The Massive Palestinian Hunger Strike: Traveling below the Western Radar

2 May


            Can anyone doubt that if there were more than 1300 hunger strikers in any country in the world other than Palestine, the media in the West would be obsessed with the story?  It would be featured day after day, and reported on from all angles, including the severe medical risks associated with such a lengthy refusal to take food. At this time two Palestinians who were the first to start this current wave of resistance, Thaer Halaheh and Bilal Diab, entering their 64th day without food, are reported by the prisoner protection association, Addameer, and the NGO, Physician for Human Rights-Israel, to be in critical condition with their lives hanging in the balance.  Despite this dramatic state of affairs there is scant attention in Europe, and literally none in North America. It is the case that prison protests, even large-scale ones such as occurred in California a year ago often attract little national and international notice unless deaths occur, as happened in the famous Maze Prison IRA hunger strikes back in 1981, but to ignore this expression of Palestinian resistance in the overall context of the conflict with Israel is lamentable. After all, as an occupying power of Palestinian territories Israel has a particular responsibility to the international community.


            In contrast, consider the attention that the Western media has devoted to a lone blind Chinese human rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who managed to escape from house arrest in Beijing a few days ago and find a safe haven at the U.S. Embassy. This is an important international incident, to be sure, but is it truly so much more significant than the Palestinian story as to explain the total neglect of the extraordinary exploits of these thousands of Palestinians who are sacrificing their bodies, quite possibly their lives, to nonviolently protest severe mistreatment in the Israeli prison system.? Except among their countrymen, and to some extent the region, these many thousand Palestinian prisoners have been languishing within an opaque black box ever ever since 1967, are denied protection, exist without rights, and cope as best they can without even the acknowledgement of their plight.


            There is another comparison to be made. Recall the outpouring of concern and sympathy throughout the West for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was captured on the Gaza border and held captive by Palestinians for five years. A powerful global campaign for his release on humanitarian ground was organized, and received constant reinforcement in the media. World leaders pleaded for his release, and Israeli commanding officers even told IDF fighting forces during the massive attacks on Gaza at the end of 2008 that killed more than 1450 Palestinians that their real mission was to free Shalit or at least hold accountable the entire civilian population of Gaza. When Shalit finally released in a prisoner exchange a few months ago there was a brief celebration that abruptly ended when, much to the disappointment of the Israeli establishment, Shalit reported good treatment during captivity. Shalit’s father went further, saying if he was a Palestinian he would have tried to capture Israeli soldiers. Not surprisingly, Shalit, instead of being revered as an Israeli hero, has quietly disappeared from public view.           


            This current wave of hunger strikes started on April 17th, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, and was directly inspired by the recently completed long and heroic hunger strikes of Khader Adnan (66 days) and Hana Shalabi (43 days) both of whom protested against the combination of administrative detention and abusive arrest and interrogation procedures. It should be understood that administrative detention is validated by secret evidence and allows Israel to imprison Palestinians for six months at a time without bringing any criminal charges, with terms renewable as they expire. Hana Shalabi was among those released in the prisoner exchange, but then barely recovering from her prior detention period, was rearrested in a night arrest raid, and sentenced once again to a term of confinement for four months. Or consider the experience of Thaer Halahla, eight times subject to administrative detention for a total of six and a half years.  


Both Mr. Adnan and Ms. Shalabi were released by deals negotiated at a time when their physical survival seemed in doubt, making death seem imminent. Israel apparently did not want to risk a third intifada resulting as a reaction to such martyrdom. At the same time Israel, as usual, did not want to seem to be retreating, or draw into question its reliance on administrative detention and imprisonment. Israel has refused, until the present, to examine the grievances that gave rise to these hunger strikes. In Hana Shalabi’s case her release was coupled with a punitive deportation order, which cruelly confines her to Gaza for the next three years, away from her family and the familiar surroundings of her home village of Burqin near Jenin in the West Bank. There are some indications that Ms. Shalabi was not fully informed about the deportation feature of her release, and was manipulated by prison authorities and the lawyer representing her interests. The current hunger strikers have been offered similar conditional releases, but have so far steadfastly refused to resume eating if it led to deportation or exile. At this time it is unclear how Israel will respond. There is a fierce struggle of wills between the strikers and the prison authorities, between those with hard power of domination and those with the soft power of moral and spiritual courage. The torment of these striking prisoners is not only a consequence of their refusal to accept food until certain conditions are met. Israeli prison guards and authorities are intensifying the torments of hunger. There are numerous reports that the strikers are being subjected to belittling harassment and a variety of punishments, including solitary confinement, confiscation of personal belongings, denial of family visits, denial of examination by humanitarian NGOs, and a hardhearted refusals to transfer to medically threatened strikers to civilian hospitals where they could receive the kinds of medical treatment their critical conditions require.


