Two Sides of the Palestinian Coin: Hunger Strike/Gaza

28 May



The Palestinian hunger strike protesting Israeli prison conditions was suspended on May 27th after 40 days, at a time when many of the 1000 or so strikers were experiencing serious deteriorations of health, most were by then hospitalized, and the holy period of Ramadan about to commence creating continuity between the daytime fasting of the faithful and the prior desperate protest of the strikers. What was perhaps most notable about this extraordinary gesture of a mass prolonged hunger strike was that it was treated as hardly worthy of notice by the world media or even by the United Nations, which ironically is regularly attacked by diplomats and the media in the West for being overly preoccupied with Israeli wrongdoing.


It needs appreciating that recourse to a collective hunger strike is a most demanding form of political resistance, invariably provoked by prolonged outrage, requiring courage and a willingness to endure hardship by participants, as well subjecting their will to as harsh a test as life offers. To continue foregoing food for 40 days is a life-threatening and heroic, a commitment never lightly undertaken.


With Bobby Sands as their leader ten IRA imprisoned hunger strikers starved themselves unto their death in 1981. The world watched in rapt attention as this extraordinary spectacle of self-inflicted death unfolded day by day. Without openly acknowledging what was happening before their eyes, hardened political leaders in London silently took notice of the moral challenge they confronted, shifting tactics abruptly, and began working toward a political compromise for Northern Ireland in a manner that would have been unthinkable without the strike.


The Palestinians can harbor no such hopes, at least in the near term. Israel deliberately clouds the moral and political embedded challenges by releasing videotapes supposedly showing ‘snacks’ secretly being eaten by the strike leader, Marwan Barghouti. This fact that this accusation was vigorously denied by his immediate family and lawyer is occasionally noted in the world media, but only as a detail that does not diminish the impact of discrediting the authenticity of the strike. Whether true or not, Israel succeeded in shifting attention away from the strike and avoids doing anything significant to improve prison conditions, much less take steps to end the severe abuses of the Palestinian people over the course of an incredible period of 70 years with no end in sight. Prison authorities immediately resorted to punitive measures to torment those prisoners who were on strike. Such a response underscores ‘democratic’ Israel’s refusal to treat with respect nonviolent forms of resistance by the Palestinian people.


At this same time as the prison drama was unfolding, Gaza was experiencing a deepening of its prolonged crisis that has been cruelly manipulated by Israel to keep the civilian population of almost two million on the brink of starvation and in constant fear of military onslaught. Supposedly the caloric intake for subsistence has been used as a benchmark by Israeli authorities for restricting the flow of food to Gaza. And since that seems insufficient to impose the level of draconian control sought by Israel, three massive military attacks and countless incursions since the end of 2008 have inflicted heavy casualties on the civilian population of Gaza and caused much devastation, a cumulative catastrophe for this utterly vulnerable, impoverished, captive population. In such a context, the fact that Hamas has retaliated with what weaponry it possessed, even if indiscriminate, is to be expected even if not in accord with international humanitarian law.


A leading intellectual resident of Gaza, Haider Eid, has recently written a poignant dispatch from the front lines of continuous flagrant Israelu criminality, “On Gaza and the horror of the siege,” [<;, May 25, 2017]. Eid ends his essay with these disturbing lines:

“We fully understand that the deliberate withholding of food or the means to grow food in whatever form is yet another strategy of Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid in Palestine, and, therefore, should be viewed as an abnormality, even a pogrom!

 But what we in Gaza cannot fathom is: Why it is allowed to happen?”


At the start of Ramadan, Haider Eid appeals to the world to stand up against what he calls ‘incremental genocide’ “ by heeding the BDS call made by Palestinian Civil Society.”


It is significant that Eid’s appeal is to civil society rather than to the Palestinian Authority entrusted with representing the Palestinian people on the global stage or for a revival of ‘the peace process’ that went on for twenty years within the Oslo Framework or to the UN that accepted responsibility after Britain gave up its Palestine mandate at the end of World War II. These conventional modes of conflict resolution have all failed, while steadily worsening the situation of the Palestinian people and nurturing the ambition of the Zionist movement to reach its goal of territorial expansion.


Beyond this, Eid notes that the authority of BDS is a result of an authoritative Palestinian call to which the peoples of the world are implored to respond. This shift away from intergovernmental empowerment from above to a reliance on empowerment by a victimized people and their authentic representatives embodies Palestinian hopes for a more humane future, and for an eventual realization of long denied rights.


It is appropriate to merge in our moral imagination the ordeals of the prisoners in Israeli jails with that of the people of Gaza without forgetting the encompassing fundamental reality—the Palestinian people as a whole, regardless of their specific circumstances, are being victimized by an Israeli structure of domination and discrimination in a form that constitutes apartheid and different forms of captivity.


