by Yousef Aljamal
The following book review by Palestinian rights activist, author, and translator Yousef Aljamal is a cross-posting of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs..
Hunger strikes in prisons in Palestine offers a unique window into the “culture” of the hunger strike, as the two authors describe it, among Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The book’s introduction notes that starvation as a form of protest is a well-documented practice aimed at achieving justice that dates back to medieval Ireland. The authors point out that when it comes to hunger strikes, the need for dignity and freedom outweighs feelings of hunger and thirst. Malaka Mohammed Shwaikh and Rebecca Ruth Gould explain how hunger strikers see their bodies weaken and their organs deteriorate, but their need for freedom makes these life-threatening changes less relevant, turning their bodies into “a formidable weapon.” at your service”.
Based on recent events, the story of the late Palestinian hunger striker Khader Adnan is mentioned at the beginning of the book. Adnan had led a new phase in the individual struggle of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails by going on six hunger strikes while serving a total of eight years in Israeli jails, losing his life on May 2, 2023, after a strike 87-day starvation. Israel currently holds his body.
The book quotes Pat Sheehan, a former Irish republican on hunger strike, as saying: “We weren’t going on hunger strike to die. We were on a hunger strike to show the world that an injustice had been done to us.” Sheehan and Adnan published their stories in a book titled a shared fight (co–written by this reviewer). Following Adnan’s death, the Bobby Sands Trust in Ireland released a statement saying: “Khader, who was 45 years old, had been cruelly interned by Israel 12 times under administrative detention.”
Hunger strikes in prisons in Palestine it also addresses the cases of Palestinian hunger strikers Awni al-Sheikh, Etaf Elian, Mona Qa’dan, Hana Shalabi, Shireen Issawi and Samer Issawi, “who carried out the longest hunger strike in the history of the prisoners’ movement.” Palestinians that lasted 277 days. ” Each story is unique, including that of Shireen and Samer, two brothers who went on hunger strike in Israeli prisons, revealing the generational aspect of Israel’s long military occupation of Palestine. Hana Shalabi was one of the first Palestinian women to go on an individual hunger strike to protest her administrative detention. She was finally deported to Gaza in 2012 after a 44-day hunger strike.
Shwaikh and Gould explain the differences and motivations behind individual and mass hunger strikes by Palestinians in Israeli prisons, highlighting their successes and failures. Individual hunger strike demands include an end to administrative detention, while mass hunger strike demands focus on family visits, access to education, an end to solitary confinement, the access to family calls, medical treatment and better living conditions inside prisons.
The third chapter of the book explores how hunger strikes are staged from start to finish, including coordination and planning between different prisons, a process that can take months and could face challenges such as a lack of unity in the decision to carry out a massive strike. hunger strike for internal politics and differences between the leadership. In some cases, mass hunger strikes were canceled due to the ability of the prisoner movement to achieve their demands through negotiations with the prison administration.
During hunger strikes, the book explains, it is essential to have an effective communication strategy, both with the prison administration and with the outside world (for example, writing letters). In some cases, the hunger strikes failed due to a lack of publicity and public support, two factors affecting the Israel Prison Service’s (IPS) decision to meet the hunger strikers’ demands. As “the first day is the hardest” in a hunger strike, it is important to maintain the momentum and level of participation, with some prisoners and prisons joining the strike later, and others excluded due to ill health or disability. .
Shwaikh and Gould describe how the prison administration engages in a campaign of intimidation after prisoners go on hunger strike through repression and threats, isolation and a ban on communication with the outside world. The prisoners, for their part, respond to the repression of the IPS —which does not end with the end of the hunger strikes— with patience and perseverance, with the “rigorous maintenance of the strike”.
Hunger strikes in prisons in Palestine He concludes by stating that the success or failure of hunger strikes is measured by a number of factors, giving the example of the favorable international environment in the case of the mass hunger strikes in South Africa and Ireland, which the Palestinians do not enjoy. The authors conclude that compliance with their demands is not the only factor in determining the success of hunger strikes, as the prison administration could reverse its concessions, noting that long-term achievements such as global solidarity should also be considered.
Shwaikh and Gould’s book provides insight into why and how Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strike, both individually and mass, while drawing on other examples from British India, South Africa, Ireland, and elsewhere. It is one of the few manuscripts to describe the experiences of Palestinian hunger strikers by having direct interviews with them, linking their experiences to Ireland in particular. This is not new, as Palestinian prisoners sent a letter from Nafha prison in solidarity with Irish republicans on hunger strike in 1981, including the late Bobby Sands, who said: “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” .
Will the Palestinian prisoners one day have the same joy? Only time will tell.