[Pnews] How Palestinian Hunger Strikes Counter Israel’s Monopoly on Violence

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 12 13:04:51 EDT 2016


  How Palestinian Hunger Strikes Counter Israel’s Monopoly on Violence

by Basil Farraj on May 12, 2016

As these words were being written, three Palestinian prisoners were on 
hunger strike in <http://maannews.net/Content.aspx?id=845258> protest 
against their imprisonment without trial, a practice cloaked by the 
anodyne sounding term “administrative detention”. Sami Janazra was on 
his 69thday and his health has sharply deteriorated, Adeeb Mafarja was 
on his 38thday, and Fuad Assi was on his 36th. These prisoners are 
amongst at least 700 Palestinian prisoners 
<http://www.addameer.org/statistics>in Israeli jails who are currently 
being held in administrative detention, a practice 
Israel routinely uses in violation of the strict parameters set by 
international law.

Palestinian political prisoners have long used hunger strikes as a form 
of protest in response to violations of their rights by Israeli 
authorities. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association 
first use of hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners to as early as 
1968. Since then, there have been over 25 mass and group hunger strikes 
demands ranging from ending solitary confinement and administrative 
detention to improving imprisonment conditions and allowing family visits.

As more and more Palestinian prisoners are forced to embark on lengthy 
hunger strikes as a “last resort” form of protest by inflicting violence 
on their bodies until they win their rights, it is worth reviewing the 
use of this political tool across countries and centuries and 
spotlighting the way in which Palestinian prisoners are using it to 
counter Israel’s monopoly on violence within the prison walls.

    Past and Present Use of Hunger Strikes

While the exact origins of hunger strikes - the voluntary refusal of 
food and/or fluids - are not well known, there are examples of their use 
in various historical periods and geographical locations. The earliest 
uses of hunger strikes are traced 
medieval Ireland where one person would fast on the doorstep of another 
who had committed an injustice against them, as a way of shaming them. 
More recent and better-known uses of hunger strikes include those by 
British suffragettes in 1909, Mahatma Gandhi during the revolt against 
British rule in India, Cesar Chavez during the struggle for farm workers 
rights in the United States, and the prisoners incarcerated by the US in 
Guantanamo Bay.

There is great danger of irreversible physical harm to the body through 
hunger strikes including loss of hearing, blindness and severe blood 
loss. ^1 
Indeed, death has been the outcome of many hunger strikes as in the case 
of the 1981 Irish Republican prisoners’ strike.

The demands by hunger strikers vary but are, in all cases, a reflection 
of broader issues and social, political and economic injustices. For 
example, the 1981 Irish Republican prisoners’ hunger strike demand for 
the return of Special Category Status reflected the broader context of 
“the troubles” in Northern Ireland. ^2 

One of the earliest Palestinian hunger strikes was the seven-day hunger 
strike in Askalan (Ashkelon) prison in 1970. During this strike the 
prisoners’ demands were written on a cigarette pack as they were 
prevented from having notebooks, and included a refusal to address their 
jailers as “sir”. The prisoners won their demand and never had to use 
”sir” again, but only after Abdul-Qader Abu Al-Fahem died after being 
force-fed, becoming the first martyr of the Palestinian prisoners’ 

Hunger strikes at Askalan prison continued to be carried out through the 
1970s.  In addition, two more prisoners, Rasim Halawe and Ali 
Al-Ja’fari, died after being force-fed during a hunger strike at Nafha 
prison in 1980. As a result of these and other hunger strikes, 
Palestinian prisoners were able to secure certain improvements to their 
prison conditions, including being allowed family pictures, stationery, 
books and newspapers.

In recent years, ending the practice of administrative detention has 
been a persistent demand by Palestinian prisoners, given Israel’s 
its use since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. For example, 
the mass 2012 hunger strike 
which involved nearly 2,000 prisoners,demanded an end to the use of 
administrative detention, isolation and other punitive measures 
including the denial of family visits to Gaza prisoners. The strike 
ended after Israel agreed to limit the use of administrative detention.