The Israeli response to the hunger strikes is shocking, but hardly surprising, within the wider setting of the occupation. Instead of heeding the moral appeal implicit in such extreme forms of resistance, there are widespread reliable reports of punitive responses by Israeli prison authorities. Hunger strikers have been placed in solitary confinement, held in shackles despite their weakened conditions, denied family visits, had personal belongings confiscated, were subjected to harassing comments by guards intended to demoralize. Israeli media has generally taken a cynical attitude toward the strikes, suggesting that these hunger strikers are publicity seeking, aiming to receive ‘a get out of jail free’ card, and deserve no empathy even if their life is in jeopardy because they voluntarily gave up food by their own free will, and hence Israeli prison authorities have no responsibility for their fate. Some news reports in Israel have speculated about whether if one or more hunger strikers dies in prison it will spark an uprising among the Palestinians, but this is less an expression of concern or a willingness to look at the substantive issues than it is a source of worry about future stability.



            Broader issues are also at stake. When in the past Palestinians resorted to violent forms of resistance they were branded by the West as terrorists, their deeds were covered to bring out sensationalist aspects, but when Palestinians resort to nonviolent forms of resistance, whether hunger strikes or BDS or an intifada, their actions fall mainly on deaf ears and blind eyes, or worse, there is a concerted propaganda spin to depict the particular tactic of nonviolent resistance as somehow illegitimate, either as a cheap trick to gain sympathy or as a dirty trick to destroy the state of Israel. All the while, Israel’s annexationist plans move ahead, with settlements expanding, and now recently, with settler outposts, formerly illegal even under Israeli law, in the process of being retroactively legalized. Such moves signal once and for all that the Netanyahu leadership exhibits not an iota of good faith when it continues to telling the world that it is dedicated to negotiating a peace treaty with the Palestinians. It is a pity that the Palestinian Authority has not yet had the diplomatic composure to call it quits when it comes to heeding diversionary calls from the Quartet for a resumption of yet another round of meaningless direct talks. It is long past time to crumble bridge to nowhere.


            That rock star of liberal pontificators, Thomas Friedman, has for years been preaching nonviolence to the Palestinians, implying that Israel as a democratic country with a strong moral sensitivity that would yield in the face of such a principled challenge. Yet when something as remarkable as this massive expression of a Palestinian commitment to nonviolent resistance in the form of this open-ended hunger strike, dubbed ‘the war of empty stomachs’, takes place, Friedman along with his liberal brothers is stony silent, and the news sections of the newspaper of the New York Times are unable to find even an inch of space to report on these dramatic protests against Israel’s use of administrative detention and abusive treatment during arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment. Shame on you, Mr. Friedman! 

(At last, the NY Times on May 3, 2012 reports on the hunger strikers in a front page story, perhaps yielding to the growing shame of its silence up to now!)


            Robert Malley, another influential liberal voice who had been a Middle East advisor to Bill Clinton when he was president, while more constrained than Friedman, suggests that any sustained display of Palestinian nonviolence if met with Israeli violence would be an embarrassment for Washington. Malley insists that if the Palestinians were to take to the streets in the spirit of Tahrir Square, and Israelis responded violently, as the Netanyahu government certainly, it “would put the United States in an ..acute dilemma about how to react to Israel’s reaction.” The dilemma depicted by Malley derives from Obama constant encouragement of the democratic aspirations of a people who he has repeatedly said deserve their own state on the one side and the unconditional alignment with Israel on the other. Only a confirmed liberal would call this a genuine dilemma, as any informed and objective observer would know, that the U.S. Government would readily accept, as it has repeatedly done in the past, an Israeli claim that force was needed to maintain public order. In this manner, Palestinian nonviolence would be disregarded, and the super-alliance of these two partners in crime once more reaffirmed.


