It is a departure for both of us to reach out to you in this way, but we are feeling as if we must. The world offers us many opportunities to take a stand and to act for change, and each of us must respond according to the guidance of our own hearts. We are following ours now, and thank you for spending the few minutes it will take for you to read about FASTING ON FRIDAYS: In Solidarity with the Palestinian Karameh (Dignity) Hunger Strike.
Let us begin with a little background. You probably heard or read about Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi a few months back. Both of them have spent years of their lives in and out of Israeli-run prisons under the administrative detention policy. Also known as interment, and very similar to what is practiced by the US at Guantánamo, Israeli administrative detention places people in prison without charges or trial for up to six months, with the potential for an indefinite number of renewals. Neither Adnan nor Shalabi were ever charged with, or convicted of, committing a crime. During their most recent incarcerations, they each chose to go on a hunger strike—Adnan’s lasted for 66 days and Shalabi’s for 43—to protest, among other things, the widespread usage of administrative detention.
Both of the hunger strikes last winter ended through negotiation before deaths occurred. Right now, however, a new and massive non-violent protest has been undertaken by as many as 2500 Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons. The numbers are not entirely clear and we apologize for that, but even if the lower estimates of 1500 are correct, this is a huge action, and a large number of people are putting their lives on the line in order to focus the world’s attention upon violations of international law that are a routine part of the lives of many Palestinians. Ten of the hunger strikers are now gravely ill and close to death. As of this writing, on May 9th, two of them have refused food for 71 days, and the majority are into their fourth week without eating. The situation changes moment to moment.
They have pledged to continue the strike until their demands are met, or until death. Here are some of their key demands:
- An end to the policy of solitary confinement and isolation which has been used to deprive Palestinian prisoners of their rights for more than a decade;
- An end to administrative detention;
- To allow the families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit prisoners. This right has been denied to all families for more than 6 years;
- An improvement in the living conditions of prisoners and an end to the ‘Shalit’ law, which outlaws newspapers, learning materials and many TV channels; and
- An end to the policies of humiliation which are suffered by prisoners and their families such as strip searches, nightly raids, and collective punishment.
Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike have been hit hard with retaliation from Israel Prison Services, including beatings, transferring from one prison to another, confiscation of salt (an act that could have severe health consequences for hunger strikers), denial of family and lawyer visits, and isolation and solitary confinement of hunger strikers. In the occupied territories, people have rallied behind the hunger strikers using only non-violent means: fasting in solidarity, marching and rallying. As far as we know, creative and peaceful demonstrations of support for the prisoners have been the rule.
If you are interested in learning more specifically about the strike itself and the conditions that inspired it, here are links to a few recent pieces that we found illuminating:
http://richardfalk.wordpress.com/ (see the entries for May 1st and May 2nd)
Although we are interested in making as many of you as possible aware of what is unfolding, our purpose here is a little deeper.
Ali Abuminah, a Palestinian-American journalist writes that “Former prisoners and hunger strikers have said that even the smallest demonstration, the smallest acts of solidarity anywhere in the world make an enormous difference to their morale.”
In addition to the public demonstrations of support in Gaza and the West Bank, we know that rallies, teachings, vigils and street protests are happening in various places throughout the US, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and more. It is important for us to note here that a number of the organizers of these events are Jews who embrace the concept of tikkun olam—repairing the world, who like Rabbi Jeffrey Newman, believe that “Without justice for Palestinians, there is no hope for Israel.”
Yesterday, discussing this situation, we found that our hearts demanded we follow our sorrow into some form of action. Time is of the essence here; it is likely that some of the hunger strikers will begin to die in the next day or so. Ideally we would like for our actions to influence public opinion, to change the course of things, but our first and deepest wish is that the Palestinian people know that there are others, many of us Americans, who are with them as they stand steadfastly in the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many prisoners from a multitude of nations who have chosen, over the years, to lay down their lives, if necessary, rather than to live a life stripped of both human rights and human dignity.
In terms of action, we would like to invite you to join us and a growing number of people in one or more of the following ways if you feel at all moved to do so:
- Make a commitment to FASTING ON FRIDAYS– just one day a week, in solidarity with the hunger strikers. We will continue our once-weekly fasts until the Palestinians end their hunger strike. We are asking that you pledge to the fast for a month (four Fridays) at a time, so that we can track the numbers of fasters and do everything possible to bring attention to our efforts. You can design your own fast, but at minimum, we hope you’ll abstain from sunrise to sunset, each Friday. You can sign up, find more information about the pledge and about fasting here: http://fastingonfridays.wordpress.com/ We begin this Friday, May 11, 2012.
- If your heart would like to join the fast, but your body is not able, we ask you to make a special intention on Fridays to send your love, thoughts and prayers to the Palestinians on hunger strike, to their loved ones, and to all whose lives are moved or changed by this action.
- Consider making a donation to an organization that provides support to Palestinians in need, perhaps in the name of, or in honor of, the hunger strikers. We are not in a position to recommend particular groups, but have compiled a list of the members of a coalition called the Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organisations (PCHRO), with links to their individual websites: http://fastingonfridays.wordpress.com/organizations-to-support/ Some of these groups focus on general welfare and human rights, some on legal aid, one on women’s issues and another is specific to children’s concerns.
- Read and sign this letter to Israeli Brigadier General Dani Afroni, Military Judge Advocate General: http://samidoun.ca/2012/05/70-days-for-bilal-diab-and-thaer-halahleh-as-their-appeal-is-rejected-take-action-for-2500-prisoners-on-hunger-strike/#letter
- Read and sign this letter to the International Committee of the Red Cross:http://samidoun.ca/2012/04/palestinian-prisoners-day-take-action-to-call-for-freedom-for-palestinian-prisoners/#letter
We know that there are many things that call to each of us, that open our hearts and ask that we step out of our comfort in order to make the world a bit kinder. We all have to do it in the way or ways that feel correct to us, and we don’t expect that what is moving us to action will necessarily be what galvanizes you. However, we really appreciate your giving our proposal your thoughtful consideration. And if this isn’t for you, then we would be grateful if you forwarded it to anyone whom you think might find it of interest.
With gratitude for all that we have, around and among us,
Elizabeth West and Domenica Bianca
UPDATE 5/15/12: The good news: The Karameh Hunger Strike has been ended by the Strike Leadership Committee after an agreement was reached with the Israeli Prison Services. Domenica and I intend to continue fasting on Fridays in solidarity with the Palestinians, and will update you in the next few days. The strike is over, but the underlying issues remain and we both feel strongly about our commitment to bring awareness and attention to those. We hope that some of you will join us in that. Love, Elizabeth