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As prisoners reach the breaking point, what will Israel do?

A fateful moment awaits as Israel is forced to choose how it will handle the Palestinian prisoner revolt.

In the next few days, something momentous will occur. A group of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike for over 60 days will either be released from incarceration in Israeli prison without charge or trial, or they will likely die.

And it will not end there, either. Many more have followed them down this perilous road of life, death and principle. In fact, thousands more.

Two Palestinians—Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi—have already crossed the finish line, securing their release from prison—through deals cut with the Israeli government. Yet will Israel release any more, and in so doing, allow the military justice system, in place in the occupied territories for decades, to crumble?

Know their names. Bilal Diab. Thaer Halahleh. Hasan Safadi. Jafaar Izzedine. These men and thousands more men and women—prisoners with no rights—have usurped some of the power from their jailers and are challenging the system of imprisonment that has been used to subjugate Palestinians for nearly half a century.

Under the radar, Israeli leaders are scrambling for a way out. All types of measures have been used to break the will of hunger strikers, including excessive bouts of solitary confinement and psychological pressure aimed at weakening their resolve. The tactics have not worked. As thousands have joined the hunger strike movement it appears it has gone well beyond Israel’s ability to stop.

The future remains uncertain. Will the death of prisoners in Israel jails ignite the occupied territories or will they simply fizzle out? Although very little seems capable of mustering mainstream Palestinian society these days, the reaction to this eventuality is unpredictable. Prisoners are a decisive issue for Palestinians (read here). Moreover, as the peace process comes to an inglorious end, the status quo is increasingly fragile. The political and economic horizons for Palestinians are beginning to close once again. Times are changing.


One reader pointed out the connection to Bobby Sands and the IRA hunger strikes of the early 1980s. This connection was pointedly made during the 66-day hunger strike of Khader Adnan (coincidentally Sands would die of starvation on the 66th day of his own hunger strike). @RichardL also gave a link to a Guardian piece on the impact of the IRA hunger strikes, which ended in the deaths of 10...

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‘Empty Stomachs’ hunger strike spreads across prisons

A movement of Palestinian prisoners protesting their incarceration and treatment inside Israeli prisons is continuing to reach momentous proportions. Billed the “War of Empty Stomachs,” the number of prisoners on hunger strike is now in the thousands.

On April 17, the prisoner movement split into two when between 1,200 and 1,600 prisoners launched a coordinated, open-ended hunger strike against their treatment inside Israeli prisons, including the pervasive use of solitary confinement, denied family visits and right to education. Another 2,000 joined in a limited solidarity hunger strike.

The prisoners had joined a group of hunger strikes launched independently by prisoners protesting their administrative detention—a policy by which Israel incarcerates Palestinians for periods of up to six months without evidence or trial, which can be renewed by a military judge indefinitely.

Galvanized by the hunger strike of Khader Adnan, beginning on December 18 and carried on by Hana Shalabi in February, the hunger strike movement is continuing to grow rapidly. At least seven prisoners are reaching dire health conditions, including Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, who are on the 61st day of their hunger strikes. Hasan Safadi is on his 56th day, and others, including Omar Abu Shalal and Jafar Izzedine, are quickly approaching these lengths of time.

Khader Adnan’s hunger strike—which lasted 66 days, the longest in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—opened the door for other prisoners after Israel decided to release him. He was joined near the end of his hunger strike by Hana Shalabi, whose hunger strike lasted 44 days before she was deported to Gaza in a release deal.

As more prisoners continue to approach the end of the road, Israel faces an increasingly difficult position. It can either follow suit with the two aforementioned hunger strikers and release more prisoners, or Israel can let them die in prison and potentially set off large-scale protests in the occupied territories. The latter choice also carries with it increased scrutiny on the practice of administrative detention, which is permitted under international law only in the most extreme cases. There are currently over 300 Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention by Israel; the longest has been detained for over five years. At times, the number of prisoners has numbered in the thousands.

More prisoners have already declared they will begin open-ended hunger strikes this coming week, and demonstrations have begun to spread outside the occupied territories. One is scheduled for Thursday...

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'60 Minutes' report on Palestinian Christians gets it wrong

Palestinian Christians are no different than other Palestinians. We all suffer the same.

There have already been a number of articles written in response to CBS’s 60 Minutes report about Christians in the Holy Land. The sexy story in all this appears to be Michael Oren’s interview with Bob Simon of 60 Minutes, and the attempt by Israel, its embassy in the United States and syndicate of lobbying groups to prevent the report in some capacity from airing.

The real story told in this piece has been to some degree overshadowed by the Michael Oren story, but also lacks appeal because it does not ultimately stray too far from the accepted argument about why Palestinian Christians are leaving the Holy Land—only enough to make the Israeli government sweat and overreact in characteristic fashion.

