Reblogged: Our [mis]understanding of history on day 12 of Hana al-Shalabi’s hunger strike

Reblogged from

By Rana Hamadeh | Feb 27, 2012

Hana Yahya al-Shalabi was among the Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Gilad Shalit in October 2011. When she was released she had been under administrative detention for two years already. On February 16th she was arrested again and given another detention order for six months. She began a hunger strike immediately, and continuing what Khader Adnan began, she is fighting against the illegal practice of administrative detention, and her cruel treatment at the hands of Israeli forces. Today is day 12 of her hunger strike.

Drawing connections in our understanding of history

Hana Al-Shalabi has reminded me of Black Panther activist Assata Shakur. After six attempts by American intelligence at framing her with various bank robberies and murders, all of which were dismissed in court, Assata was charged with the murder of two policemen. Her eventual conviction was the result of an unfair trial which ignored evidence in her favour in order to ensure her guilt. Records that have now surfaced show that a “counterintelligence campaign was conducted by the FBI in cooperation with state and local law enforcement agencies designed to criminalize, defame, harass, and intimidate Assata.” The FBI systemically targeted black groups and individuals, Martin Luther King being among the first targets, but including thousands of less prominent ecivil rights activists. Assata experienced among the worst treatment of any woman prisoner in the US, even being jailed for a period in a men’s prison. After about two years, she escaped from prison and took exile in Cuba. [Assata: an autobiography]

In her own words, “although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.”

The name ‘Assata’ means ‘she who struggles’ – one reason I was reminded of hunger striking Hana al-Shalabi

What really perplexes me is that the dominant impression in the West is that of ‘racism has been abolished due to an evolution in human goodness’. The reality of racial oppression, to many in the West (not including visible minorities), is a thing of the past that could not return. Two things must be understood:

Slavery did not end in the United States due to a realization of human beings as equals, it was rather quite unimportant how many people were in support or against the cause. In reality, the North fought for the end of slavery because they could not economically compete in the cotton industry with the South who had slaves working without pay. The figure of the abolition of slavery, Abraham Lincoln was de facto an avid racist:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races; that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.. there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.” – Abraham Lincoln, Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate September 18, 1858

Second, that while most people will be quick to outcry the crimes of racial segregation in North America in the 60s and 70s, they remain silent in the face of current crimes. One major difference between Assata and Hana, is that Israel did not have to frame Hana – it simply arrested her on ‘secret evidence’ and just skipped the trial. There is a common view that the worst evils (often considered to be Hitler) are in the past. Rather than studying history to avoid repeating the same crimes, history has been used to distance genocide and oppression from the present. Subconsciously, we cannot comprehend that the very crimes of the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples in North America, the slavery of blacks, or the holocaust of millions by the Nazis, are continuing today in different forms – such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

This is what brought me to unlearn my history education and realize that change did not come about necesssarily through a collective understanding of humanity and equality. As long as there is a group that has something to gain from the oppression of another, those ‘winners’ will not denounce their privilege unless they are economically or militarily forced to. The reality is that if the people’s armies were to try to go up against governments of the world with military might, they would be crushed. Economically, however, we can force powers like Israel to conform to humanitarian law.

With a movement like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, raising awareness about Palestine has become more valuable. Awareness in itself cannot end oppression, it requires action alongside it. Hana al-Shalabi is raising awareness about the illegality of administrative detention, but what Israel fears is not the loss of her life to a hunger strike – it is the loss of a reputation and the investors that come along with it.

Administrative Detention

Administrative detention is a process that permits Israel to arrest and detain Palestinians on ‘secret evidence’ without charging them or allowing for a trial. Military Order 1591 authorizes military commanders to detain someone with “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” The 6-month detention orders can be renewed indefinitely and are often renewed on or just before the expiry date. This leaves detainees not knowing why they were arrested nor for how long they will remain. The “security” grounds Israel cites are used frequently, and sometimes administrative detention is used as a form of collective punishment (a war crime). For example, from March- October 2002, during the second Intifada, Israeli Occupying Forces arrested over 15,000 Palestinians during mass arrest campaigns, rounding up males in cities and villages between the ages of 15 to 45. [IAK] Administrative detention, by international law, is allowed only in emergency situations, and detainees are still entitled to a trial and to defend themselves. Israel’s practices are thus evidently in violation of international law.

