Freedom, Dignity and the Future of Palestine

Progressives and occupiers need to learn from Palestinians a thing or two about Freedom and Dignity.   You do not get what you want from powerful oppressors by begging.  If something is worth getting, then be ready to fight for it.  Don’t ask, demand.  If they don’t grant it, then fight for it.  If the only way you have to fight is to throw your body into the gears of power then do it enthusiastically.  Never surrender.

So stop whining about Trump and Russia undermining your democracy.  That will not get you single payer healthcare and free college.  That money has already been spent on wars.  They gave it to the banks, oil companies, privateers and war mongers.  It is time to stop eating Cheetos, get up off the couch and hit the streets.  Demand an end to wars.  Demand social and economic justice.  Stand up for economic freedom.  Show your dignity.  That is the Palestinian way.

Palestinians are among the most oppressed people in the world.  They live under an illegal brutal fascist occupation.  Every day Palestinians must face down their oppressor.  Israel has the tanks, bulldozers and the guns.  Palestinians only have stones and their bodies.  Their message is:  you can steal our land and olive trees; and you can wall us in, block us off, lock us up, and kill our bodies…but you cannot take away our freedom and dignity unless we surrender it.

For anyone that says the Palestinian Prisoner hunger strike was not a complete success, they should try not eating for 40 days and 40 nights.  After 20 days the fat is gone.  After 30 days the body is surviving on muscle, bone marrow and internal organs.  By the 40th day there is permanent damage and organs begin to fail.  After 40 days you are ready for the angel of death.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ “Freedom and Dignity Hunger Strike” was a complete success.  It was a huge victory for all the Palestinian People.  They deserve our highest respect and congratulations.  We need to learn from them.

The hunger strike achieved the prisoners’ demands, such as improved healthcare, increased family visits and use of the canteen.  Those are important prisoner rights and worth fighting for.  But the hunger strike was also about Freedom and Dignity.  Palestinians showed the world that they still have their freedom and dignity, no matter how hard the oppressor tries to oppress them.  And overwhelmingly the people in Palestine, Europe, Asia, Africa, and in the Americas responded in solidarity.

Netanyahu said he would not negotiate with “suicide terrorists”.  He called the hunger strike “psychological terrorism”.  He said he would not meet with Marwan Barghouthi, the Palestinian “Nelson Mandela”.  Avigdor Liberman said let the prisoners die of starvation.  Some Israelis made jokes and roasted bar-b-que outside the prison walls.  Pizza Hut ganged on with an ad that said, let them eat pizza.  In the end Israel negotiated with the prisoners, met with their leader Marwan Barghouthi, and agreed to their demands.  What more does one need to call the hunger strike a complete success?

Netanyahu said he was “psychologically terrorized” by the Palestinian Prisoners.  That is because the Palestinians exposed the corruption and moral bankruptcy of Netanyahu and Liberman.  People around the world rallied in solidarity with Palestinians.  In Europe, where people are less brainwashed than Americans, a great solidarity movement began at the  University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and spread to “students and non-student groups in England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy”.

Just because Palestinians will not surrender their freedom and dignity does not make them terrorists, regardless that it terrorizes Netanyahu.  The Palestinians are freedom fighters.  They have a right under international law to resist their oppressor, even if it is by the use of violence against the military occupiers.  It is the Netanyahu’s and the Liberman’s who are in violation of international law.  They have repeatedly ignored resolutions from the United Nations, judgements by the International Court of Justice, and condemnation from the international community, hypocritically including the USA.

Resistance is a right.  The French had a right to resist Nazi occupation, Africans had a right to resist European colonialism, Vietnamese had a right to fight US imperialism, and Mei Geren had a right to stand up against a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Throwing a rock at a tank is not terrorism.  The Israeli tanks are the terrorists.  The Palestinians have not surrendered their freedom and dignity to the terrorists; it is the Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s who surrendered because the Palestinians exposed for the whole world the real terrorists.

The Palestinian Prisoners fought the battle of the empty intestines for 40 days and 40 nights.  That is monumental.  Not many people can do that and live.  They risked their lives rather than surrendered.  Many have died during hunger strikes, and one did.   Mazan al-Maghrebi made the ultimate sacrifice and became a martyr.  He is a fallen hero.  Mazan joined the hunger strike even though he was already sick with kidney disease.  He died without letting the Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s break him, no matter what they did.  They tried to break the prisoners by putting them in solitary confinement, they took away the prisoners’ clothes, shoved food under their noses, beat them, threatened forced feeding, and would not let them talk to their families and lawyers.  All of these efforts of the Israelis were violations of international law and acts of terrorism.  So who are the terrorists?

The Palestinians know that this will not be the last time that they have to fight the battle of the empty intestines.  They have had to fight it before many times.  Just last year they went on a hunger strike because the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it could not afford to facilitate two family visits a month for the prisoners anymore.  The Red Cross collaborated with Israel and cut the family visits to one per month.  What good is the Red Cross when it conspires to deny prisoners of war their human rights?

The same international community that created Israel, the United Nations, has declared that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that prisoners have a human right to maintain their family relationships, and that it is the responsibility of the jailer to provide that opportunity.  But the Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s refuse to obey international law even from their UN “mother”.  Instead the Red Cross had been picking up the tab for the visits.  In 2016 when the Red Cross and Israel cut family visits to one a month, then 300 Palestinian Prisoners went on a hunger strike.  Their families and friends occupied the Red Cross headquarters in New York City, Jerusalem, throughout Palestine, and around the world.  The Israelis lied by saying that they would work out the family visitations with the misnamed Palestinian Authority, which has no authority.   Israel has all the authority, so it made the Palestinian Authority pick up the tab.