            Let there be no mistake about the moral and spiritual background of the challenge being mounted by these Palestinians. Undertaking an open ended hunger strike is an inherently brave act that is fraught with risks and uncertainties, and is only undertaken as an expression of extreme frustration or acute deprivation. It is not an act undertaken lightly or as a stunt. For anyone who has attempted to express protest in this manner, and I have for short periods during my decade of opposition to the Vietnam War, it is both scary and physically taxing even for a day or so, but to maintain the discipline and strength of will to sustain such a strike for weeks at a time requires a rare combination of courage and resolve. Only specially dedicated individuals adopt and maintain such a tactic. For a hunger strike to be done on such a scale of collective action underscores the horrible ordeal of the Palestinians that has been all but erased from the political consciousness of the West in the hot aftermath of the Arab Spring, and may also point to a wider willingness of Palestinians to mount their own version of Tahrir Square.



            The world has long refused to take notice of Palestinian one-sided efforts over the years to reach a peaceful outcome of their conflict with Israel. It is helpful to recall that in 1988 the PLO officially accepted Israel within its 1967 borders, a huge territorial concession, leaving the Palestinians with only 22% of historical Palestine on which to establish an independent and sovereign state. In recent years, the main tactics of Palestinian opposition to the occupation, including on the part of Hamas, has been largely to turn away from violence, adhering to a diplomacy and practice that looked toward long-term peaceful coexistence between two peoples. Israel has not taken note of either development, and has instead continuous thrown sand in Palestinian eyes. The official Israeli response to Palestinian moves toward political restraint and away from violence have been to embark upon a program of feverish  settlement expansion, extensive targeted killing, reliance on excessive retaliatory violence, as well as an intensifying oppressiveness that gave rise to these hunger strikes. One expression of this oppressiveness is the 50% increase in the number of Palestinians held under administrative detention during the last year, along with an officially mandated worsening of conditions throughout its prison system.

29 Responses to “The Massive Palestinian Hunger Strike: Traveling below the Western Radar”

  1. jksnowdon May 3, 2012 at 3:41 am #

    Reblogged this on Mostly Palestine بلد واحد and commented:
    Excellent post from Richard Falk on the inexcusable failure of the media to report on the Palestinian Hunger Strike

  2. Patrick Sudlow May 3, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    Reblogged this on patricktsudlow and commented:
    The media do not want to know anything about the plight of the Palestinians, as it would upset their Zionist masters.

    • Jaime May 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

      Yeah right. The reason most media aren’t interested is because most countries have anti-terror laws that allow this. Best analogy is what happened in Northern Ireland. Bombers and killers in jail like Bobby Sands starved themselves to death, then eventually the IRA made peace with the UK. Same here. When Islamic Jihad and Hamas decide that they don’t want to exterminate Israel, then it will be over.

      • Iamme (@wardiamonds) May 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

        Wrong. After the IRA bombed the financial hear to London impacting the financial elites they were in talks with the British Government within 18 months and the British made peace. When BDS impacts the financial elites in Israel they too will change course.

      • Patrick Sudlow May 5, 2012 at 6:02 am #

        Hi Jaime,
        I do not think your comparison with Ulster is quite appropriate for what is happening in Palestine. The problem is the Israelis have no intention on peace but the complete occupation of Palestine and eradication of the Palestinians and Bedouin.

  3. rehmat1 May 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Israeli Zionist hawks and their supporters around the world are very upset with the comments made by father of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured five years ago by Palestinian freedom-fighters during a raid on a Jewish Army outpost. Shalit was released in a prisoner swap in October 2011.

    Noam Shalit who is hoping to contest next Knesset elections for Opposition Labour Party is reported by British daily The Guardian (March 15, 2012) as saying “I will kidnap Israeli soldiers if I were a Palestinian“. Noam’s rant, though not based on facts – has provoked outrage among Israeli warmonger Zionist Jews and their partners-in-crimes in the US, Britain and France. The fact is, Jewish soldier Gilad Shalit was captured in a fight and was treated as ‘PoW’ by Hamas’ military wing.

