Reflections on the Great Palestinian Prison Hunger Strikes of 2012

15 May


            Ché Guevara was once asked what was at the root of his revolutionary commitment. His response, which we should all take some moments to reflect upon, “it is about love.” Reading the words of Khader Adnan (‘Open Letter to the People of the World’) and Thaer Halahleh (‘Letter to my Daughter’), or the comments of Hana Shalabi’s mother and sister, or Bilal Diab’s father, led me to

recall Guevara’s illuminating comment. Only those with closed minds can read such words of devotion without feeling that the animating hunger of these Palestinians is for peace and justice, for love and dignity, and that their heroic strikes would have impossible without cherishing life and future freedom for the people of Palestine


            The nature of extreme self-sacrifice, provided it is autonomous and nonviolent, is an inherently spiritual undertaking even when its external appearance is political. For Christians, and others moved to tears by the life of Jesus, the Crucifixion exemplifies this encounter between the political and the spiritual.



            We can only marvel at the duplicitous double standards of the media. Without the Internet and Al Jazeera the West, especially the United States, would have rendered invisible these challenges to Israeli abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. Only the settlement of the strike, and to some extent fear of Palestinian unrest should one of these hunger strikes die while in detention, was deemed somewhat newsworthy by the Western press.


            As many have observed, the media treatment of the Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, or the global attention given to the Isreael soldier held captive in Gaza, underscores the media victimization of the Palestinian struggle, and exposes the illegitimacy of an information regime that rests upon such a flagrant disregard for objectivity, taking refuge in ill-disguised double standards: magnifying Israeli grievances, disappearing Palestinian wrongs.



            The Israeli media did have a cynical preoccupation with the hunger strikes wavering between worries of seeming to give in to pressure exerted by fears if the strikes continued Third Intifada and the characteristic concern of an oppressor that accommodating grievances would be treated as a show of weakness and an encouragement of further Palestinian resistance activity. For this reason the agreement reached to end the main strike has been sharply criticized by Israeli right-wing politicians.


            Israel is not alone in addressing prison hunger strikes in a detached manner that refuses to acknowledge the moral motivation, physical courage and discipline, and the righteousness of the demands for reforms. A 2011 protest hunger strike in a notorious California Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons around the state led to this monumentally icy reaction from Nancy Kincaid, Director of Communications for California Correctional Health Service: “They have the right to die of starvation if they wish.”  And as the late Kurt Vonnegut so memorably reflected on the terror bombing of Dresden during World War II: “And so it goes.”



            The ending of the hunger strikes on the eve of the 64th observance of Nakba Day is above all a protest against the particular reality of these protests against administrative detention, arrest procedures of a police state, and unacceptable prison regulations that include extensive and extended consignment to solitary confinement, taunting of prisoner suffering, denial of family visits (especially for Gaza families), and a variety of forms of inhumane treatment. It also needs to be understood as part of the general Palestinian struggle for protection and rights, above all, the inalienable right of self-determination, which is accorded to every people by virtue of Article 1 of both Human Rights Covenants.


            Any agreement reached with Israel should be carefully monitored and scrutinized. It was a disgrace that Israel should have released Hana Shalabi but punitively ‘deported’ her to Gaza where she is required to remain for three years before returning to her family and home in the West Bank village of Burqin.  Without charges to sentence Shalabi to what many have called the world’s largest open air prison is to compound the wrong done by detaining her in the first place, and is an implied admission by Israel that it is a punishment to be required to live in blockaded Gaza.



            Throughout this period of hunger strikes that was started by Khader Adnan on the day following his December 17th arrest I and others have taken notice of the IRA strike in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in which ten Irish prisoners fasted unto death, including the martyred Irish hero, Bobby Sands. What I have learned of while following the developments in the Palestinian strikes was the earlier celebrated hunger strike of Terrence MacSwiney, the elected lord mayor of county Cork who was arrested, charged, and convicted of his activism in the Irish struggle against British colonial rule.

MacSwiney upon conviction told a stunned court, “I whall be free, alive, or dead, within a month.” He died on October 25, 1920 in the Brixton Prison after an extraordinary 74 day hunger strike, and has been part of the proud tradition of Irish revolutionary iconography ever since. (For a detailed account see Dave Hannigan’s Terrence MacSwiney: The Hunger Strike that Rocked an Empire (Dublin: Obrien Press, 2010)) Unlike the blanket of denial and silence that has accompanied the Palestinian acts of protest, the MacSwiney story “became a worldwide sensation, causing workers to lay down tools on the New York waterfront, sparking riots in Barcelona and mass demonstrations from Buenos Aires to Boston. The international press covered his decline on a daily basis, raising the profile of the cause of Irish Independence to previously unheard-of-heights.” (from back cover material)


            Aside from the contrast in media coverage, there is the notable fact that MacSwiney faced charges in an open court, and was allowed to speak in his own defense. Governments that claim to be democracies and respectful of human rights and the rule of law should waste no time in abolishing administrative detention provisions. And if that is not done, at least the pretension of being a constitutional democracy should be abandoned. Is not time that we demanded that ‘power speak truth to the people’!

