By Iqbal Jassat
As global attention is drawn to Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikes, it is quite likely that the colonial-era conditions under which they have been jailed by Israel, will come into sharp focus.
Led by an ailing Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences for resisting Israel’s inhumane occupation, the hunger strikes have captured the world’s interest.
As discussions and debates ensue, many facts which make the Israeli regime uncomfortable have come to the fore. One of these is that since the dismemberment of Palestine as it existed prior to it being colonised by Zionism leading to the illegal creation of Israel, tens of thousands of Palestinians have tasted life in jails.
This fact epitomizes imprisonment of all Palestinians. The brutality of occupation equates to an oppressive shackling of millions, whether they are in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza or in refugee camps scattered around the Arab world.
However severe and repressive the physical enslavement may be, to the shock and horror of Israel’s apartheid regime, Palestinian hearts and minds refuse to succumb to colonialism and all it’s attendant evils personified in Zionism.
Humiliating military checkpoints which Palestinians are forcefully subjected to like a herd of cattle, serves as a daily reminder of apartheid in action. The steel grills and heavy fortifications manned by ruthless armed Israeli forces are dotted all over the Occupied Territories. Pictures of these clearly resemble jailhouses, reinforcing the distinct fact that Palestine as a whole has been placed behind bars.
The jailers who carry names such as Netanyahu, Lieberman, Bennet remind us in South Africa of our jailers, torturers and tormentors such as Verwoerd, Vorster, Botha and many more.
Yesterday it was Mandela whose plight as a political prisoner unjustly imprisoned on Robben Island along with hundreds of freedom fighters, grabbed global attention and attracted international solidarity.
Today it is Marwan Barghouti. His face has replaced the iconic image of Mandela behind bars, much to the consternation of his jailers, who are loath to have him compared with South Africa’s prisoner-turned-president. Remarkable turn of events indeed! Yet pregnant with many valuable lessons which Israel has foolishly chosen to ignore.
Barghouti is one of 6500 political prisoners, 300 of which are minors under the age of 18. The hunger strike which has been embarked upon by 1800 prisoners, has now entered its third week. An obstinate Israeli regime, consistent with its equally brutal racist ideology, has refused to address any of the prisoners’ grievances. Instead it is threatening to “discipline” prisoners. In Israeli jargon its a metaphor for torture.
All of Palestine is on strike in solidarity with the fasting prisoners and days of indignation, demonstrations and confrontations have been earmarked as rolling mass action becomes a daily reality.
Already solidarity marches, meetings and protests have commenced throughout the world. Social media is awash with images of people drinking salt and water as affirmation of their support. The hunger strikers oppose forced-feeding which is deemed a form of torture and their only intake is salt and water until their just and rightful demands are met: basic humane treatment in prison based on
Many commentators view the hunger-strike as a profound event in Palestinian and human history. They acknowledge that the price one pays for resistance is injury,
death or imprisonment.
Hunger is painful. But it is a pain Barghouti and his fellow inmates are willing to bear so that alarm bells ring out across all sectors of society throughout the globe reminding people that Palestinian lives matter. Their self-sacrifice is an eloquent testimony of their determination to resist injustice and oppression – even behind bars.
The bravery and integrity of Palestine’s freedom loving prisoners has been noted and embraced by martyrs like Basil Al-Araj whose last words on paper captured it so succinctly: there is no more eloquent speech than the deed of the martyr.
– Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in Johannesburg. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.