judge. However, Israel did not abide by the agreement and has continued its practice of arbitrary administrative detention.

Strikers hospitalized

Administrative detainee Ayman Tbeisheh from Dura village near Hebron in the occupied West Bank has exceeded one hundred days of refusing food in protest of his administration detention orders which have been continuously renewed since his last arrest in May 2013, according to al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. Tbeisheh has spent a total of eleven years in Israeli jails, including nearly five years under administrative detention.

According to Addameer, Tbeisheh first began to refuse food on 22 May 2013, immediately after his four-month administrative detention order was confirmed in a military court. He suspended his strike after 105 days, when he thought he reached a deal with the IPS. But this was soon broken as his order was again renewed, despite his deteriorated health.

Ayman Tbeisheh told Palestinian lawyer Ibrahim Al-Araj, who managed to visit him during his previous hunger strike, “I will continue this open hunger strike until I put an end to the ghost of administrative detention that keeps chasing me.”

Soon after he regained some of his physical strength, he re-launched his hunger strike on 24 February 2014. Tbeisheh has since been placed in Assaf Harofe Medical Center where he lays shacked to a hospital bed that may become his deathbed at any moment.

Ayman’s condition is no different than the rest of administrative detainees whose hunger for freedom and dignity drove them to launch the mass hunger strike that has been continuing for 51 days. Eighty hunger strikers have been hospitalized as a result of their ongoing hunger strike, but they persevere in this battle for dignity.

Despite their weak bodies that are drained of energy, their hands and feet are shacked to their hospital beds. They are threatened with force-feeding on a daily basis, an inhumane and dangerous practice that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is close to setting into law.

Death penalty

My father, who spent a total of fifteen years in Israeli jails, calls force-feeding “a death penalty.” He participated in the Nafha prison mass hunger strike in 1980 which lasted for 33 days. He was subjected to force-feeding and thankfully survived. But his comrades Rasem Halawa from Jabalia refugee camp and Ali al-Jaafary from Dheisheh camp were victims of this murderous practice that aimed to break their hunger strike, and were killed after being subjected to force-feeding.

The Israel Prison Service escalates its oppression of the hunger strikers as their health constantly deteriorates. They put them in windowless isolation cells, keep their hands and legs shackled for tens of hours, deny them family and lawyer visits, and they even deny them an access to salt, which is necessary for their survival.

The strikers are committed to “hunger until either victory or martyrdom,” the same as Khader AdnanHana al-ShalabiMahmoud SarsakSamer Issawi and other ex-detainees who freed themselves after heroic battles of hunger strike against the IPS.

Prisoners’ letter

A smuggled letter from Israeli jails written by the administrative detainees who are on hunger strike. (QudsNetwork)

Below is my translation of a letter our administrative detainees managed to smuggle on 8 June to call upon humanity and people of conscience for popular and international support of their battle for justice. The ex-detainee Allam Kaaby read it during a press conference in front of the sit-in tent erected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza in solidarity with our Palestinian prisoners’ open-ended mass hunger strike:

Despite the chains and the prisons’ bars and walls, this is a will from those who are standing at the edge of death to the guards of our homeland, Palestine.

After leaving the isolation cells which are no longer able to tolerate our pains, illnesses and corroded bodies, from our hospital beds to which we are shackled by chains and guard dogs, from amidst the jailers who keep watching our heart monitors that may announce our death any moment, from the edge of death, we send our call which could be the last for some of us. It might be the time to announce our will before we embrace our people as dignified martyrs. Our call is our voice, our scream, our will. We are the administrative detainees who are heading towards immortality, towards embracing the sun of dignity which might mark at the same time, the end of the battle for dignity. We raise our voice, hoping that it will reach our revolutionary people.

First, we call upon you to intensify your support of the hunger strikers who are not yet martyred; the fighters who fight our fascist enemy with their bodies deserve from you a stand of loyalty that prevents the continuation of our bloodshed which will never stop until the achievement of our just demands.

Second, the pains of hunger damaged some of our organs but some organs must be still in tact. As death is waiting for us, we declare that nothing will stand in the way of our sacrifices, even death. Therefore, we donate our functioning organs to the fighters, poor and oppressed people who are in need. We are waiting a visit from the International Committee of The Red Cross to endorse these donations.

Third, we call on you to stay faithful to our blood and the blood of all martyrs who sacrificed their souls over the course of our Palestinian struggle. Faithfulness is not just through words, but through revolutionary practice that knows no hesitance nor weakness.

