Can I Have 9.8 Seconds of Your Time?

Ramallah, Palestine

It has been ten days since It began. And I am not talking about the Olympics. I am referring to the Other News–the news that gets relegated to the back page of the newspaper, if at all. The news that is squeezed into the “human interest” slot at then end of a radio broadcast. I am referring to the news that Palestinian political prisoners have now been on a hunger strike for 10 days, demanding that Israel live up to it responsibility of upholding the basic human rights of political prisoners.

I sit, writing furiously in my journal, when my pen starts to run out of ink. I shake it, scratch it across the page, trying to get the last few drops to come out and form the words I am searching for. But what words can I find to melt the hearts of ice that prefer to see the prisoners starve to death rather than grant their families the right to visit? What are the words of suffering and steadfastness compared to the splashy glory of an Olympic gold medal? How can we get the attention of the world to focus on the plight of the Palestinian prisoners for more than 10 seconds when they are only willing to give an Olympic sprinter 9.8?

The Palestinian prisoners must have asked themselves similar questions before embarking on this path of no return. “What do we have to do? Do we have to starve to death before anyone takes notice of our struggle?” Maybe it was hoped that the world would remember back to 1981-82 when Irish political prisoners began a hunger strike in protest of the conditions under which they were being held. But even if the world did have such a long memory, would it see the symmetry of occupation and oppression, the torture of political prisoners and fragmentation of society? After all, it’s the same story, just told in a different language and set in a different location.

Abu Ghraib. Robin Island. Beir Saba.

Beir Saba?

Yes, Beir Saba. You must have heard the stories. The prison in the middle of the desert in southern Israel. (Maybe you know it by its Hebrew name, Beer Sheva). The prison where hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners are being kept, many in solitary confinement, without proper food, water, or medical care. (Maybe the 6 o’clock news only reported that “terrorists” were being held in the prisons). The prison where strip-searches, electric shocks, beatings and other forms of torture are just another part of the routine. (Perhaps the newspaper omitted these details in their quest to provide “neutral” coverage). Did they at least report that in the days leading up to the start of the hunger strike the Israeli prison guards confiscated salt, cigarettes, and medicine from the prisoners? (Oh, you mean that the media only reported that barbeques grilling meat have been set up outside the prison cells in order to try and “convince” those on strike to give up their struggle? Well, I’m not surprised. They probably thought it fit the human interest part of the story better).

Day in and day out, those of us with friends and family in prison demonstrate, write pleading letters, strike in solidarity, light candles, hope and pray, day in and day out. But it is now Day 10 of the hunger strike and, feeling enormously guilt as I eat a piece of fruit, I wonder how long it can last before we lose one, or two. Yes, it is true that human beings can adapt to almost any given situation, but why after 56 years of dispossession, do the Palestinians still have to adapt to occupation? Why can’t the prisoners’ simple demands of being allowed more family visits, nutritious food, access to books and education, and an end to the physical and psychological torture be answered? How many more have to die before the most basic human rights are respected?

My guilt at eating a piece of fruit mixes with the bitter tastes of frustration and desperation on my palate. I have written letters and articles, spoken to people about the plight of the prisoners, visited the solidarity tents and commiserated with friends who are desperate to have their loved ones released from prison.

“But what else can we do? There must be more we can do.”

Maybe if I just keep telling the stories, writing the witness. There is the story of a woman–a single mother–living in Al Amari refugee camp here in Ramallah. She has seven sons, 6 of whom are in prison, one of whom was killed by the Israeli military. Shall I offer up her story to all the mothers of the world, hoping to bend an ear and turn a heart?

I cannot tell the world a tale of happy endings, for the final chapters of this story have yet to be written.

Will you help me in the writing?

Not an ending of gold medals or world-record times, but one where the last shall be first.

AMELIA PELTZ can be reached at: atpeltz@attglobal.net.


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