While the report makes some good points and does counter the argument that Palestinian Christians are fleeing solely as a response to Muslim fanaticism and persecution, I still feel that the overall message of this piece is that Palestinian Christendom is being squeezed out of Palestine because of a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims—which is altogether false.

The piece does not properly identify Christians as a seamless part of the Palestinian population, which faces persecution from Israel without prejudice to religion—rather Christians are portrayed as the “collateral damage” of this inter-religious conflict between Muslims and Jews.

Contrary to this portrayal, Palestinian Christians are an integral part of the Palestinian people and have been at the forefront of the movement for national liberation. From the earliest days until now, Palestinian Christians have comprised many of Palestinian nationalism’s intellectual pioneers, advocates and political leaders—not the hapless minority caught up in a struggle in which they have no part, as this piece portrays them as being.

Taking a closer look at the meat and bones of Bob Simon’s report, we see that even though every Palestinian Christians interviewed in the piece point to Israeli occupation and not Islamic extremism as the root of the exodus, Simon still insists on drawing the conclusion that Islam is at play in the flight of Christians.

Truly there are historical tensions between religious communities in Palestine, as there are in countries throughout the world. Some...

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Deconstructing the Associated Press coverage on Land Day

Reading the Washington Post online this morning I came across two articles from the Associated Press written about Land Day. The coverage struck me as particularly biased towards Israel, especially for a news agency that has the global reputation of merely reporting the news with the bare minimum of opinion or slant. I have personally met some high-ranking members of the AP staff in Jerusalem and I am well aware of their partisanship. My colleague Roi Maor already penned a piece about the Associated Press’ horrible coverage of the Mahmoud Abbas speech to the UN in September, but I thought it would be useful to analyze their treatment of the Land Day protests to show that such bias is not a one-off.


Here is an AP piece on Land Day, carried, among others, by the Washington Post. Let’s start with the headline.

Umm, excuse me? First of all, Land Day is not a protest against the Jewish State. It is a commemoration of the 1976 demonstration by Palestinian citizens of Israel against massive expropriations targeting Arab-owned land for Jewish settlement purposes. The protest left six Palestinians dead and hundreds injured. Today’s Land Day demonstrations, which occur throughout the whole of the country occur to protest the continuation of this policy by the Israeli government.

Secondly, the entire framing of the news forces the reader to associate Palestinian demonstrations with a security threat to Israeli citizens, which it clearly is not. I don’t remember any Israelis getting killed during Land Day demonstrations, but I do remember quite a few victims from among Palestinians and other Arabs. Now, it is possible that this headline was written by the Washington Post: The Associated Press usually gives a title that the publishing outlet is free to change at their leisure, I believe. I am not sure which is the case in this instance. But even if it was from the Post, I am not surprised they would choose such a title given the article’s content.

Moving on to the body of the text.

This first sentence frames the entire article. “Israeli soldiers in riot gear.” The demonstrations are labeled indirectly as riots from the outset, justifying the use of riot control measures against them.

Palestinians threw rocks and Israeli troops responded with stun grenades. No casualties were reported. Elsewhere things were calm.
Palestinians were banned from entering from the West...

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A microcosm of 'the Cause,' Land Day at Qalandia falls flat

What could have been an inspiring display of purposeful collective action turned out to be the opposite.

The Land Day commemoration at Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem was indicative of the state of the Palestinian cause, as supporters of different factions turned on each other in a ferocious rumble and the people were left protesting aimlessly.

The annual demonstration, which takes place in different locations across the country, had a robust turnout at Qalandia but the lack of strong leadership and direction was noticeable.

After the quarrel between supporters of Fatah, PFLP and Al-Mubadara (the Palestinian Initiative Party of Mustafa Barghouti) finished, the large crowd could not find a coherent way forward. Israeli soldiers blocking the road to the checkpoint fired teargas, rubber bullets and skunk spray in large quantities. Dozens were injured and rushed away in ambulances throughout the day. Youth from the adjacent refugee camp, from which Qalandia gets its name, began throwing stones and those wishing to march peacefully were caught in the middle.

The Qalandia demonstration was symptomatic of much larger issues with Palestinian attempts to mobilize against the occupation. The society is divided sharply along factional lines and there is virtually no leadership as party leaders no longer dirty their hands on the ground—with the exception of Mustafa Barghouti, who was injured during the protest and taken away in an ambulance.

Officials in the Palestinian Authority are not interested in leading their people in mass demonstrations. Thus popular frustration finds no coherent channel of expression and easily devolves when confronted by the Israeli military, which acts aggressively to break up any form of Palestinian protest.

This year’s commemoration had the potential to be a brilliant display of collective action as it linked up with the Global March on Jerusalem. Instead—at least from the vantage point of Qalandia, I heard things were better in other places—it was uninspiring. The Palestinian Authority security forces linked hands to prevent the Palestinian demonstrators from reaching an Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem, according to Ma’an News, which also has pictures.