Gender-based sexual abuse and humiliation

HanaAl-Shalabi’s report with Addameer, a prisoner support association, gives the following details of her first arrest on 14 September 2009. At 1:30 am, a dozen Israeli military jeeps surrounded her house and ordered the entire family outside. They entered the house and searched it. One soldier, removed framed pictures of Hana’s brother Samer, who was killed in 2005 by the Israeli army, tore them apart, and walked over the pieces in front of the family. Soldiers began to curse at Hana and her family. When her father tried to intervene, a soldier assaulted him with the butt of his gun. Hana’s mother fainted and soldiers placed Hana under arrest.

As Hana was being transferred, her traditional Muslim dress worn over her home clothing came upon, uncovering parts of her body. She was handcuffed and could not prevent it. Male soldiers took pictures of her, “consciously exploiting her situation, knowing she would feel offended and humiliated by such photos.”

Hana was put in solitary confinement for 8 days, in a cell without any natural light. She could not differentiate between day and night. Since it was the month of Ramadan, Hana refused all meals and water throughout the 8 days in order to respect her fast.

Not unlike other Palestinians in Israeli custody, Hana was subject to sexual and physical abuse. During her questioning, one of the interrogators called her “habibti” (“my darling”) in a provocative manner. “Feeling humiliated and angry at the interrogator’s offensive use of an intimate term, Hana started shouting at him. The interrogators responded by slapping her on her face and beating her on her arms and hands. The guards then took her back to her cell where they tied her to the bed frame and continued humiliating her by taking pictures of her laying in that position.”

Addameer states that they are ” greatly concerned by the verbal abuse Israeli detaining authorities display towards Palestinian female prisoners by directing sexual threats towards them and using inappropriate, vulgar language. Addameer contends that this behavior is done in a deliberate effort to exploit Palestinian women’s fears by playing on patriarchal norms as well as gender stereotypes within particular customs of Palestinian society.”

Hana spent 17 days in Kishon Detention Center, and for the entire time was not given a change of clean clothes. After her administrative detention order was issued, she was moved to HaSharon Prison. Due to overcrowding, she was kept in the same area as female Israeli criminal offenders. It is a direct violation of Isralie Prison Service Regulations for administrative detaineees to be held with prisoners who have been convicted of a crime. “Moreover,” says Addameer, Palestinian female prisoners “detained in the same sections as Israeli criminal offenders… are almost always discriminated against, enjoy fewer recreation hours and are often subjected to humiliation and abusive language from Israeli prisoners, who threaten them of physical attack. As a result, Palestinian women live in constant fear and often experience insomnia, and other psychological problems for the entire time they are detained in the same sections with Israeli women.”

Freedom for hunger striking prisoner, Hana al-Shalabi


The Next Hunger Striker – Hana Al Shalabi

Hana Al Shalabi, 29, has spent more than two years on administrative detention. As someone nearing the age of 29 myself, I can appreciate how much time two years would be to spend inside a jail without charge. The story of her arrest is chilling:

Hana Yahya Shalabi was arrested from her family home on 14 September 2009. At approximately 1:30 a.m. that morning, Israeli soldiers in 12 military jeeps surrounded her house in Burqin village, near the West Bank town of Jenin. The soldiers ordered Hana’s entire family outside of the house and demanded Hana give them her identity card. They then proceeded to conduct a thorough search of the family’s home. During the search, one of the soldiers forcibly removed framed pictures of Hana’s brother Samer, who was killed by the Israeli army in 2005, tore them apart and walked over the pieces in front of the entire family. The soldiers then started shouting and cursing at Hana and her family members. When Hana’s father, aged 63, attempted to intervene and protect his daughter from continued verbal abuse, one Israeli soldier pushed him in the chest with the butt of a rifle. Clearly distressed, Hana’s mother fainted at this scene. The soldiers then handcuffed Hana in painfully tight shackles around her wrists and placed her under arrest.