Fourth, hold on to our historical and legitimate rights and never give up an inch of Palestine, from the river to the sea. The right to return is the bridge to our historic rights. These rights cannot be restored without resistance, which is the only language that our enemy understands.

Fifth, don’t fail prisoners who remain alive after us, as those who sacrifice their freedom as a price for their people’s freedom deserve freedom rather than death.

To our dignified people in Palestine and diaspora, to the free people and freedom fighters worldwide, we will let our screams be heard despite the darkness of Israeli jails, which are graves for the living. To people of dead conscience worldwide, our Palestinian people will continue the struggle until victory. We bid farewell with smiling faces.

Reading their words which embrace pain and disappointment must make us all ashamed as we watch them die slowly. Changing our profile pictures to a picture that shows solidarity with their battle for dignity cannot do them much help. We have to move beyond superficial solidarity to serious actions that will bring meaningful change to them. Act before we count more martyrs among Palestinian heroes behind Israeli bars. Their death would be our shame.

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Abunimah and Blumenthal’s Freedom Ride Comes to Vassar

by Philip Weiss for Mondoweiss

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Blumenthal and Abunimah, with Abunimah’s book, at Vassar College on April 30 (Mondoweiss)

For weeks now I’ve been hearing about Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal’s joint appearances and though it was one of the rainiest days ever in New York last Wednesday I drove up to Vassar College to hear them talk. Everything about the day was dreary. The hall they were to speak in has the air of a medieval battlement and the room itself was dingy and poorly lit and clotted with humidity. After twenty minutes of us sitting jammed in among coats, someone announced that our speakers were running late because of accidents on the road. I counted seven rows of 14 seats. All the seats were filled, and there were maybe a half dozen non-students in the hall, most of them Hudson Valley socialists. This dismayed me. One of the claims during the recent outburst at Vassar over a school-sponsored trip to Israel and Palestine was that school officials believe in dialogue about Palestinian conditions. Well, here was an evening of Palestinian solidarity and it didn’t look as if anyone was there from the faculty who’d supported that trip, nor from the pro-Israel forces who’d come out to support them. And the sponsors of the event did not include Vassar’s new Open Hillel, the Vassar Jewish Union. Again, a disappointment.

The two speakers got there a half hour late and soggy, and walked in to no cheers or applause. In the wider movement, Abunimah and Blumenthal are rock stars. But there wasn’t a scintilla of entertainment about this gathering. No, a serious mood characterized the night. The two writers were there on serious business, not just to sell books, they were riding the roads to talk about a political movement in which everyone in the room was a participant. That sense of equality and partnership infused the proceedings. And p.s. about half the audience were people of color.

The two men’s styles could not be more different. Blumenthal has a hortatory and biting manner like a blue-eyed union man in a Steinbeck novel. He wore jeans, and he summons people to action with defiant declarations.

The peace process is about bringing a defeated people to the negotiating table, like the Lakota Sioux after Wounded Knee.

Israel was founded to be an apartheid state, that’s what it’s all about.

Jewish life is in moral freefall because of the Zionist captivity.

Abunimah is courtly, continental, ironic, and more indirect than Blumenthal, but just as incisive. He wore khakis and a white oxford shirt under a navy sweater and apologized for keeping us waiting during the frantic drive from New York City. He has soft dark eyes and likes to interact with the audience. How many of you are familiar with the name Peter Beinart? he asked. Ah, only five of you. That is very typical. And another sign, he said, of the fact that the mainstream discourse on the conflict is utterly separated from the people in the room.

That separation was the theme of the evening. Both speakers repeatedly cited Peter Beinart– He refuses to respond to us on Twitter, but we don’t need him for our validation, we’re secure in our own skin, Blumenthal declared—because he is the liberal champion of the two-state solution even as he rules out equal rights for Palestinians.

Both men said that the two state solution was a form of apartheid necessitating ethnic cleansing and that while the mainstream discourse refuses to entertain that idea, campuses across the country understand it.

“There never has been a state offered to Palestinians,” Blumenthal said. “They have never been offered a state. I repeat, the Palestinians have never been offered a state ever.” Because a real state means control of borders and water rights and others elements of sovereignty, and the latest plans for a state would turn the West Bank into the “dystopic panopticon that the Gaza Strip currently is” and connect the two territories with a tunnel under Israel so that “the Morlocks” would never come out of the ground and be seen by “the villa in the jungle” (as Ehud Barak once described Israel).

