Hunger Strike by Palestinian Prisoners Reaches Day 18
Abby Martin and Paul Jay discuss the significance of the resistance by over 1,000 prisoners in Israeli jails
Paul Jay: Welcome to the real news network. I’m Paul Jay. While Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was visiting with President Trump in Washington DC on Wednesday, a large protest was taking place in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Protest was in solidarity with as many as 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike in Israel. The hunger strike, which began on April 17th and is indefinite, seeks to call attention the over 6,500 Palestinian prisoners being held, many without charge, in fact many children and in terrible conditions in Israel. Television media has mostly ignored the action of the United States. The importance of the hunger strike should not be underestimated, however, and may be the start of a new phase in the resistance to Israeli occupation. Omar Barghouti, Israel’s most prominent Palestinian prisoner, recently said, “Our chains will be broken before we are, because it’s in human nature to heed the call for freedom, regardless of the cost.” Also at the solidarity demonstration in Ramallah, speakers urged for a new wave of civil disobedience, or intifada, against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank which enters its 50th year. Now joining us to talk about the strike and protest, US media coverage of it, is Abby Martin, host of Empire Falls of TeleSUR which is also carried by the Real News Network. Thanks very much for joining us, Abby.
Abby Martin: Thanks for having me Paul.
Paul Jay: Abby, you’ve done a show about the strike, the hunger strike, you were in Israel, Palestine, not that long ago. What can you tell us about what you found?
Abby Martin: Well yeah. I think the most shocking thing, Paul, is no matter what you read, how many videos you watch about this issue, nothing will prepare you for the brutality on the ground, the oppressive nature of the military occupation. I mean, we’re talking about the West Bank that’s under martial law, a brutal occupation like you said, that’s entering its 50th year. This hunger strike, really, is emblematic of what people are left. They’re left just to use their own bodies for God’s sake, because of how many things are completely considered illegal. Let’s talk about that. It’s not just weapons, right? It’s being a member of a political organization. It’s handing out leaflets. It’s if you’re standing in a group of more than ten people, that is considered illegal. You need actual permission from Israeli authorities. When these people are being rounded up for alleged crimes, there is no fair trial. They’re simply put in prison for years and years and years. It would be similar to an occupying soldier in Iraq arresting Iraqis in mass, and putting them in US prisons. These Palestinians are being held in Israeli military prisons, under Israeli military law. You know, the settlers are protected by the state, but Palestinians certainly have no rights at all, Paul.
When we were there, I mean, almost everyone we talked to everywhere we went had been in prison, 40% of males in the West Bank in Jerusalem have served time in Israeli jails. For things like sharing a photo someone who has died on Facebook. They’re actually cracking down on social media more than ever before, where simply, not even incitement to violence or anything like that, it’s simply people who’ve died and they consider that incitement. You know, you’re encouraging people to I guess die on behalf of the cause. Then they put you in prison for the amount of time that if you have a certain amount of shares or likes on the photo, and you will go to prison for that much time. It’s completely outrageous. I mean, we were there-
Paul Jay: Hold on.
Abby Martin: Yeah yeah.
Paul Jay: The sentences are linked to how big a social media footprint you have?
Abby Martin: Yes. Absolutely, yeah. Even just simply raising a flag. I mean, raising a Palestinian flag. We were in this town called Sebastia, this ancient archeological site. The day that we got there, two Palestinians had been shot by Israeli forces for simply erecting a flag on a hill, Paul. But the resilience there is so strong that the next day, that flag was raised back on that hill despite them knowing that they could be shot and killed for it.
Paul Jay: Now while many of the people in Israeli prisons had been rounded up for the kinds of things you’re talking about, for protesting, perhaps even rock throwing and so on, some of the prisoners have been convicted, I’ll put that somewhat in quotes because they are in military trails normally, not civilian trials. Most of these cases, if I understand it correctly, Palestinians charge with “terrorist acts,” and I’ll get to that in a second. Go before military tribunals. But that being said, some of them have been convicted. I think some of the people who have been convicted have acknowledged in one form or another that they were involved in some kind of an armed attack. That goes to one of the issues at the heart of the strike, and of the imprisonment. Are these people in jail who have been involved in armed resistance?
In other words, have they been involved in armed resistance against an occupation which generally speaking, is legal under international law? There’s some provisions about whether you’re wearing a uniform or not, so that puts it in somewhat a gray area. Or as the Israelis want to say, are these people terrorists? When you read the articles in the Jerusalem Post and other Israeli or pro-Israeli press, and they write about the hunger strike, every fourth word is terrorist. In any given paragraph, terrorist will show up three, four times. How do you deal with this question of you know, what’s armed resistance and what’s terrorism?
Abby Martin: Very simple. I mean, as you said under international law, resistance to an occupation is considered legal in many senses. But I think this statistic really says it all, Paul. 40% of people who have served time in Israeli prisons have never been even accused of committing acts of violence. This is completely non-violent resistance or non-violent measures that have put these people in prison. Who knows about the other 60%? I mean we’re talking about a system that is so unfair that it’s over 99% conviction rate for some of these people. You’re talking about the hunger strike, Gilad Erdan, Israeli’s Public Security Minister actually said in light of a bill that banned, that essentially was trying to stop the hunger strikers by allowing force feeding the hunger strikers, he’s basically calling it a terrorist attack. He’s saying that simply hunger strikers are committing a new type of terrorist attack, threatening the security of Israel. I mean, can you believe the language that’s warped and twisted to try to justify these gross human rights violations?