Once arrested, Hana was subjected to sexual and harassment and physical violence during her interrogation:

Hana told Addameer attorney Safa Abdo of an incident that occurred at end of an interrogation session, in which she did not confess to committing a crime, as her interrogators had expected. In a move that Addameer contends was an effort to provoke Hana, one of the Israeli interrogators called Hana “habibti” (Arabic for “darling”) in a provocative manner.

Feeling humiliated and angry at the interrogator’s offensive use of an intimate term, Hana started shouting at him. The interrogators responded by slapping her on her face and beating her on her arms and hands. The guards then took her back to her cell where they tied her to the bed frame and continued humiliating her by taking pictures of her laying in that position.
Addameer is greatly concerned by the verbal abuse Israeli detaining authorities display towards Palestinian female prisoners by directing sexual threats towards them and using inappropriate, vulgar language. Addameer contends that this behavior is done in a deliberate effort to exploit Palestinian women’s fears by playing on patriarchal norms as well as gender stereotypes within particular customs of Palestinian society.
Hana was released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap, but has been re-arrested and is under a six month administrative detention order. In protest against her detention, she has been on hunger strike for seven days.
The strength of women in the Palestinian revolution is too often overlooked by Western media. It does not fit our conception of Muslim society as Patriarchy and misogynistic to write stories about women who resist. However, women have always been part of the Palestinian revolution – in militant groups and in civil resistance, Palestinian women are as defiant of their exile and oppression as Palestinian men. Women’s resistance will be highlighted at this year’s Israeli Apartheid week in Toronto on the Wednesday event:
WEDNESDAY, March 7th
Women`s Resistance: From the Uprisings, to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
Speakers: Deena Gamil, Nahla Abdo, Monira Kitmitto
7:00 – 9:00 PM
Location:  York University, Room TBA
Hosted by Students Against Israeli Apartheid – York

Deena Gamil is a journalist, writer, revolutionary socialist activist and leading figure in the Socialist Popular Alliance Party. She works as a reporter, a radio and TV producer and an editor at various press and media institutions like Al-Alam al-Youm economic daily newspaper, Rose al-Youssef weekly magazine and the BBC. She is currently the editor of the home section at Al-Shuruq daily newspaper.  Deena is a founding member of the largest leftist party in Egypt – the Socialist Popular Alliance Party. She has participated in various fronts and coalitions such as Kefaya and the Popular Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian Uprising. Deena has a Masters in sociology from the American University in Cairo (AUC). 
Nahla Abdo is a Arab feminist activist and Professor of Sociology at Carlton University. Nahla is interested in understating the dynamics between gender, class, race/ethnicity, sexuality and the state. More specifically, her work has focused on issue such as: gender, sexuality and the State in the Middle East; the dynamics between feminism(s) and nationalism(s); the gendered East/West; and resistance and challenges from the field.

Monira Kitmitto  is a Palestinian activist and member of CAIA who has recently returned from traveling around the Middle East. Monira will be discussing the way in which the developments of the ‘Arab Spring’ are impacting Palestine solidarity efforts. She has worked in Palestinian refugee camps Lebanon and was an active member in the Union of Palestinian Women.

Khader’s Victory

Khader Adnan did not die on hunger strike – after 66 days he accepted a compromise which involves him being guaranteed release on April 17th, with Israel promising not to renew his term of administrative detention. He did not achieve a full victory – Israel has not rescinded the practice of administrative detention. However, his example of resolute determination has rallied Palestinians from all factions in common cause, and has been heard around the world and been compared with Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in 1981, which is seen as an an important turning point in the history of the republican struggle in Ireland.

Perhaps what is most important is that Khader Adnan’s hunger strike drew world attention to Israel’s policy of administrative detention. This policy was reported as “controversial” even in major US media sources.

But it is not important to decide which aspect of the hunger strike is “most important”. What is promising about the hunger strike against administrative detention is that it is a form of non-violent resistance which can rally supporters of Palestine regardless of their belief about a solution or settlement, or about what forms of resistance are appropriate. If you believe in violence, than opposing administrative detention is a military tactic. If you believe in non-violence, then it’s a human rights issue. And whether you oppose Israeli Apartheid in all its forms, or you aim to establish a Palestinian state next to a racist Israeli state which will continue to prevent the return of refugees and oppress its Palestinian minority, you can still support the hunger strike against administrative detention.

