Palestinians Will Be Invisible no More

22Jan13

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man

FemaleAs Israeli citizens go to the polls to elect a new government, the voices of millions continue to be silenced by a brutal occupation that tries to render Palestinians invisible. Today Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories are segregated by an apartheid wall, blocked by checkpoints, and sequestered into camps. Many are also thrown into prison. According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the Israeli military and police have detained over 650,000 Palestinians since 1967. This means that around 40 per cent of Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza have spent time in Israeli prisons.

Last November Israeli forces carried out a mass arrest of Palestinians in the West Bank immediately after signing the ceasefire with Hamas. In December Addameer reported that there were 4,656 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including 177 children. 178 of these prisoners were being held in what Israelis like to call “administrative detention,” which means they are indefinitely detained based on “secret information” without any charge or trial. Many of these detainees are denied visits with their families as well as adequate medical attention.

Four Palestinian prisoners are currently on hunger strike to protest against these violations of their basic rights. Jafar Ezzedine, Tareq Qa’adan and Yousef Shaaban Yassin were each arrested on November 22 and placed in administrative detention. All three began their hunger strike on November 28 and are only drinking water. Samer Issawi is also being held under administrative detention and has been on partial hunger strike for more than 180 days now. Another prisoner, Ayman Sharawna, only recently suspended his hunger strike after 180 days.

Washington DCThese hunger strikers are admirably continuing the campaign of mass Palestinian civil resistance that is always ever present in Palestine. For example, in April of last year around 1600 Palestinian prisoners joined the hunger strike of administrative detainee Khader Adnan. At the time UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories Richard Falk criticized Western governments, media and even the UN itself for failing to adequately respond to this nonviolent protest. Although a deal to end last year’s hunger strike was successfully brokered by Egypt, today Israel continues to deny Palestinian prisoners their rights while holding them under administrative detention. And in the meantime the mainstream media has largely remained quiet.

Looking back through recent history, social justice activists have often practiced hunger strikes to non-violently challenge oppression. Mohandas Gandhi famously engaged in several hunger strikes to protest British colonialism in India. Suffragettes in both the US and Britain undertook hunger strikes to earn the right to vote, and many Irish prisoners went on hunger strike to demand freedom from an intolerable British rule, with some even dying as a result.

All of these noble examples illustrate the power of nonviolent struggle against oppression, and make for inspiring stories. So why is that the mainstream media refuses to tell the story of the Palestinian hunger strikers today? When activists in the UK asked the BBC why they would not cover the mass hunger strike last spring, the director of news responded that hunger strikers usually only receive attention when they “are on the point of death or in a grave state of medical crisis,” and “when the hunger strike presents a critical political challenge to the imprisoning authority.” Another reason cited for not covering the Palestinian hunger strikers in particular was supposedly the “failure of the hunger strikes to capture the imagination of the Palestinian public.”

Beirut

Considering the continued lack of media coverage, it seems that the BBC has sadly decided to side with the authority of occupation. Because today the health of Samer al-Issawi continues to deteriorate after he was transferred to hospital last Saturday in critical condition. And the Palestinian public continues to rally for the prisoners, despite Israeli efforts to silence them. In Lebanon alone – where I was conducting fieldwork until the end of last summer – hundreds of Palestinians have been regularly holding demonstrations in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Indeed Palestinians throughout Palestine and in the neighboring countries have held and continue to hold solidarity protests with the prisoners, and Palestinians around the world have recently started an online campaign in English called “the facebook intifada” to raise awareness of the hunger strikers. This campaign already has more than one thousand supporters and includes sharing pictures from around the world in support of Palestinian prisoners, and posting informed comments on the facebook pages of politicians, rights organizations, and both the mainstream and progressive media.

The groundswell of support for the Palestinian hunger strikers is increasing and will not stop simply because the mainstream media is content to abuse its editorial power by reproducing the occupation’s silencing of Palestinian voices. Please help to spread the word by joining the online facebook campaign, or by holding solidarity vigils around the world and sharing the pictures online.

As people of conscience we all need to help Palestinians make visible the invisible voices in Occupied Palestine.

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