    Noam Shalit supported his statement by saying that in the past, Jewish terrorist groups Haganah and Irgun applied similar techniques against British soldiers in Palestine. “We also kidnapped British soldiers when we were fighting for our freedom“. Freedom from whom, one wonders!

    • gilad May 3, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

      “was treated as ‘PoW’ by Hamas’ military wing”. hahaha, you made me laugh really hard now! Aren’t PoW allowed to have visits from the red cross/ get medical treatment?

  4. roberthstiver May 4, 2012 at 1:51 am #

    Dr. Falk is a prophet, calling from the wilderness for truth, justice, and peace. The US mainstream media (extended to BBC et al…) are conditioned by the overwhelming influence of political/militant Zionism and its adherents to ignore or minimalize any exposure of the Israeli tyrannical regime of illegal occupation and oppression of the hapless Palestinians. The wholeness of the Zionist enterprise has turned fully psychotic, and criminal at that — without accountability. Pity the victims….

    • Jaime May 4, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      “Wholeness of the Zionist enterprise?” Whew, you need a new writer Bro! And here’s another fine example of why all the moans and groans of the starving, unarmed and genocided Palestinian Arabs aren’t receiving the front page coverage they so rightly deserve…This picture on facebook is being touted as yet another horrible atrocity by Israel. Except there are 1 or 2 problems about it. Nobody seems to know where the picture is from. Nobody can confirm if this poor man is indeed holding up a freshly killed baby, or if it’s a plastic doll. I think it has freezer burn. Anyway there’s no proof that it’s an Israeli atrocity, but that doesn’t stop the idiots who repost it. Lots more disinformation like this out there, and REAL media outlets don’t like to get sued for iffy things like this

  5. monalisa May 4, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    Dear Richard,
    Thank you so much to bring again this into public light !

    Yes, it is a shame but Western mainstream media doesn’t like to bring anything into light concerning Israels law-breaking conducts.
    Seems that the Israel-lobby is really still very powerful !

    I just hope that these circumstances and the plight of the Palestinians will soon end !

    But as long as Western countries are supporting Israel as long this will prevail.
    However, Israel’s politicans should be aware that even a state like USA could fall ….
    and what would then become of their children, grandchildren, grand-grand children ?
    United States wouldn’t be the first powerful state to fall …. as history tells us, even during the 20th century !
    And if this happens (and in the curse of history it will!) the European states will have to look after themselves ….

    Take care of yourself,

    • Richard Falk May 4, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      Thanks, as always, Monalisa, for these sage observations. I hope you are enjoying springtime in Graz. Warm greetings, Richard

      • Bret May 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

        Just to clear up an inaccuracy, there was a hunger strike involving more than 1,300 prisoners elsewhere in the world that drew scant media attention as well. It took place in July 2011 in California state prisons and involved as many as 6,000 prisoners at its height. A renewed hunger strike reached approximately 12,000 participants in the fall of 2011. While it obtained an article and op-ed in the Times, some other newspaper coverage, etc., it was mostly ignored, and the conditions of long-term solitary confinement torture persist. More background on this suppressed story can be found here:

      • Richard Falk May 5, 2012 at 8:23 am #

        Thanks, Bret, for reminding me of this, which I will take into account in a modified version of my blog. It was an unintentional oversight on my part. Richard

      • sherrimunnerlyn May 4, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

        I just wanted to add some information about that California hunger strike, there was even one inmate who died in the course of his hunger strike. That was just a few months ago, in California. We saw virtually no main stream media coverage, the young man was from Echo Park, who got involved in gangs from when he was a kid, likely convicted under the three strikes law there. They were protesting unlawful prison conditions, that included overcrowding and lack of medical care for prisoners. These unlawful prison conditions had been held unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, but as of the time this man died the State had taken no actions to fix the unconstitutional and unlawful prison shortcomings. Who cares about a gang member who dies in a prison in California? Apparently, virtually noone. His name was Christian Alexander Gomez, he was 27 years old.

        The lack of justice in our criminal justice system and my lost faith in our justice system, that is why I have not actively practiced law for the past 11 years.