Palestinians and activists standing in solidarity with Palestine must sustain the conflict with Israel. If peace in all its forms is the precondition to a peaceful settlement, then a peaceful settlement will never arrive, because Israel has nothing to gain from peace if it already has it. The question is then: how to conduct the most successful kind of war – and non-violent resistance must be understood as a tactic of war, the open use of symbolic force against the Israelis. Khader’s steadfastness and his achievement of release conditions may well be a symbol for the most effective form of symbolic resistance against Israel available today.

Travel Portraits (Part 3)

Portraits don’t only show people and their personalities. Just as much they can show relationships, interactions, ways of being together. We might think it’s nothing – it’s just “having your photo taken with someone”. But this is decieving – how we feel about other people is likely revealed, whether we mean it or not, when we pose with them.

Sadiah and Benazir became fast friends in Palestine. But you can tell that from their eyes in this photo, taken in the old city of Nablus:

The next shot requires a bit more explaination. We ended up at this man’s house by accident, by running into a masters student from England in a community school who was on her way to doing some fieldwork north of al-Khalil. When we arrived at the property we were shown how much of his land was simply stolen by the Israelis, who built a settlement on it. And on the land that remains, the Israelis keep demolishing his house – this is the third one, the rubble of the first two we passed on our way walking up the driveway. There is no proper access to water – the IDF dismantled their illegal water supply, and all the water they have must be delivered which is very expensive. The problem is that in area C the PA has no authority, and the Israelis have no interest in giving civil service to non-Jews. But because he and his family insist on staying, he has become a strong symbol of sumud, recognized even by Israeli activists as well. An odd portrait this – a man holding up a portrait of himself ten years younger.

Stef and I met a dentist in al-Khalil. He stopped us on the street, insisted that we come up to his shop to have coffee. He was very friendly and forward, which was common there but also I must say somewhat overwhelming and worrying. Over here if someone was this interested in having you up for coffee and inviting you to their house for dinner, you would not be unwise to expect ulterior intentions. But this seems to be simply a hermeneutic problem, a problem of different social expectations, different attitudes towards guests. On balance, I have to say I prefer the Arab attitude towards hospitality to the North American one.

Aside from hospitality, the other most non-Western thing you find in Palestinian cities is the presence of donkeys. No one in Canada uses donkeys anymore – we use trucks and tractors and trains, and perhaps a wheelbarrow – but never a donkey. But over there, donkeys are a common sight. And we are a common sight to donkeys. Here you can see Noah sharing a moment with a donkey near Jericho.

Why and How Norman Finkelstein’s Anti-BDS position will split the Palestinian Solidarity Movement

The recent interview given by Norman Finkelstein will split the Palestinian solidarity movement clean in two. For links to the interview and responses worth reading, read Mondoweiss, the coverage there is good and I see no purpose in repeating it.

My analysis is simply this: that Finkelstein has brought out into the open an essential issue that has always lurked in the “rights based” approach of the BDS movement – he is simply working out the implication of according individual rights to all the members of a national community that have national as well as individual goals. If seven million Palestinian refugees return to their homes in the State of Israel and are accorded full democratic rights, it will not be long before the state is renamed “Palestine”, the law of return is repealed, and the institutionalized privileging of Jewish people and Jewish communities comes to an end.

So what will happen? On the one hand Finkelstein’s supporters will be “reasonable” and demand Palestinians give up the right of return. They will insist that Israel has the “right to exist” (a right which no other states in the International community are afforded), and that implicitly this means Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state, with institutionalized Jewish domination over other nationalities or minority groups. They will insist that this recognition is a precondition to peace, to ending the conflict (they will ignore that Israel already has peace, and that this is actually a barrier against ending the conflict). And on the other hand, properly committed Anti-Zionists, including the BDS movement, will continue to base their analysis of the situation on principles of both individual and national rights, even when it appears “impossible”. They will insist that a just solution to the Palestinian question include not only Israelis, but also all Palestinians, and that it is not acceptable to institutionalize any national domination or exclude any Palestinian from participating in the solution or in sharing from the peace dividend.