15 Responses to “Reflections on the Great Palestinian Prison Hunger Strikes of 2012”

  1. Anthony J. Hall May 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    yes. The trajectory linking the Irish and the Palestinian struggles is the quest for self-determination through decolonization. We need more anti-imperial confederacies of resistance to oppose those forms of imperial globalization that have been gathering momentum since 1492.

  2. genericpersona May 15, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    How is it that the media as a collective (in particular television ‘news’) ignored this situation for so long. Here in Australia this issue was absent from television until night before last just before the announcement that a deal was struck. My question is this: how could all the televised news programs take the same approach. Are there no Australian television journalists with integrity? Are the editors to blame? Do people in the media just “know” what topics and issues to cover? How does this kind of censorship work?

    In a society which hails democracy and dons the mantle with an air of prejudice and pride, what does this kind of censorship say about the media’s freedom or willingness to air news coverage which does not play to the tune of global and geo-political realpolitik? Are we really free? Do we have our heads in the sand and asses in the air; hear, see, do no evil: a freedom construed in ignorant bliss?

    Many people I speak to say “The Zionists control the media”. But, if it truly is so, how do they control the media? Where is the evidence? How does this work?!?

    • Anthony J. Hall May 20, 2012 at 11:54 am #

      For the last decade the Mother of All Censorship by the MSM is the maintenance of the official cover story of 9/11 even in the face of all the evidence and sound interpretation brought forward through the best of the massive citizens’ investigation into what really happened. Much to his credit, Prof. Falk has been a part of that necessary truth-seeking process. Quite clearly the cover story’s fundamental myth is that the Arab and Muslim peoples collectively are extremist dangers to the “national security” of Western Civilization. With the 9/11 legend setting the basis of the GWOT’s mental landscape of demonology, Western Civ is depicted as a Judeo-Christian construct with Islam as the Aberrant Other.

      This strategy of dehumanizing demonization, a core propaganda meme of our time, seems to extend permission to exclude many Arab and Muslim peoples, but especially the Palestinians, from the community of citizens invested with universal human rights, including the right to be heard in one of the most important hunger strikes since Gandhi resorted to this most basic motif of protest. The Palestinians are rendered the new “merciless Indian savages” referred to on July 4, 1776 in the Declaration of Independence.

      The failure of the MSM media to embrace the imperiled humanity of the hunger strikers and to cover the injustices they are sacrificing to publicize is thus but one manifestation of a toxic mental brew of Islamophobia sustained through maintaining the mental hold of the official cover story of 9/11. Agents of deception like Jonathan Kay, Michael Shermer and the Israeliocentric UN Watch have unfortunately succeeded in rendering the topic of what really happened on 9/11 so untouchable that it is frequently avoided even by many otherwise enlightened folks on the progressive left. Through their crimes of omission they have sadly made themselves complicit in crimes against humanity whose outcome is evidenced in the murdering, maiming and uprooting of many millions of primarily Arab, Muslim and soon-to-be Persian people.

      • genericpersona May 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

        What is the MSM?

        To be honest I haven’t done much reading on the topic of 9/11, but from what I have skimmed over I do not think that the widely accepted trope is true. But for me this lack of truth is not controversial or unexpected.

        But my question still stands: how does it work? Do editors simply know what not to publish/broadcast; are they just “playing ball”? Is there some Ministry of Truth somewhere that controls what is broadcast? How does it work?

      • Anthony J. Hall May 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

        MSM is mainstream media. The key is to be found in who owns and runs most media cartels. That determines who gets hired and excluded. Those seeking upward mobility in the media cartels or the academy that produces many of the talking heads easily realize it is not a good career move to show interest and curiosity in subjects like 9/11 or injustice to Palestinians. With public broadcasters like the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation it is more complex. As we know from revelations about the CIA’s hiring of thousands of journalists in Project Mockingbird, the national security state pays a fortune to hire journalists to censor information, distort information or create outright disinformation. As far as I can see the journalistic profession has no credible means of policing the frauds and malfeasnace its produces.

        This degradation of our core information venues was central to the Cold War. Why should it be different for the Global War on Terror, which has huge public budgets as well as huge black budgets. A massive complex of corporations depend on the transfer of public money to private hands in the name of the Global War on Terror. These companies and the police state rising from this kind of activity have major interests in keeping the population in fear, sometimes by sponsoring or creating false flag events.