      • Richard Falk May 5, 2012 at 8:21 am #

        Thanks for this informative comment, reminding me of the California strike experience, which certainly deserves mention.

  6. Vacy Vlazna May 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Dear Richard
    Thank you for your measured and thorough article on the war of empty stomachs.

    The dearth of media coverage certainly vindicates conspiracy theories about Zionist control of media. In Australia, the government owned ABC also is silent.

    It is absurd that Abbas called on Blair to intervene in the matter given the British government, especially fellow war-monger, Thatcher has the blood of 4 hunger strikers, including Bobby Sands, on her hands.

    Such collaborative cruelty between media and Israel is unbelievably obscene.

  7. Fred Skolnik May 5, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Posted on Guernica. Here it is for you:

    One comment for Richard Falk: Under the Radar

    Comment by Fred Skolnik on May 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Israel occupied Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of the Jordan River), the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights in 1967 after defeating four Arab armies who attacked it. In the case of the West Bank, it was Jordan who indiscriminately and without provocation began shelling Jewish Jerusalem, hitting over 500 buildings and killing 15 civilians on the night of June 5 and the following morning, reinforced by Iraqi troops, advancing on Israel’s border. You start a war, you lose a war, you get your territory occupied. This is the oldest story in history.
    However, whereas in the normal course of events, defeated nations sue for peace, the Arabs, with the support of a great many parties throughout the world who refused to condemn their aggression, then proceeded to issue the Khartoum Declaration with its three famous noes: no to peace, no to negotiations, no to recognition of Israel. Since that time, Arab terrorists have been launching attacks against Israel’s civilian population. Those who are apprehended are sent to prison, where they enjoy conditions denied to Gilad Shalit, including visits from the Red Cross, contact with their families, and even the opportunity to continue their studies. As for the occupation, it is as humane as an occupation can be, given the fact that the Palestinian population harbors a considerable number of terrorists. As for the closure of the Gaza Strip, this came in the wake of the continued shelling of Israeli settlements from Gaza by Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
    The attempt to portray Israel as the villain of the piece betrays an animosity toward Israel that is not warranted by the facts of the matter and has to make one wonder what is at its root. The Palestinians will get their state (and the fate of each Jewish settlement on the West Bank will be negotiated) the moment they are ready for one, that is, the moment they disband Hamas and the other terrorist organizations who will continue to threaten Israel even under the conditions of a peace agreement, only this time a step away from Israel’s civilian population. This is intolerable and it is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to deal with them. Until they do, Israel will.

    • monalisa May 5, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      To Fred Skolnik:
      please take my apology for answering to your above expression as it isn’t directed to me.

      Before you are starting to blame Palestinians and other Arab countries look at how Israel has been built, how many Palestinians had been expelled and lost their homes and
      most of all
      how many UNO resolutions haven’t been acknowledged by Israel.
      There are many and not a single one has been taken care of by Israel.

      Would you say “oh thank you so much, for taking my country, my home, murder my children! ? Would you say that ???

      So look at first to the faults of Israel and its policies.

      Also: to built a wall reminds everybody on the former UdSSR and DDR:
      the Wall which has been put down at last in 1989 !

      Aren’t a lot of people from the former UdSSR in Israel ? Those Ashkenazis who think being somehow better than others????

      As I said: everything nowadays is well documented.
      And people get well informed.

      The “treatment” Israel is “giving” the Palestinians, who should have the first right being there and living there as they did for hundreds of years,
      is spreading and whatever the propaganda in mainstream media is printing on behalf of Israel is fading away.

      The political misdemeanour cannot be put away when people in Gaza don’t get enough drinking water, enough food, enough medicaments, when they have to built tunnels in order not to die ….

      Is Israel back in the Middle Ages and doing what the Europeans did ?
      Do you think this will do good for the next generations of Israelis travelling in foreign countries when asked about these “misdemeanours”?


    • rehmat1 May 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

      How funny! Israelis defeated four Arab armies – but 30,000 Jewish soldiers backed by the US and British assests could not defeat 1500 Hizbullah freedom-fighters in 34-day attack on Lebanon in 2006.

  8. Om3zii January 27, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    Reblogged this on Square One.


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