Thirty-seven years ago the Palestinian Prisoners fought the battle of the empty intestines.  It would not be the last time. The Israelis tried in 1980, but could not break them then either.  The Israelis transferred them to a dungeon in the Negev Desert.  The Negev is boiling hot during the day and freezing cold at night. The Israelis tried to torture the prisoners into eating.  After 33 days and the deaths of 3 martyrs from forced feeding, the Israelis surrendered.  That battle of the empty intestines is remembered as the legendary Natha Prison Hunger Strike.

The battle of the empty intestines that the prisoners fought in 1980 had to be fought again in 2017.  The Netanyahu’s and the Liberman’s tried to take away the rights that the prisoners had secured 37 years ago.  They must fight this battle again, and again because the Israelis never keep their word.  The Palestinians will resist until the Israelis end their immoral and illegal occupation, or until they have been wiped out by the Israelis.  Left to the Netanyahu’s and the Liberman’s and their American enablers, the genocide and ethnic cleansing will probably continue, I fear.

I have been to Palestine.  I have talked to Palestinians.  Every Palestinian man I talked to had been in an Israeli prison at one time or another.  Some several times.  It is a rite of passage.  I met a Palestinian boy 13 years old who was facing prison.  An illegal Israeli settler had accused him of throwing stones.  The boy was arrested, taken to the police station and beaten into a confession.  Then the police released him in the custody of his father pending trial.

The prisoners’ stories are all mostly the same.  They are arbitrarily arrested, beaten into a confession, given a kangaroo trial, confined to indefinite detention, tortured, isolated, humiliated and shaken down.  Prisoners are deprived of warm clothes, medical care, healthy food and family visits unless they pay up.  Prison is a financial drain for the entire Palestinian family and a moneymaker for corrupt Israelis.  The prisoners must pay their jailers, they must buy their clothing, purchase edible food, pay fines for alleged infractions, pay for telephone calls, and pay for family visits.  When the Israelis are ready to release a prisoner the family must pay a ransom, often thousands of dollars, to get their loved ones back.

The Israelis never miss an opportunity to exploit the prisoners.  Prisons are a very profitable business.  The Israelis use prisoner rights to sadistically punish and extort the prisoners.  Family visits are a big financial and emotional drain.  Families must run the gauntlet for a visit.  Just obtaining the needed permits is not an easy task.  Once the permits are purchased, then traveling is an all-day challenge that often does not end successfully.

Traveling a short distance takes hours because of multiple checkpoints, roadblocks, detours and unimproved back roads.  Even with permits, the family may be denied passage or they often find the checkpoints closed.    The “sterile” superhighways are for Israelis only and are another obstacle in the path for Palestinians.  The Israelis want to keep their roads from becoming “contaminated”, so Palestinians must go miles out of their way to get around them and to get around the apartheid wall.  Every checkpoint is a humiliating experience.  Many of the checkpoints are so porous that they serve no other purpose.

At the prison the families are treated with contempt.  They must wait for hours.  There is no respect for women and they are strip searched roughly.  Then they may be told that their loved one does not want to see them or is sick.  If there is a visit it might be cut short.  Then the journey home is the same obstacle course.  The family may not be able to get through the checkpoints before they close, causing the family to have to spend the night in a hotel.  Every trip is like this for the Palestinians, whether it is family visits, shopping trips, or going to school; getting to work or even a medical emergency takes hours.

A friend of mine, his name is Mahmoud, told me about his imprisonment.  He is now a medical student at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. There is a Palestinian prisoners’ museum there, the Abu Jihad museum.  I have visited it and met the curator Dr. Fahed Abu Al-Haj.  It documents and displays the reality of Israeli prisons.  The museum is a very impressive and a moving experience.  As the museum’s webpage says, the museum is dedicated to political prisoners around the world.  The USA is no exception.

Our military has adopted the Israeli practices of kidnappings, kangaroo courts, indefinite detentions, solitary confinements, sensory deprivation, torture, and assassinations.  What Israel does influences and becomes a model for the US.  Our prisons, borders, ports, police, and our cities have become militarized as if we are an occupied country.  Peaceful demonstrations are broken up as violently and with the same brutal methods as Israel uses.  As the Israeli example continues it will not be long before we have checkpoints mushrooming on every corner.  Citizens will be frightened into approval.  The public will be brainwashed into saying that the checkpoints makes them feel safer.

The victory of the Palestinian Prisoners’ hunger strike is a much needed victory for freedom and dignity everywhere.  Victories for ordinary people have become rare.  The Freedom and Dignity Hunger Strike is an example of how people power can stand up against great power.  The people just have to stop eating Cheetos, get up off the couch and hit the streets.  We must fight to keep our freedom and dignity, and we must fight to end the wars and destruction.  Fight to put an end to imperialism and exploitation.  We can secure our economic freedom, obtain treatment for the sick, provide education to the young, relieve the suffering of the poor, and guarantee everyone’s human rights.  The resolve and determination of Palestinians should be our inspiration.  Palestinians say that to exist is to resist.  Free Palestine, end the occupation.

David William Pear is a contributing editor to the Greanville Post, where this essay originally appeared.