Empty Stomachs, Palestinian Spring

By Patrick O. Strickland – Ramallah, The West Bank

Following the examples of Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi, 1,500 Palestinian prisoners have joined a mass hunger strike campaign inside Israeli military prisons. They are calling for an immediate termination of the policy of administrative detention and the excessive use of solitary confinement, and demanding humane living conditions, family visits, and reasonable access to educational materials.

In short, Palestinian hunger strikers are reclaiming something which they have been systematically denied—their dignity.

It is not Israel alone that stands between Palestinians and their basic human rights: neither the media nor the Western governments have bothered to comment much on the plight of Palestinian prisoners conducting a mass campaign of peaceful resistance.

In the media, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria have been repackaged and price-marked. The highly commercialized depiction of the Arab Spring—large crowds of youngsters overthrowing repressive dictators only with the help of Iphones and Facebook—has increased media profits.

Palestinians, however, continue to be portrayed as nothing more than ragtag bands of stone-throwers, hijackers, and suicide bombers.

The Obama administration’s endorsement of Arab uprisings has been limited to those countries which allowed it to secure its hegemony in the Middle East. Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were urged to step down and make way for democracy only after it was clear that their ousters were imminent. In Libya, where Gaddafi had a stubborn grasp on the country’s oil, NATO provided its humble services to hasten the regime change by the rebels.

As in Bahrain—where protesters threatened a monarchy that permits the US Navy to park its 5th Fleet between Iran and the plentiful oil fields of Saudi Arabia—the United States has calculated that American imperial designs benefit more from Israel’s suffocating military occupation than Palestinian self-determination.

When Palestinian activists challenge segregation polices and board Jewish-only buses in the West Bank, their arrest goes unreported in the West. When young women from villages near Ramallah peacefully march on a freshwater spring that ideologically-intoxicated settlers had wrangled from them years ago, there was no corporate media coverage. When imprisoned Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti released an appeal to Palestinians to engage in widespread civil resistance to the policies of the occupation, the popular Western understanding remained: Palestinians are still “terrorists.”

And when over 1,500 Palestinians challenge their oppressors by launching a mass hunger strike, pundits ignorantly continue to assume that Palestinians are immune from the “Arab Spring.”

Palestinians are not immune from the infectious revolutionary fervor that has disseminated throughout the Middle East. In a sense, Palestinians set the example when they launched the First Intifada in 1987.

Imagine if Gilad Shalit had announced that he was on hunger strike while he held in captivity by Hamas. Imagine if 1,500 imprisoned Iranians were to stop taking food in protest of their regime. The front pages of every newspaper would be riddled with words of outrage against their jailers.

Palestinian poet Rafeef Ziadah said, “Our spring in Palestine is born shackled to a hospital bed.” Over ten hunger strikers have already been admitted to the hospital. Bilal Diab and Thaer Halalheh, both of whom have passed the 70 day mark, are reported to be in critical condition and near death. Their empty stomachs confirm the world’s indifference to the Palestinian Spring.

– Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance writer and living and traveling in Israel and Palestine. He writes on-the-ground dispatches on his blog, www.patrickostrickland.com. He is presently working towards an MA in Middle Eastern Studies. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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