It is nothing new or surprising to say that since Oslo Palestinians have been as divided as ever on both the goal of what peace would count as an acceptable victory, and what kind of resistance should be employed to reach that goal. Normal Finkelstein’s simple solution of mass popular non-violent resistance to bring about a two-state solution is simply an untenable recommendation because it falls flatly on most ears. A real political line is not one devised as a rational response to the objective situation, but one born out of motivations inherent in the situation which can bring together the class that stands in for the universal so it expresses the right direction – this requires not only an understanding of tactics and ends but of goals as felt motivations and strategies as influencing not only the enemy, but also the people standing up against.
The emergence of the hunger strike in the Palestinian struggle signals a change in the conflict in favour of the Palestinians – despite their division into factions and on serious questions of a settlement and the role of religion they can all stand and support the heros of the resistance. But this is not the change – collective Palestinian support for the resistance may have been an aspect of the 2nd intifada, but that intifada was plagued by the lack of a realistic end-game and ignored the importance of international opinion which will always shift to Israel’s side during a period of “terrorist” attacks. The hunger strike allows the celebration of the heros of the resistance not as violent maniacs, however, but as peaceful martyrs, resisting the brutal conditions in the Israeli jails.
This struggle is more clearly universal than the use of political violence because anyone can understand that torture of someone inside a jail is wrong, and because there are international laws about the treatment of political prisoners which normal people will see should apply to Palestinian prisoners. It is easy to explain to someone why Palestinian resistance fighters should be treated as prisoners of war – you only need to talk about the conflict in the North of Ireland and understand how that came to a close for someone to understand why it is important to recognize that a rebel group has fought in a war so that this war can end, and that continuing to treat political fighters as criminals fails to recognize them as a group, and does nothing but propagate the continuation of what you cannot deny that they see as a war.
Because the demands of the hunger strikers can be supported by BDS, it is possible for international activists to support them, and by this way bring the international struggle against Israel into line with the Palestinian struggle – this is an opportunity for bridge building, and for internationals to have a better understanding of the situation and of what is important to Palestinians.
The use of Hunger strikes by the Palestinians is starting to have an effect on international media. For example, the word “hunger strikers” was trending today on google news, and CNN has run a story today about the “1500” (the number is actually closer to 3500) hunger strikers starting today. This is not normal – in the recent past hunger strike stories did not make CNN until many days in.
There are several things you can do as an international activist to support the Palestinian hunger strikers. Today (ok, it is a bit late), you can fast in solidarity with the prisoners – this is what I am doing today. Also, if you are in Toronto, you could consider attending this event at Beit Zatoun tonight. Most importantly what you can do is try to learn about what is happening, and try to explain it to people who are interested.