Anti-racism was as much a theme of the evening as anti-Zionism. Blumenthal said it was the height of hypocrisy that Abe Foxman condemned LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks at the same time as he condemned John Kerry for using the word apartheid to describe Israel’s future. Foxman is a leader of the self-appointed Jewish establishment, Blumenthal said, though young Jews are now seeking a release from “the psychological captivity of Zionism,” because they see that Zionism entails “an extremely hardened, rearmed, ethnocratic belligerent Jewish identity,” including indoctrination in the anti-Semitism of Arabs beginning at the age of 4 in the Jewish state.

Abunimah practices greater subtlety but he also took aim at racism:

The analogy I make in my book to this kind of thinking which is so common in the liberal intelligentsia in this country is if the response to the demand for civil rights, if the response to the demands for the end of Jim Crow had been OK, so African Americans want civil rights, and they want the vote. Well, what we’ll do then, is designate half of Mississippi as the state of the Negroes and all African Americans will have their national rights and their dignity and their sense of nationhood in the state of the Negroes. And in the rest of the United States, they will be essentially permanent residents or aliens or tolerated as a minority in a white democratic state. But that’s exactly the reasoning behind the two state solution. It becomes clear when Peter Beinart explains his support [Abunimah then quoted Beinart declaration that he could accept inequality for Palestinians].

I believe that that’s a case you cannot win majority support for in any mainstream forum in the United States or on any campus. That’s my experience.

Confident, and withering.

Here is another setpiece from Abunimah to do with the divide in the discourse and the decolonization model that was even more effective. It closed his speech.

This book [The Battle for Justice in Palestine], I really wanted it to offer hope. Yes it offers analysis and some of it is hard and sobering analysis. But if we break out of the very narrow limits of what we’re allowed to think by the gatekeepers in the liberal thinktanks and elite media– I don’t include the rightwing thinktanks– there is scope for really exciting action.

In the context of Palestine, I talk in the book about the transformations that are taking place right now in South Africa and Northern Ireland. I don’t present them as utopian or trouble free or not problematic. I think we have to grapple with these things as they are.

But the notion that whites in South Africa or Protestants in Northern Ireland can agree to give up power even if they resisted every step of the way and still resist it, but that Israeli Jews are somehow incapable of coming to the same conclusions– that really strikes me as bigotry. What I argue in the book is that Israeli Jews as a settler colonial community are just like every other settler colonial community. When they understand the system is untenable, that the resistance can never be suppressed, that the outrage around the world is not just growing but being being mobilized into more and more effective forms of action, I believe they will come to the conclusion that they have to change course and embrace a future in which equality and restitution are the way forward.

And the importance of the boycott and divestment and sanctions movement [BDS] is that it hastens this day. Because nothing– nothing will prolong the suffering of Palestinians like inaction, like saying ‘let’s just have dialogue without action.’ [Applause.] ‘Let’s send John Kerry back for another round of negotiations.’ ‘Let’s support the peace process.’ These slogans should be buried. No matter where they come from. Whether it’s Martin Indyk, or Barack Obama, or anti-Palestinian organizations like AIPAC and J Street. [Applause]
Palestinians are calling for action. And it’s very logical, it’s very simple When someone feels unassailable, when their power is so great, they don’t have to listen to those who are demanding their rights. The principle of BDS is very simple, you put pressure on the strong, you exact a price for the status quo, and you do it ethically, and then you bring them to real negotiations. Thank you.

The applause for the line about dialogue without action was the strongest spontaneous burst from the audience all night. Generally the students didn’t applaud; they were there for guidance and exchange; and the speakers addressed them as participants in a broad leftwing movement not just against settler colonialism in Palestine but neoliberalism and inequality in the U.S.

Sitting in the dingy drenched hall with a bunch of serious forward-tilting students, I came to think of Abunimah and Blumenthal as circuit-riding preachers, pounding a book of freedom. It must have been like this when the underground railroad was in action, and the southern freedom rides.

Blumenthal closed the evening with a rallying cry about organizing from the “bottom-up.” He’d just been up and down the west coast, he was flying to Chicago in another day or two. He stayed on the road after his book tour ended because of the energy in the chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. They were transforming the discourse far more rapidly than he had imagined, and he was excited to take part in it.

Israeli society was only going further right. Lieberman and Bennett’s plans involved transfer and more ethnic cleansing and annexation. The question wasn’t whether there was a one-state outcome but whether that one-state will be one of inequality or equality– “what can we do to make it work in the face of imminent dispossession and transfer of Palestinians?”

The ideas are going to come from the bottom up, and as I said, they will make an impact. I’m confident of that. If I weren’t confident of that, I wouldn’t be sitting here and traversing the country participating in these kinds of events.

