Palestinian prisoners’ stomachs are rumbling, but is anyone listening?

Yara al-Wazir
Yara al-Wazir
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As 1300 Palestinian prisoners entered their sixth week of hunger strike, Trump took his first steps on Palestinian and Israeli territory as President. The hunger strike has been lead by Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian political prisoner who has been locked behind Israel’s prison bars for over 18 years. The sixth week is crucial as it can mean life or death for those on hunger strike; after all, Mahatma Gandhi’s longest strike lasted 21 days.

Past day 40, the physiological effects of hunger are at risk of becoming irreversible as the risk of loss of hearing, blindness, and death is exacerbated. The real question is: Is anyone listening to the rumbling stomachs of the Palestinian hunger strikers? When over 25 per cent of the population of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are on strike, their concerns must be at the forefront of talks, negotiations, and pressure on Israel to listen.

What the Palestinians are striking for is not their freedom – they have given up on a fair justice system in Israel. Instead, the Palestinian prisoners are striking for dignity, the right to have more frequent family visit, the right for telephone lines being installed in prisons, and for better healthcare. What Palestinians are asking for is basic dignity and to be treated as human beings in incarceration. The objective of a prison system is to rehabilitate; instead, the Israeli system treats it as an opportunity to further humiliate Palestinians.

The actions that Palestinians have committed are arguably ‘crimes’ – acts of popular resistance such as throwing stones are punishable by up to ten years in prison. Activists involved in nonviolent protests have been repeatedly charged with crimes of “incitement” and charged with terror-related offences.

What Palestinians are asking for is basic dignity and to be treated as human beings in incarceration. The objective of a prison system is to rehabilitate; instead, the Israeli system treats it as an opportunity to further humiliate Palestinians.

Yara al-Wazir

Israel has publically stated that it will refuse to negotiate with the prisoners. Israel, as it currently stands, has no motivation to negotiate with those on hunger strike as they do not see them as human beings, and there is insufficient media attention (and therefore international attention) on the matter. Unfortunately, prisoners are not seen as human beings or as a matter of interest to the international community.

Israel wants its cake, and wants to eat it too – it wants to be a part of the international community, have its teams play in the UEFA football league, but does not want to adhere to internationally required levels of respect of individuals in incarceration.

The core reason behind the absolute lack of motivation is the lack of attention by the international community.

Mobilizing the international community

In order to mobilize the international community into applying the correct amount of pressure to act calls for three elements: attention, explanation, and action all the while concentrating on the importance of expressing anger and frustration in a peaceful way, especially considering that 40 per cent of Palestinian men have been detained at some point in their life according to research by Adameer.

Once detained and charged, the Israeli Prison system has a 99.7 per cent conviction rate in military prisons. This is not the first time that prisoners have gone on strike – in 1989, over 600 black prisoners in South African prisons also underwent a hunger strike in protest. Symbolic acts of hunger strike by members of the wider concerned international community will get instigate conversation. Once the right people instigate the right conversation, questions will inevitably be raised. Sadly, the Israeli government cares more about poor publicity than it does about human beings.

Simplifying the issue, once the Palestinians recognize that all that the Israeli government cares about is their public image, then that is where the pressure must build up. Palestinian representatives in the international community must also show solidarity, either by going on hunger strike as well, or by wearing lapels and pins to instigate conversation. Media personalities, public figures, and government officials from Palestine and from neighboring countries have an ethical obligation to elevate the concerns of the 1300 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike before it is too late and they die. Then again, maybe mass-death in incarceration is exactly the bad PR that Israel must suffer to push it to take action.

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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