On Saturday, May 13, 100 people demonstrated in solidarity with over 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.
Palestinian prisoners have used hunger strikes in the past, but they are a tactic of last resort.
“Children as young as twelve year old are abducted by Israeli soldiers in night-time raids. Many of them have been beaten and tortured under Israeli detention,” said Tyler Levitan of Independent Jewish Voices, a progressive national association of Jewish Canadians critical of Israel.
The hunger strike began on April 17 –Palestinian Prisoner’s Day – and is led by Marwan Barghouti, a leader in Fatah, one of the main Palestinian political parties. However, prisoners from all of the major Palestinian factions are participating. According to Adameer, a Palestinian prisoner and human right’s group, Israel is currently holding 6, 300 Palestinian political prisoners, 500 of whom are administrative detainees who have been imprisoned without charge or trial and whose sentences can be extended indefinitely.
The hour long rally featured speakers from the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians, the Canadian Arab Federation, Solidarity Ottawa, Faculty for Palestine, CUPE and Independent Jewish Voices.
The Ottawa rally was one of many that have taken place in Canada, the US, and around the world, as the Palestinian liberation movement tries to use international pressure on Israeli authorities so that they meet the demands of the strikers.
Among the 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners are, “26 journalists detained in Israeli prisons…13 elected officials…[and]more than three hundred children,” said a spokesperson from the Canadian Arab Federation.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been imprisoned over the last five decades, sometimes on made-up charges, or no charges at all. The mass incarceration of Palestinians by Israel – approximately 40% of all Palestinian men living under military occupation have been detained – is part of a systematic effort to crush Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. Frequently Palestinians from the occupied territories are held in Israeli jails, in violation of International law.
The hunger strikers are demanding modest improvements to their conditions: family visits, a public phone to call family, medical care, better care for female prisoners, end the use of solitary confinement, end administrative detention, and more.
But the Palestinian political prisoners and their movement are also part of the broader Palestinian struggle for national liberation, and their fight for modest improvements in their living conditions should be understood in this context.
According to an article by Barghouti in the New York Times, the incarceration of Palestinian political prisoners by the Israeli state has one aim: “to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.”
He continued, “Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination.
Israel was formed in 1948 through the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. In 1967, Israel occupied the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza and the West Bank. The state of Israel has stolen the land of Palestinians through military conquest and occupation. Palestinians have resisted from the beginning. Some of the most important resistance recently has been the Intifadas (uprisings) and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
There are many ways that people can support Palestinian political prisoners. The Adameer website has five calls to action.
A spokesperson from the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians asked people to “contact members of parliament, send them emails, send them letters, [and] sign petitions.”
In a press release the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee called for escalating “boycotts specifically against Hewlett-Packard (HP) and G4S, companies complicit in Israel’s brutal system of incarceration and abuse of Palestinian political prisoners.”