It’s crowded down there

Too many Israelis treat the Palestinian struggle for freedom like a series of boxing matches in which we can always win by a knockout. That’s all the prisoners’ strike is to them

By May 10, 2017 | 12:40 AM

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan managed to surprise us again. He descended even below his usual low level (“arson campaign,” “terror attack at Umm al-Hiran”), and down there he drags along everyone who like him takes pleasure in the trick. It’s crowded down there, with Israelis who treat the Palestinian struggle for freedom like a series of boxing matches in which we can always win by a knockout, so why worry when we can brag?

Erdan knows his people. The prisoners’ strike failed to permeate Israeli society and create a minimal understanding of rights such as a phone call (monitored and listened in on) of a Palestinian prisoner with his family, and regular family visits.

This hunger strike, like its predecessors, didn’t rouse senior figures in university and college law faculties from the comfort of their positions. It didn’t make them remember that administrative detention as it is practiced in Israel – wholesale detention of unlimited duration without even the semblance of a military trial – is illegal. It didn’t stir sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists (except for the usual suspects on the left) – to warn loudly about what breaking the strike would do, like the other Israeli acts of oppression, to the collective Israeli character and to each oppressor individually.

It’s doubtful that Israeli history teachers took advantage of the strike to teach about the struggles of other peoples, near and far, for freedom and independence, even when they involved violent, bloody acts (which are always a weak response to the bloody violence of the oppressor). That didn’t obliterate their just cause. Algeria, for example.

And this is the place to recall once again. The deputy head of the prison service is Ilan Malka, who headed the Givati Brigade in the assault on Gaza in 2009 and ordered missiles fired at a house full of civilians from the Samouni family. His soldiers themselves had ordered those civilians to gather in that house as a safe place and marched them to it. That assault alone killed 21 people − older people, women and children, fathers and young men just starting out in life. Many more were wounded, and all the rest continue to live in trauma.

It’s that cheap trick by Erdan and the prison service that shows how panicked they are by the strength of the strike. An almost unexpected strength, in fact, considering the deep internal Palestinian rifts. All the Israeli propaganda (hasbara) weapons against the strikers were to no avail. The strike became a unifying factor, even if only for a little while. And abroad as well, it provided another opportunity for solidarity campaigns in England, Scotland, Italy and France.

It obligated the Palestinian Authority to skirt the attempt, before it was too late, to lock it into “stopping salary payments to terrorists.” It extracted from Ismail Haniyeh and the other Hamas leaders declarations of support, even though the strike’s organizers are their rivals in Fatah. Even skeptics about the strike’s motives couldn’t but be amazed at the strikers’ determination. Even if they all took a bite of potato secretly, or put an eighth of a teaspoon of salt in their water, they were still starving themselves and consciously exposing themselves to the prison service’s cruel punishments.

For example, “transfers” from one prison to another. Every such transfer is physical and mental torture even when the prisoners are not on a hunger strike. The strikers are placed in isolation, their few personal belongings are taken from them. This severance from the world – even more than usual – can also break people. The complete cancellation of family visits is especially painful. High fines (that go to the treasury of the Jewish state) are imposed on the strikers. The families’ terrible worries about their sons only increase.

And so, a willingness to enter such a battle with a clear head is enough for a society to recognize its prisoners as heroes and the strike as another important political step on the road of a people thirsting for freedom.



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