        The psychological warfare used to keep the population petrified and in a constant paranoia of self-censorship and pathological othering is one of the biggest businesses of our time. It is a key to the build up of tyranny concentrating ever greater amounts of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands. It is very strange to live in these times when the MSM presents us with an image of reality disconnected in many essential ways from the actual reality encompassing our lives.

        I see most MSM TV these days as pretty much toxic hypnosis aimed at dumbing down and distracting the population and keeping us docile under the threat that the Arab and Muslim boogeymen are an imminent threat. This Arab and Muslim boogeyman was necessary to replace the Soviet boogeyman that justified the huge budgets and imperatives claimed by the national security state and its attending military-industrial complex, by far the central installations of political economy that the USA has maintained since entering World War II in 1941.

        Edward Bernays, the inventor of the term “Public Relations,” went from selling women cigaretts in the 1920s to selling Americans on the major features of the demonolgy of the Cold War. Now the sponsors of wars purchase the services of PR companies to sell the product of mass destruction. The protagonists in the invasion of Iraq in 1991 hired Hill and Knowlton, for instance, to plant the fraud that Saddam’s soldiers got a kick out of killing premature babies in incubators. That one incident alone should have been met with criminal charges but it seems when its comes to psy ops anything goes and no one responsible is held accountable.

        The nuclear weapons companies like GE and Westinghouse [think Fukushima and cover up] soon realized that it was essential to their arms manufacturing to own media companies like NBC. As GE’s primary huckster in the earlier stages of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan was groomed to sell us the political economy of perpetual war. This terrible approach to US-global relations was brought to a new level of grotesque sophistication since 9/11. That event had the effect of transforming Israel’s local enemies into the perceived enemies of the so-called “West.” For many a reckoning with the lies and crimes of 9/11 become the looking glass of reckoning with the enormity of the falsehoods we a regularly fed by a thoroughly corrupt MSM.

      • genericpersona May 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

        Thanks Anthony, great explanation.

        Can we take News Corp as an example? Who “owns” News Corp? What interest do they have in this type of censorship?

      • Anthony Hall May 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

        News Corp is of course owned by the notorious Rupert Murdoch syndicate. Rupert created Tony Blair in that he gave the war criminal the media hype to get him into office. News Corp also got George BUsH into office by announcing a win in 2000 that was really a loss. The scandal in Brtain over the partnership between Murdoch, police and the insider politicians give a key to understanding the propaganda workings of the so-called GWOT.

  3. Julie Webb-Pullman May 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    As a member of the independent western media (ie not corporate media) I object to being accused of ignoring this issue.On the contrary, SCOOP Independent Media has covered the Palestinian prisoners issue from Gaza for several months – more, in fact, than Al Jazeera. And there are several other ‘western media’ who have done the same. If you are commenting on the Murdoch’s and their ilk, please be more specific, and don’t lump all western media in with them.
    @genericapersosna – the news ‘industry’ usually hears about issues because they are sent press releases. The Palestinian prisoner movement has been notable for their abject failure to send out press releases on the prisoners to western media, corporate or otherwise. A few human rights groups managed it, and that is it. The responsibility for the lack of coverage is not solely that of the western media, then, although corporate media bias remains a massive problem.

    • genericpersona May 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      @Julie – The article does say: “Without the Internet and Al Jazeera…”.

      With respect to the article I agree with regard to televised (that is aired on television) coverage although the major newspapers over here did publish a smattering of articles over the past few weeks. I don’t purchase the major newspapers and rarely read them online but during the past month I did browse through google results for news on this story and the results were paltry.

      As far as I know there were no televised news items regarding the mass hunger strike. Can you imagine how the phrase “Mass hunger strike” would be plastered across the newspages if this were China or Iran? I doubt that news organisations would wait for or rely upon press releases: journalists would be hounding the story. This is perhaps an unfair hypothetical as we have become accustomed to the continued oppression and perpetuation of injustice against the people of Palestine. But that is exactly the point.

  4. Tony Riley May 20, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Shalit never had any visits from his family. He hadn’t commited any crime either. Your heroes are in Islamic Jihad. Nobody told them to stop eating.

    • genericpersona May 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

      If I took your home from you and your own; if the authorities stood by and looked the other way, what would you do? Would you fight? If I control your access to amenities, if I attacked your children, if I monitored your movements… What would you do, picayune little man?

      Little man, how is it that you stand upon the rights of others for your own? What kind of twisted morality is this? Where does it lead? What is the motivation and what is the desired end?

      The realist says that this is simply the way of the world: the Hobbesian race. But it is through our deeds and words that “the world” is wrought. What the realist really means to do is give credence to injustice and sate the underbelly of humanity.



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