This split may appear to be a terrible setback, but in fact the Palestinians have always struggled against impossible odds. Who would have believed after the Nakba in 1948, or the Naksa in 1967 that the Palestinian people themselves would lead the charge seeking their own liberation and return to their homes? Who would have guessed that this dispossessed people had will and the mind to create a nationality in exile and mobilize an ever continuing armed and unarmed struggle which would catch the eye of the world?

So when moderates demand activists to “be reasonable”, and no longer conceive of the enemy as enemy, but instead point to international law which grants Israel the “right to exist” (in the same way it grants Canada a similar right to exist on colonized indigenous lands), this is a setback but this is not the end. We are at the brink of a shift in the way the public understands the oppression of the Palestinian people at the hands of their colonizers. The moderates, which are essentially conservative and reactionary, will say the conflict can be resolved if everyone embrace their ethnic nationalism – Israelis living in a land which continues to be ethnically cleansed of its arab majority, and a fragmentary Palestinian state without sovereignty and with no Jews. In other words, the Arab-Zionist conflict will be solved once the Palestinians have been sufficiently Zionised – turned into an exclusionary ethno-nationalist people so that their search for land itself becomes conceived of as colonization.  What is most telling about these racist remarks by the PLO is that they were not fully utilized by the zionists to discredit the Palestinian national cause. Why don’t they – one would imagine zionists would love to paint the Palestinian Authority as a bunch of racist terrorists? I think this is because moderate Zionists recognize that Palestinian racism against Jews guarantees their own right to an ethnically cleansed nation. Palestinian institutionalized racism vindicates institutionalized Israeli racism – and thus the dream of two exclusionary ethnic-nationalities living in peace, side by side.

In truth, what the Finkelstein-moderates want is the same as what the moderate zionists want: a resolution of the conflict based on two ethno-nationalist groups which are both permitted a modicum of racism as a a reasonable effect of having been at war for 63 years. Sure, Finkelstein and two-state solution Israelis have slightly different ideas about the border, but they both agree that ethno-national states, both which compromise on their territorial aspirations, are the best resolution to the conflict. This kind of solution privileges solving the conflict over and above the moral and historical-revolutionary potentialities which exist in the conflict. The fear of violence shuts off people’s minds, and encourages them to accept short term fixes which do not go to the root of the issue. It turns them into paternalistic oh dearists who forget to make the distinction between acting in solidarity with someone, and acting on behalf of someone when they haven’t asked you for anything. It turns Palestine into a charity case, pure suffering as suffering like a starving child who’s belly is surrounded by flies.

And yet, the two state solution does little for the Palestinians in greatest need – the refugees, especially those without citizenship in surrounding Arab states whose basic needs are provided through UNWRA but who continue to live largely in poverty and in overcrowded camps. But those refugees are not charity cases – it is from the camps that the resistance rose up, it is from there that gave birth to the political force of the PLO.

In a sense, as a non-Palestinian it is not my place to say what values are the correct ones, or even which solution is the one they should support. There are after all many reasons for oppressed people to compromise, to give up rights for better living conditions. But as a solidarity activist, I get to choose who I stand with, and I stand with principled opposition to institutionalized racism and the exclusion of indigenous populations. This means I decide to, inasmuch as I am able, stand with all the Palestinians – not just the few million in the West Bank.

Travel Portraiture, or Wearing Scarves on your Head (Part 2)

Katia, our fearless leader, was always wearing some kind of scarf on her head.

Scarves on the head are actually quite important in Palestine.  Whether you wear it to cover your hair for religious reasons or reasons of modesty and cultural sensitivity, or to protect your face from the sun, or to express solidarity with the anti-Colonial cause, there’s always some reason or other to drape cloth over your head in the holy land. Continue reading “Travel Portraiture, or Wearing Scarves on your Head (Part 2)”

Travel Portraiture (Part 1)

Inspired by my recent experience at event photography (and the jump in viewership it seemed to create), I’ve decided to put up some of the portraits I took last year in Palestine. In general, I’ve hesitated to put portraits up on the blog because I felt they were more personal, and less interesting to a general audience. But I think now that this is wrong – at least with a few words added I think it’s possible for portraits to be evocative even to people who do not know the subjects of the photo.


Continue reading “Travel Portraiture (Part 1)”