I don’t consider myself a movement person, but a fellow traveler, I need to keep my distance. Still, I was struck by the power in the room. The participants were thoughtful and even grave and they did not need a lot of education about Palestinian conditions. They are past that point.

And Abunimah and Blumenthal’s theme is an objective fact: There is a complete divide in the discourse of Israel and Palestine. The mainstream is stuck on the two state solution forever so that it can say that it is addressing the problem. But these young people are now driving the conversation (even centrist and liberal Zionistsacknowledge the trend). As the old paradigm crumbles before our eyes, they have the most focused logical argument to make about the future, and that gives them not just power, but responsibility.

Is Palestinian Soccer in Israel’s Crosshairs?

The following is an article from The Nation sportswriter David Zirin on the latest israeli attack on Palestinian soccer players. In response to the “truly jarring” response that this article received from Zirin’s fellow sports reporters, he wrote a follow-up piece which goes features a more in-depth history of Israeli violence against Palestinian athletes.

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The Palestinian national soccer team, a source of pride for many, has been under attack by the Israeli state. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

Their names are Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17. They were once soccer players in the West Bank. Now they are never going to play sports again. Jawhar and Adam were on their way home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium on January 31 when Israeli forces fired upon them as they approached a checkpoint. After being shot repeatedly, they were mauled by checkpoint dogs and then beaten. Ten bullets were put into Jawhar’s feet. Adam took one bullet in each foot. After being transferred from a hospital in Ramallah to King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, they received the news that soccer would no longer be a part of their futures. (Israel’s border patrol maintains that the two young men were about to throw a bomb.)

This is only the latest instance of the targeting of Palestinian soccer players by the Israeli army and security forces. Death, injury or imprisonment has been a reality for several members of the Palestinian national team over the last five years. Just imagine if members of Spain’s top-flight World Cup team had been jailed, shot or killed by another country and imagine the international media outrage that would ensue. Imagine if prospective youth players for Brazil were shot in the feet by the military of another nation. But, tragically, these events along the checkpoints have received little attention on the sports page or beyond.

Much has been written about the psychological effect this kind of targeting has on the occupied territories. Sports represent escape, joy and community, and the Palestinian national soccer team, for a people without a recognized nation, is a source of tremendous pride. To attack the players is to attack the hope that the national team will ever truly have a home.

The Palestinian national football team, which formed in 1998, is currently ranked 144th in the world by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). They have never been higher than 115th. As Chairman of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril al-Rajoub commented bluntly, the problems are rooted in “the occupation’s insistence on destroying Palestinian sport.”

Over the last year, in response to this systematic targeting of Palestinian soccer, al-Rajoub has attempted to assemble forces to give Israel the ultimate sanction and, as he said, “demand the expulsion of Israel from FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.” Al-Rajoub claims the support of Jordan, Qatar, Iran, Oman, Algiers and Tunisia in favor of this move, and promises more countries, with an opportunity at a regional March 14 meeting of Arab states, to organize more support. He has also pledged to make the resolution formal when all the member nations of FIFA meet in Brazil.

Qatar’s place in this, as host of the 2022 World Cup, deserves particular scrutiny. As the first Arab state to host the tournament, they are under fire for the hundreds of construction deaths of Nepalese workers occurring on their watch. As the volume on these concerns rises, Qatar needs all the support in FIFA that they can assemble. Whether they eventually see the path to that support as one that involves confronting or accommodating Israel, will be fascinating to see.

As for Sepp Blatter, he clearly recognizes that there is a problem in the treatment of Palestinian athletes by the Israeli state. Over the last year, he has sought to mediate this issue by convening a committee of Israeli and Palestinian authorities to see if they can come to some kind of agreement about easing the checkpoints and restrictions that keep Palestinian athletes from leaving (and trainers, consultants and coaches from entering) the West Bank and Gaza. Yet al-Rajoub sees no progress. As he said, “This is the way the Israelis are behaving and I see no sign that they have recharged their mental batteries. There is no change on the ground. We are a full FIFA member and have the same rights as all other members.”

The shooting into the feet of Jawhar and Adam has taken a delicate situation and made it an impossible one. Sporting institutions like FIFA and the IOC are always wary about drawing lines in the sand when it comes to the conduct of member nations. But the deliberate targeting of players is seen, even in the corridors of power, as impossible to ignore. As long as Israel subjects Palestinian athletes to detention and violence, their seat at the table of international sports will be never be short of precarious.