I wanted to also talk about something else. I mean, a lot of these people are protesting what they call “administrative detention,” which is 500 people are being held in administrative detention right now, which is a lot considering that I think only 6,000 prisoners are in Israeli prisons, of course over one sixth are currently on a hunger strike. But 500 of these people are being held without charges or trial for six months at a time. There were several cases when we talked to [Adamir 00:07:04], who you guys recently interviewed too, of course Real News has been totally on top of this issue, making up for the horrible coverage in the mainstream media. Adamir was telling us that these people can be held up to the precipice of the day that they’re supposed to be released without charges or trial, based on secret documents. Then the last day that they’re being held, they just revamp it, so it’s another six months of just waiting with bated breath and misery, not knowing when you’re going to be released. I mean it’s absolutely insane. There’s reports of the brutality, the conditions that these people are being held. Over 90% are subjected to torture. Reports of Israeli prison cells in outdoor cages, holding some Palestinian children.
You said the rock throwing thing, I think this is really important too because this is really a symbol of resistance, this kind of this whole David and Goliath thing, this biblical symbology. When you look at what they’ve done, these kids are just throwing rocks at occupation tanks and soldiers who are armed at the teeth, and they are put in prison. It used to be below three years and now the sentence is up to 20 years if you can prove intent to harm. I’m sure these people can really just willy nilly say, “Hey if you’re throwing a rock, you’re intending to harm someone.” It’s so repressive, Paul, that they’re trying to crush it at such an early age. Set an example at such an early age to say, “Hey, if you dare to resist, you will go to prison for life.” People that are so terrified of going to prison, and they’re the main bread winners for their family. I mean, it’s a patriarchal society and the men there need to be the bread winners. They can’t afford to get locked up for 30 years. But yeah, going back to the whole political prisoners thing, I mean a lot of these people are still in jail from the second intifada. They will be there probably for the rest of their lives.
Paul Jay: That being said, what do you make of these calls for a new intifada? Did you get a sense that that was brewing, bubbling?
Abby Martin: You know, I talked to Miko Peled who the son of the Israeli general, and he said that he really feels like things are reaching a peak. He thinks that a new intifada can definitely emerge. He thinks the whole Zionist project could collapse very soon. I am not that optimistic. I think that with the unshakeable bond of the US military industrial complex and the US empire, it’s going to be very hard without massive outside pressure in terms of medias, etc, to really see that. Because as we know Paul, the repressive martial law system in West Bank and kind of the vanishing of the Israeli left, it doesn’t look like there’s much within Israeli society to change the situation. But I absolutely agree with the calls for a massive, non-violent civil disobedience and I completely stand in solidarity with the Palestinians who are resisting this occupation.
Paul Jay: Now there’s been some controversy in the United States. A letter sent by all the senators, I don’t think a single one didn’t sign it, critiqued the United Nations for being anti-Israel, having and anti-Israel bias. It quotes Nikki Haley, the US ambassador in the letter. It calls for the United Nations to treat Israel as fair, not more, not less fair than it treats any other country, and says that in fact, Israel is treated unfairly because it gets critiqued more than other countries. Bernie Sanders was one of the senators that signed this. He’s been getting a lot of flack about this. It surprised I think a lot of people that were supporters of Sanders, because during the Democratic Party platform committee negotiations, Bernie Sanders appointed Cornell West to represent him there. West, Cornell took a very strong position in support of Palestinian rights and waged quite a big and public fight to change the language of the DNC platform. Clearly he did that being endorsed by Bernie Sanders, but then Bernie signs this letter which also indirectly critiques the BDS movement the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement. What did you make of that?
Abby Martin: God, I mean I can’t say I was shocked, but I am disgusted. Look, like we were talking before the broadcast, I mean the human rights council is completely absurd on its face, right? The fact that Saudi members a member, the fact that Saudi Arabia is even waging like human rights councils on behalf of women, I mean it’s completely vile and absurdly hypocritical. In that sense, yeah sure of course you should criticize Saudi Arabia. But when you look at the other biggest ally to the US empire, which is Israel, and you know Bernie Sanders is kind of poo pooing this. Subsequently after this letter was signed, he did this extensive interview with Al Jazeera. It really bothered me, Paul because he’s sitting there saying, he’s just completely shooing it off as if it’s not a big issue. He’s saying, “Why are people so obsessed with Israel?” Oh, I’m sure you could tell your thousands of Palestinian constituents who have been ethnically cleansed and expelled from their homeland that this isn’t an issue that they should be obsessed with. That they should be protesting the Saudi embassy instead, because women can’t drive.
I mean, this whataboutism is absurd. This is one of the most gravest humanitarian crises in the world, that we are funding with our tax dollars. Don’t tell me that we shouldn’t be obsessed with it, and its anti semitic to want to boycott a country that is one of the only settler colonial states that is openly ethnically cleansing people as we speak.
It’s a disgrace, Paul. The whole Keith Ellison smear campaign, Bernie Sanders smear campaign, they were called anti semites for daring to even speak about the Palestinians as they were human beings. Now we have this kind of 180 where Bernie Sanders is somehow feels pressured to play all fields, all sides, where he wants to sign this letter. He should’ve been the only senator to not sign the letter, because when you’re calling BDS anti semitic, you’re going down a very slippery slope to reveal that we have zero allies for Palestinians in this senate. We have zero allies for Palestinians in the congress. That’s really left up to the people, Paul. We’re not going to look the government for help on this issue.
Paul Jay: All right, thanks for joining us Abby.
Abby Martin: Thanks Paul.
Paul Jay: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.