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Ramzy Baroud: My Own Hunger Strike

My Own Hunger Strike

By Ramzy Baroud

Today I will fast in solidarity with 2,800 Palestinian political prisoners currently carrying out a hunger strike in 10 Israeli jails.

Those prisoners are not ‘murderers’ as Israeli officials are describing them, but courageous individuals who have endured for the sake of freedom and liberty, principles that most of us only understand as clichés and mindless slogans.

It is disheartening that those striking men and women, whose only fault was resisting the degraded policies of the Israeli state and its perpetual occupation of Palestinian land, have been forgotten for this long.

It’s equally painful to see how the prisoners have downscaled their demands. In past hunger strikes, they called for freedom, or at least for their plight to be recognized by Israeli and Palestinian officials. Today they are merely demanding an end to the humiliating strip searches by their Israeli prison guards, longer visiting hours with their families and improved sanitation.

Such simple demands should not require the invoking of the Fourth Geneva Convention or the United Nations Charter on Human Rights. But for Israel, even such requests are outlandish. The Israeli government has in fact declared its hospitals off-limits to ailing strikers.

“I am not prepared for there to be a situation where the lives of patients and medical teams are endangered in our hospitals as a result of having to admit these murderers,” Health Minister Danny Naveh told the Israeli Army Radio on August 24.

A few days earlier, another cabinet member and a member of Ariel Sharon’s right wing Likud Party, Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi responded to the strikers and their supposed ‘excessive’ demands by declaring that he didn’t care if the prisoners starved to death.

But since these captive men and women (including many children) have no other choice but to keep their demands to a minimum, I don’t see why I should. I am not in Israeli custody; nor do I live at the mercy of Naveh and Hanegbi who would let me starve to death before they fix the sewer in my solitary confinement.

Because I am not under the thumb of the Likud party and its repressive regime, I decided to go to the extreme with my hunger strike demands list.

I demand the immediate release of every Palestinian political prisoner, woman, man and child. Until such demands are secured, Israel should completely cease every act of torture committed against my brothers and sisters in torture chambers across Israel and the West Bank. I demand that their dignity be respected and honor preserved, if not for the sake of simple humanity, then because of the Geneva Convention’s provisions regarding prisoners of war.

I demand that the international community, lead by the United Nations and the Red Cross exhaust every avenue necessary to ensure that the Israeli government stops using prisoners as a bargaining chip in its political coercion campaign against the Palestinian Authority, to ensure the implementation of international treaties on the question of prisoners’ rights, and to enforce equally compelling sanctions on Israel if it fails to live up to such responsibilities, as recognized by international law.

I demand international human rights groups to continue monitoring the Israeli infringement on prisoners’ rights and to make those findings widely available to educate people and influence international policies, and so that people around the world might press their governments to see that Israel puts an end to its unlawful practices.

I demand that the United States government stop using my tax money to arm the Israeli occupation forces with bullets, tear gas, riot-gear and other deadly means to subdue Palestinian prisoners during freedom riots. (Side note: I also demand the US government stop using Israeli interrogators to pass on their treacherous torture techniques so that they might be used on Iraqis and other political prisoners around the world.)

I demand Arab and Muslim governments to stop paying lip service to the Palestinian cause and to quit holding fancy dinner banquets in the honor of deprived orphans and suffering widows. Instead, I urge them to achieve a collective, perpetual and meaningful campaign, supporting the Palestinian struggle in alliance with all forces of peace around the world. (Side note: I also demand that they release their own political prisoners, especially the last cohort of political prisoners detained by Mauritanian police for protesting in support of Palestinian prisoners on this most recent hunger strike.)

I demand that the PA and it’s ruling Fatah party quit their inner fighting and meaningless power struggle, especially since they have acquired neither political nor territorial sovereignty to begin with. I demand that they remain focused on the collective self-determination of their people and that they side with the freedom deprived prisoners. (Side note: By siding with the freedom-deprived prisoners, I am not suggesting that empty and superficial speeches be read on the news day and night, but a unified national agenda coupled with a realistic vision to bring an end to the suffering of captive Palestinians.)

I petition myself to remember that at any given moment, there is a Palestinian man or woman, stripped and humiliated, beaten while hanging from a rusty and damp ceiling, somewhere in Israel, handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded, yet refusing to be subdued, all because he or she attempted to protect a village, a people, a past, an idea, a fleeting dream.

I demand that I imprint on my own heart, the pain endured in those lonely cells and the pain of thousands confined by the greater prison wall that is sucking the life out of the West Bank and Gaza. Lest I forget, I declare my own hunger strike.

- Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist. A regular columnist in many English and Arabic publications, he is editor-in-chief of and head of Research & Studies Department at English.

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