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Hunger Strikes In Israeli Jails

2006 Hunger Strike Commemoration Flag

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —   George Santayana, 1905

World-wide, Jews fight to make sure that no one forgets the Holocaust. In their view, and the view of many others, if we forget the depths humanity can reach in blind bigoted hatred, such events will happen again. But, the Israeli government needs to realize that theirs is not the only story that should be remembered and learned from.

Beginning in 1976, groups of IRA members incarcerated by the British government engaged in a series of strikes, ranging from refusing to bath and covering their cells with their own excrement to refusing to eat. The final one took place in 1981. The prisoners went on a hunger strike. One striker, Bobby Sands, had been convicted of possession of a firearm. During the strike, he was elected to Parliament. Then, he died. Nine other hunger strikers died. The British grip on Northern Ireland was seriously damaged. World opinion of the British right to use extreme measures to deal with the IRA turned. People started to see the IRA as freedom fighters instead of terrorists. It was all in the perception, and it is a perception that has persisted to this date. The IRA of the late 20th century were terrorists. They attacked civilians, not just military or police targets. They took their fight to the British people instead of keeping it in Northern Ireland. The Thatcher administration refused to deal with them or with the legitimate complaints of the Catholics of Northern Ireland. What had begun in the early 1970s as a protest movement for equal rights turned into a movement to have Northern Ireland “reunited” with the rest of Ireland. In the aftermath of the hunger strikes, the political arm of the IRA, Sinn Fein, became a powerful legitimate political party. In dying, ten men accomplished more than years of bombs had.

It is a story that the Israelis should pay attention to. The Palestinian men and women that the Israelis are holding in jail without charges, without trials, often without contact with the outside world, are now imitating the IRA.

There are about 3,000 Arab and Palestinians in Israeli jails taking part in a hunger strike that has been going on for almost three weeks. They are demanding trials and better incarceration conditions. The prisoners include women and children.

There are more than 300 Palestinians held in administrative detention, without any suggestion of a trial. All Gazan prisoners are deprived of family visits for four years. Since 1967, over fifty Palestinians have died in prison from refusal of medical care. Prisoners are “treated” with expired medications or medications not recommended for their illnesses. The prison clinics and the military hospital in Ramleh lack basic supplies and equipment and are run by military personnel with no medical training. Female prisoners are treated even more severely, placed in isolation cells and denied any medical care.

The hunger strikers are being punished with daily raids on their cells, confiscation of personal belongings, loss of electricity and other measures classified as torture by the Geneva Conventions.

Standing around and hoping that the Israeli government will respond to the strikers demands is useless. International human rights groups are protesting the situation. They too are being ignored by the Israelis.

The more the world knows about the strikers and the conditions under which these prisoners live, the more international opinion can turn against the Israeli government. The more they punish the prisoners, the stronger opposition to their occupation becomes. The United Kingdom learned the hard way that starving, dying prisoners have more power than bombers.

The Netanyahu administration prefers to ignore the concerns of the United States, mostly because they feel there is enough fanatical pro-Israeli feeling in America to overcome any concerns the Obama administration has about human rights and the Geneva Convention. But there is one fact Americans need to understand….the actions of the Netanyahu administration have a direct impact on our security and safety. The situation in the occupied territories is the primary recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. Most Islamic terrorist groups began with the Palestinian conflict, but even al Qaida, with its regional ambitions, uses the Palestinians as their first line of recruitment. America is blamed for supporting the manner in which the Israelis treat the Palestinians. It is easy for those who support Israel to say that the Muslims want the complete annihilation of the state of Israel, without acknowledging that there are forces in Israel who advocate genocide of Muslims, and a government policy that treats Palestinians as sub-humans. There is enough fault to cover both sides.

Friends tell friends when their behavior is self-destructive. It’s called an intervention. Israel’s friends need to hold an intervention and convince the Netanyahu administration that they are not controlling the situation, but condemning themselves to failure.

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