Palestinian Hunger Strike Shows Power of Nonviolent Struggle

May 23rd, 2012 - by admin

Amitabh Pal / The Progressive – 2012-05-23 00:27:28

(May 18, 2012) — This week saw yet another victory in the ongoing nonviolent Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners went on a hunger strike that forced the Israeli authorities to change their detention policies and conditions.

“Israel will end solitary confinement for all prisoners and allow around 400 prisoners from Gaza to receive family visits,” The Guardian reports. And, most importantly, “Prisoners on administrative detention orders — Israel’s term for imprisonment without charge or trial, the key issue behind the hunger strike — will not have their terms renewed without fresh information or evidence being brought before a military judge.”

It was this thoroughly misused Israeli practice that set off the protest.

“Neither those detained nor their lawyers are informed of the accusations or evidence against them, no charges are laid and no trial is held” when the Israelis use this mechanism to hold prisoners, The Guardian explains. It quotes B’Tselem, a prominent Israeli human rights organization, as saying: “Since the detainees do not know the evidence against them, they are unable to refute it.”

Hundreds of Palestinians are in prison under administrative detention, some for years. As international law experts Professors Richard Falk and Noura Erakat point out, this policy has been condemned as a violation of global norms.

“In its most recent session, the United Nation’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded that Israel’s policy of administrative detention is not justifiable as a security imperative, but instead represents the existence of two laws for two peoples in a single land,” they write. “The committee went on to state that such policies amount to arbitrary detention and contravene Article 3 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which prohibits ‘racial segregation and apartheid.’ ”

When I’ve given talks on my book on Islam and nonviolence, a question often asked is why is there no Palestinian Gandhi or King. That question is misguided for a number of reasons.

First, there has been a strong nonviolent strain running through the Palestinian resistance movement for the past few decades, best represented in the First Intifada in the 1980s and, more recently, in the ongoing protests against the Israeli separation wall.

Several villages have held regular demonstrations against the barrier, which has often traversed into Palestinian territory and appropriated Palestinian land, often joined by Israelis and people from around the world. (The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the barrier was illegal on its current route since it encroached on Palestinian land.)

“Some entitle this ‘the Intifada of the Wall,’ ” author Mary King writes in “A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance.” “Their successes have been modest but noteworthy, as they have altered the route or slowed the progression of the wall that takes still more land and encircles them in enclaves — although they could not halt it outright.”

Second, by putting the burden on the Palestinians, the quest for a Palestinian Gandhi or King completely takes the onus off the Israelis. Edith Garwood of Amnesty International has delineated how hard it is for the Palestinians to sustain a nonviolent movement.

“Israeli policies are repressive and brutal,” she writes. “The use of live ammunition, beatings, destruction of property, rejection of building permits, constant threats, repeated administrative detentions, and the escalation in arrests is discouraging and has been effectively obstructive.”

It’s quite remarkable that in spite of this, Palestinians are still engaging in regular acts of civil disobedience and peaceful protest.

“To find the Palestinian Gandhi or MLK, the first step is to look in Israeli detention centers,” Garwood adds. “The next step is to let them out. A sustainable peace is only possible when it is based on respect for each other’s humanity.”

Israel needs to recognize this central fact. Perhaps the recent prisoners’ agreement is a small beginning.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled “Japanese Anti-Nuclear Movement Should Motivate Us.” Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

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