However, Israel soon reneged on the agreement, leading to another mass 
hunger strike in 2014 by over 100 administrative detainees 
<http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=692740>pushing for an end to 
this practice. The hunger strike ended 63 days later without having 
achieved an end to administrative detention. The prisoners’ decision was 
reportedly influenced by the disappearance of three Israeli West Bank 
Israel’s large-scale military operations in the West Bank (which was 
followed by a massive assault against Gaza).

In addition, there have been several individual hunger strikes sometimes 
coinciding with or leading to decisions to begin wider hunger strikes. 
Indeed both the 2012 and 2014 hunger strikes were sparked by individual 
hunger strikes demanding an end to the use of administrative detention. 
The individual hunger strikers included Hana Shalabi, Khader Adnan, 
Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, all of whom secured an end to their 
administrative detention.  However, some of the individual hunger 
strikers were re-arrested after their release as in the case of Samer 
Issawi, Thaer Halahleh, and Tareq Qa’adan, as was Khader Adnan, who was 
released after a prolonged hunger strike protesting his re-arrest in 2015.

    The Violence Israel Inflicts on Palestinian Prisoners

Israel continues to subject Palestinian prisoners to many forms of 
violence as has been well documented by human and prisoner’s rights 
organizations, as well as in the writings of prisoners and in a number 
of documentaries. ^3 
In a 2014 report 
notes, “Every Palestinian who was arrested was subjected to some form of 
physical or psychological torture, cruel treatment including severe 
beatings, solitary confinement, verbal assault, and threats of sexual 

In addition, and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the 
Rome statue, Israel has deported 
detainees outside of the occupied territories and to prisons inside 
Israel, as well as threatening West Bank prisoners with deportations to 
the Gaza Strip if they do not confess. It also routinely and arbitrarily 
denies or restricts family visits 
Prisoners are exposed to deliberate medical negligence 
<http://www.addameer.org/key_issues/medical_negligence>and abuse 
as well as restrictions on phone calls and access to lawyers 
<http://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/7754>, books, and television.

Furthermore, the Israeli authorities classify Palestinian political 
prisoners as “security prisoners” a classification that makes it legally 
possible to automatically subject them 
many restrictions. This characterization denies Palestinian prisoners 
some of the rights and privileges enjoyed by Jewish prisoners – even 
those few who are labeled security prisoners – including home visits 
under guard, the possibility of early release, and the granting of 

The violence to which Palestinian prisoners are subjected must be seen 
within the context of Israel’s colonial project and its subjection of 
the entire population to different forms of violence, including the loss 
of their land, destruction of their homes, expulsion, and exile. It is 
worth recalling that since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, Israel 
has arrested 
than 800,000 Palestinians, nearly 20% of the overall population, and 40% 
of the male population. This fact alone makes clear the extent to which 
arrests and imprisonment are a mechanism Israel uses to control the 
population while it dispossesses them, settling Israeli Jews in their place.

It is within this broader understanding of violence that hunger strikes 
emerge as a way in which Palestinian prisoners are able to counter the 
Israeli state’s various forms of violence.

    Using the Prisoner’s Body to Subvert the State’s Power

Through hunger strikes, prisoners no longer remain silent recipients of 
the prison authorities’ ongoing violence: Instead, they inflict violence 
upon their own bodies in order to impose their demands. In other words, 
hunger strikes are a space outside the reach of the Israeli state’s 
power. The body of the striking prisoner unsettles one of the most 
fundamental relationships to violence behind prison walls, the one in 
which the Israeli state and its prison authorities control every aspect 
of their lives behind bars and are the sole inflictors of violence. In 
effect, prisoners reverse the object and subject relationship to 
violence by fusing both into a single body - the body of the striking 
prisoner – and in so doing reclaim agency. They assert their status as 
political prisoners, refuse their reduction to the status of “security 
prisoner”, and claim their rights and existence.

