The role of hunger strikes in the Palestinian resistance and the role of international support in that resistance is a topic I’ve been trying to understand since last September, when I wrote about the thousands of Palestinians who went on hunger strike to oppose unjust and illegitimate conditions in the Israeli jails. I continued to write about the hunger strikes when Khader Adnan’s struggle became for some time a globally recognized name, and when Hana Shalabi’s hunger strike added a feminist dimension to the resistance, as well as a sign that Adnan’s extraordinary event of personal conviction and sacrifice would not go alone. Upset with the lack of organization around supporting the Palestinian hunger strikers, I went on personal day long fasts multiple times in solidarity with the strikers (four times, I think).
This said, I feel that I don’t understand what is happening, and I think that’s part of what is happening – despite many bloggers attempts, there is a lack of a simple story about the significance of the hunger strikes, about what they mean for Palestinian society, and how they can be taken up as an opportunity to politicize support for the Palestinian cause outside.
There have been many signs of support from around the world for the Hunger strikers. Particularly in Ireland, where there have been messages of support for Khadr Adnan from former IRA hunger striker Raymond McCartney, Tommy McKearney, from the family of Francis Hughes, from Sinn Fein councillors, and by MP Michelle Gildernew of west belfast. However I get the sense that after Khadr Adnan the world dropped the ball a little bit, there feels to have been less support from mainstream figures for Hana Shalabi, although at the same time the organization for support from within the Palestinian activist communities has improved. It is therefore significant that today former IRA hunger striker Laurence McKeown has posted a message of solidarity with the current Karama movement in which more than 1600 Palestinians are on hunger strike, including several over 70 days.
Two days ago the higher committee of the Leadership of the Strike published their fourth statement since the beginning of the Karama hunger strike, stressing the importance of unity in the strike and not using it to “achieve the personal or partisan interests of to this or that prisoner, regardless of their position in the parties”, and denouncing the claims that some demands have been met in some places. It is surely very difficult for the Karama hunger strike to be and to stay organized because the Palestinian prisoners are divided in many different prisons across the Israeli state.
As the history of the republican struggle in Ireland attests, hunger strikes are a means to politicize a struggle, to emphasize the political nature of a conflict and oppose criminalization. And because it is a tactic of non-violence, it can be a strategy of unity between all those who agree with the demands both of the strike and even of the strikers themselves, even if they disagree on other tactics used by some of the strikers. And I think this can be seen in the reports of this week’s protest in Ramallah, where supporters of different Palestinian factions are marching together in support of the prisoners.
The best place to get information as the hunger strikes continue is Samidoun – the Palestinian prisoner solidarity network.
EDIT: Good post today by Stephen Lendmen does a much better job than I at grasping the complexity of the current situation.