It seems that the hunger strike failed to induce Israel to satisfy many of the demands of the strikers for improved conditions. What it did achieve was to remind Palestinians and the world of the leadership gifts of Marwan Barghouti, and it awakened the Palestinian population to the moral and political imperative of sustaining and manifesting resistance as an alternative to despair, passivity, and submission. Israelis and some of their most ardent supporters speak openly of declaring victory for themselves, defeat for the Palestinians. Regardless of our religious or ethnic identity we who live outside the circle of Israeli oppression should be doing our utmost to prevent any outcome that prolongs Palestinian unjust suffering or accepts it as inevitable.


What is unspeakable must become undoable.



15 Responses to “Two Sides of the Palestinian Coin: Hunger Strike/Gaza”

  1. Henry Norr May 28, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    Thanks as always for this post, Richard. Your link to the Haider Eid piece at Mondoweiss doesn’t work, however, at least for me. The correct link seems to be

    • Richard Falk May 28, 2017 at 5:09 pm #

      Thanks, Henry, for your kind words, and sending me the correct link. I will make the change.

  2. John May 28, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

    What you say is absolutely right and all the more reason to declare a full boycott campaign against all things Israeli – not just the so-called “settlements”.
    Ultimately, all Israelis are complicit in the crimes of their elected regime.
    They must be prepared to attain the absolute status of an utter pariah state.
    A de facto state but never – ever! – a de jure state.

  3. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka May 29, 2017 at 12:14 am #

    The experience of the hunger strike reminds one that only three struggles have proved relatively successful against Israel: the Yom Kippur war, the First Intifada and the Hezbollah resistance war in Southern Lebanon. There is little likelihood of a conventional war as in 1973. This leaves either the First Intifada model or that of asymmetric resistance ranging from Karameh, through South Lebanon to the Gaza wars. Whatever the model, one problem needs to be confronted head-on. The moral-ethical question.

    Given the abiding memory of the Holocaust and Israel’s as well as the Israeli lobby’s manipulation of it, it is all the more imperative that the Palestinian resistance recognize that it must consistently occupy the moral high ground, not only in its own eyes but that of the world’s people. The South Africans did this, for the most part, as did the national liberation movements in Portuguese-controlled Africa. The Palestinians didn’t.

    The Palestinians must realize that the moral justice of their cause is obscured in the eyes of the world by the moral injustice of their tactics, by which I do not mean violence, but the targeting of unarmed Israeli civilians (not just armed settlers).

    The biased mainstream media is bound to magnify such mistakes, which is why they should not be made or should be denounced when they are– not justified by claims that the only available weapons do not make for precise targeting, or that any kind of resistance is intrinsically justifiable.

    So long as the Palestinian struggle does not denounce, eschew and punish terrorism, i.e. the witting targeting of unarmed civilians, it is hard to envisage the just cause of Palestine triumphing.

    If my ignorance may be pardoned, much as I admire the heroism, lack of sectarianism, leadership qualities and enlightened realism of Marwan Barghouti, I have yet to read a detailed counterview which credibly argues that he was actually framed for culpability in the killing of unarmed civilians. Fidel Castro and Mandela could never be accused of that, and therefore, it was far easier to mount campaigns for their freedom.

    • Laurie Knightly May 29, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

      Nelson Mandela was the head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, [MK] the terrorist wing of the ANC and South African Communist Party. At his trial, he pled guilty to 156 acts of public violence including terrorist bombing campaigns which planted bombs in public places, including the Johannesburg railway station. Many innocent people, including women and children, were killed by Nelson Mandela’s MK terrorists. A list of these actions is available.

      Amnesty International refused to take his case stating that they could not classify him as a Prisoner of Conscience – even though, according to them, in ‘conventional warfare’ a degree of restraint may be exercised.
      Castro’s record is also available.

      Might be a good idea to review the settler movement in Palestine, as an example, and their ‘Price Tag’ revenge policy. Suggesting a guidebook of ethical/just/patient policy for the Palestinians to follow is ……………….beyond discussion.

    • Brewer May 29, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

      Fair comment.
      It is a sad fact that the general public simply do not see the inhuman slaughter in Gaza and the unrelenting oppression in the W Bank for what it is – thanks to the superficial coverage in the media.
      The amoral stance of the Israeli establishment puts Palestinians in double jeopardy. If they even look like winning a point or two through passive resistance, Israel simply steps up the violence until there is a reaction.
      I have remarked before on the tactics involved – the manipulation of the time-line.
      Israel provokes and provokes until a fringe element retaliates. It is this moment that the media takes as the beginning of the time-line, the act is portrayed as irrational “terrorism”.
      I do not think Fidel or Nelson were faced with amorality so diabolical, made possible by complete media dominance. There was quite a lot of support for each – particularly among the youth (remember the proliferation of “Che Guevara” motifs).
      The History of this conflict is littered with Palestinian attempts at passive resistance. Unfortunately this tactic only succeeds when facts get out to the World at large and the oppressor has some form of conscience.

      Neither did Fidel and Nelson have “holy cows” to deal with. Right now there are serious moves afoot to criminalize opinion critical of Israel:

      Tease out every rationale presented for the establishment, maintenance and aggressiveness of the State of Israel and you will find exceptional-ism at its core, including its justification for “the witting targeting of unarmed civilians”. I think, due to this fact, that Palestinians are entitled to a little exceptional-ism of their own.