The fact that the Israeli state uses several measures to put an end to 
hunger strikes and to re-assert its power over the prisoners and over 
the use of violence demonstrates the challenge that the bodies of the 
hunger strikers pose to the Israeli state. Among other measures, the 
prison authorities continue to subject the striking prisoners to 
violence and torture. In fact, the violence to which the striking 
prisoners are subjected intensifies and changes form. For instance 
during the 2014 hunger strike 
the striking prisoners were denied medical treatment and family visits 
and were shackled by their hands and feet to hospital beds 24 hours a 
day. They remained shackled when allowed to go to the bathroom, and the 
open bathroom doors denied them any right of privacy. The Israeli 
authorities also intentionally left food near the hunger strikers to 
break their will. Ex-hunger striker Ayman Al-Sharawna said 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u49jwfcLwuE>, “They’d bring a table of 
the best food and put it next to my bed… Shin Bet knew I loved sweets. 
They used to bring all kinds of dessert.”

Israel has recently given legal cover 
the force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners through the “Law to 
Prevent Harm Caused by Hunger Strikers”, which is tantamount to cruel, 
inhuman and degrading treatment, according to the UN Special Rapporteur 
on Torture. The law is also in contradiction with the World Medical 
Association’s Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikes 

Israel also labels the striking prisoners “terrorists” and “criminals” 
to undermine their assertion of political agency and their efforts to 
reverse the object and subject of state violence. During the 2014 mass 
hunger strike, Israeli officials maintained that the hunger strikers 
were “terrorists.” Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, one 
of the sponsors 
the recent bill, said, “Prison walls don’t mean an action is not 
terrorism […] There is terrorism on the streets and this is terrorism in 
prison.” Gilad Erdan, Israeli Minster of Public Security declared that 
<http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.661127>hunger strikes were a “new 
type of suicide attacks.”

    The Vital Importance of National and International Support

Central to the success of any hunger strike is the ability of the 
strikers to mobilize communities, organizations and political bodies in 
their support and to exert pressure on the authorities to concede to the 
hunger strikers’ demands or negotiate an agreement.

Through hunger strikes, Palestinian prisoners have been able to 
continuously force their struggles onto the Palestinian and often the 
international political stage. Given that there are currently no 
alternatives through which prisoners can secure their freedom or a 
change in Israeli policies, the importance of mobilizing communities and 
political bodies around prisoners’ rights cannot be underestimated.

Grassroots, human rights organizations and official bodies both within 
and outside Palestine have mobilized during hunger strikes by 
Palestinian prisoners. The support has included daily gatherings, 
protests outside the offices of international organizations 
calls on the Israeli government to heed the prisoners’ demands, and 
demonstrations outside prisons and hospitals. Local and international 
organizations including Addameer, Jewish Voice for Peace 
<http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org>, Amnesty International 
<http://amnesty.org>, and Samidoun <http://samidoun.net>, among others, 
have highlighted the injustices faced by Palestinian prisoners to add to 
the pressure on Israeli authorities to concede to the prisoners’ demands 
and negotiate an agreement with them.

Furthermore, through these networks, the struggle of the Palestinian 
hunger strikers, and of the prisoners more broadly, is internationalized 
with parallels drawn to past and present injustices facing peoples 
worldwide. In reporting and analysis on the Palestinian hunger strikes, 
references are continuously made to the plight of Irish prisoners during 
the “troubles 
mass-incarceration in the US 
conditions at Guantanamo Bay 
among others. In this way the struggle of Palestinian prisoners becomes 
part of the growing solidarity movements and campaigns demanding justice 
for the Palestinian people. This helps to counter the Israeli labeling 
of them as “criminals” and “terrorists” and its monopoly over the 

As with other forms of resistance within and outside prison walls hunger 
strikes are acts of resistance through which Palestinians assert their 
political existence and demand their rights. It is vital to sustain and 
nurture this resistance. In addition to giving strength to and 
supporting the prisoners in their struggle for rights, this form of 
resistance continuously and powerfully inspires hope among Palestinians 
at large and the solidarity movement. It is our responsibility to both 
support Palestinian prisoners – and to work for a time when Palestinians 
no longer need to resort to such acts of resistance through which their 
only recourse is to put their lives on the line.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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