      It is a complex issue. Terrorist attacks are a perfectly predictable reaction to the illegal and immoral slaughter visited on Palestinians.
      This is not to say that such retaliation is a rational response but anyone with a modicum of sense knows that the fringes of any society contains individuals who, if incensed enough, will abandon reason and hit back in any way they can.
      I can only conclude, from this predictability, that Israel is comfortable with this sort of blowback, perhaps even welcomes it. This puts them in an even more iniquitous class of psychopath than the suicide bomber for (a) they do not risk their own lives and (b) their actions are not motivated by outrage but by cold tactical advantage. Against such a mind-set, the passive versus militant resistance argument is moot.

      • Gene Schulman May 30, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

        Thank goodness there are commenters (notably, Laurie and Brewer) on this blog who take the time to research and see the true picture. Most observers are passive and apathetic about what is happening in Israel/Palestine. It is not entirely their fault, rather that of the controlled media that overlooks and/or distorts the facts. For example, how many even know that there was a hunger strike in Israeli prisons (the subject of Richard’s blog post. I have been searching the media without success. Even otherwise knowledgeable friends are surprised to hear about it.

  4. ray032 May 30, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

    I was surprised to see this long, detailed, interactive article in THE WASHINGTON POST Today titled, ‘A Palestinian’s daily commute through an Israeli checkpoint’

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Under starry skies, a young Palestinian Everyman wakes before dawn to begin his daily commute to work in Israel.

    There are thousands like him. They are building Israel. Five or six mornings a week, long before the Muslim morning prayers, before the cocks crow, when packs of dogs still own the dumpsters, his alarm beeps. Today it is 3:30 a.m.

    His name is Tarek Al Taweel. He is a Palestinian construction worker, not without skills. He builds modern high-rise apartments in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, where a five-bedroom penthouse sells for $600,000.

    The job is okay, he said. He makes 250 shekels, about $68 a day, twice what he would make in the West Bank. He works beside his father, uncles and brothers. They’re proud of their craftsmanship. They keep photographs on their mobile phones of their aluminum work, fine carpentry, elaborate tiling.

    It’s not the work. It’s the Israeli checkpoint. “I hate it,” Taweel told us. The daily crossing drains him. It makes him feel that life is desperate and ugly.

    “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I don’t want to go to the checkpoint. Sometimes I put my head back on the pillow,” Taweel said. “My wife will say to me, ‘You have to feed our child. Get up. Get up!’ And I get up and go.”

  5. Laurie Knightly May 31, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

    Trying to make various comparisons of the usurpation of Palestine by an unlawful heavily sanitized/subsidized/validated international guerrilla movement is futile. It was/is unique historically. Fragments of international law may apply on occasion, but this injustice is in a class by itself. Witness the utterly revolting ‘new sheriff in town’. Very appropriate…….

    This from the Jews For Justice in Palestine in the year 2000:

    “Given the damage that has been done to the Palestinian people, Israel’s moral obligation is to make whatever amends possible. Among these should be assisting the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state in the entire West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel should not object to this state and, in addition, should help with its foundation via generous reparations. Besides being the right thing to do, this would stop the sporadic acts of violence against Israel, as Palestinians’ legitimate desire for their own state would be realized. Moreover all laws that discriminate against non-Jews should be repealed.”

    Instead of improving, however, the situation has unceasingly deteriorated. Israel has continued to seize territory beyond prescribed boundaries and to remove Palestinians from their land by military action, terror, deprivation, demeaning treatment and expulsion.The US has steadfastly assisted them in realizing their openly stated objectives.

    Those who pay heed to this heinous injustice tend to face character defamation. They do exist, however, and will not regret their involvement.

    • Brewer June 1, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

      “The idea that we can give up territory and achieve peace is not right,” Netanyahu told Army Radio, as reported by the Times of Israel. “In any peace agreement, we will have to maintain military control of all the territory west of the Jordan River.”

      I have been aware for some years that the right wing in Israel is perfectly content with the status quo i.e. ethnic cleansing by slow attrition.
      This remarkable video illustrates that status quo. Note the heroism of someone I believe is destined to be a major figure in changing it – Miko Peled:

  6. ray032 June 3, 2017 at 5:28 am #

    Richard, your Blog bears record of the many exchanges I had with Fred over the 1967 war.

    Norman Finklestein has an article in Mondoweiss titled, “srael provoked the Six-Day War in 1967, and it was not fighting for survival/

  7. wallwritings June 23, 2017 at 3:59 am #

    Richard, Many thanks for your wise observations and for the comments it provoked. I have added a link to your posting to my latest wall posting,
    Jim Wall

    • Richard Falk June 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

      Jim: I sent you just now am email message of praise for this column of yours, and wondered why
      my effort to post a comment of admiration was blocked. Warm greetings, Richard

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