Land Day first began in 1976 after six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed in a large demonstration protesting an Israeli government announcement to expropriate thousands of...

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WATCH: Edward Said documentary revisits Oslo period

A documentary from Edward Said and the BBC that illustrates life in the occupied territories after Oslo but before the Second Intifada.

I came across this great documentary called “In Search of Palestine” from a friend that was aired on the BBC in 1998. It is about the return of Edward Said to Palestine for the first time since his exile in 1948. For anyone interested in revisiting the pre-Second Intifada Oslo period, it is a spectacular look at the situation on the ground with the preeminent Palestinian scholar of his time.

It also includes interviews with a number of interesting personalities including Israel Shahak, Azmi Bishara, Mahmoud Darwish, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Daniel Barenboim, and others.

For those who don’t know Edward Said, who passed away in 2003, he was a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and author of several renowned and influential books, including Orientalism. He was also publicly active and one of the most trenchant critics of the Oslo Process and Yasser Arafat. His writings in the mid-1990s were prophetic in terms of what came out of the Oslo Process and the circumstances we are in today.

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Dearth of coverage in Israeli media on Gaza carnage

The Israeli media once again fails to show the impact of Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip.

I personally think it’s insane that on the Haaretz website there is not a single headline or article that even refers to what the Israeli military is wreaking on Gaza, where 23 have been killed in the last four days and over a hundred injured from fighter jets and gunships, according to Ma’an.

The closest you get is coverage of the homemade projectiles fired out of Gaza in which no people were killed. Some “light” injuries were reported though.

The reporting, or lack thereof, demonstrates once again the callousness Israeli society holds for the carnage they create in Gaza. You would expect more from the media, however.

It reminds one of the Israeli response to ‘Cast Lead,’ the Israeli War on Gaza that killed over 1,400 people, the majority of them civilians.

When civilians are killed, like the 65-year old Gazan man and his 30-year old daughter, as happened Sunday night, Haaretz finds it convenient to add the ready-made Israeli military response.

In a statement, the IDF spokesperson said that as a result of the fire it looks like citizens who were not involved in the combat were harmed.

“This case demonstrates the terrorist organizations’ use of civilians as human shields, and the fact that they open fire deep inside civilian populations,” the IDF spokesperson said.

One does not expect a public outcry in the streets of Tel Aviv, at least not anymore. But we do expect the media to do their job.

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Boycott about Palestinian rights, not destroying Israel

Noam Wiener’s post against the BDS movement once again fails to understand the movement and the general plight of Palestinians.

I am really not sure how I missed this guest post by Noam Wiener on the boycott movement, and the flurry of comments it generated, but I wanted to add a few of my own. There were way too many comments to read and I am sure that I am reiterating what many of our in-tuned readers certainly stated, but here it goes.

I have two central issues with this piece, starting with the following excerpt:

1. I don’t believe boycott means what he says it means. I may boycott Nike because it practices child labor in Malaysia, but that does not mean I view Nike as a “non-entity” with no right to exist. Boycott is about Israeli practices, not about Israel. Unfortunately, inherent Israeli exclusionary practices that privilege one people and disenfranchise another fit this bill, and may consequently force Israel to be a state for all its citizens: not such a terrible thing in my estimation.

2. No matter how many times people say it, there are those like Noam Wiener who fail time and again to understand or empathize with the refugee issue. They can say the occupation is the source of all evil till they run out of breath, but they must acknowledge that the refugees are also not a “non-entity” and that their existence and plight must be addressed.

To say that Palestinians must recognize Israel and Israeli self-determination is fine. But Israelis must then recognize Palestine and Palestinian self-determination, which includes the self-determination of refugees who were driven from their homes and desire either to return or be given compensation and resettled. Israeli self-determination does not trump its Palestinian counterpart, nor the rights that are essential to this conflict. Jewish nationalism’s desire for a state of its own, in which Jews constitute the majority, cannot justly come at the expense of another people – like white South African society’s (forgive the overuse of this comparison) desire to have an exclusionary state at the expense of the black South African population.


I am not a spokesperson for BDS but I am going to attempt to reconcile what some people, including Norman Finkelstein, view as a contradiction in the movement’s logic. The argument goes that although the three-tiered platform of BDS sounds benign,...

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Response to Scheindlin: Erasing Palestinian history

A response to Dahlia Scheindlin’s piece about Mahmoud Abbas’ comments on ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.

I am going to have to totally disagree with my colleague Dahlia Scheindlin on her piece, Response to Abbas: we’ll be together in Jerusalem forever. Although I am also ignorant of the speech Abu Mazen gave in Qatar, except for what I read in the papers, Abbas was saying that Israel is instituting a policy of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, which the Israeli media framed as an attempt to deny ANY Jewish connection to the holy city.

Dahlia’s contention is that Israelis and Palestinians are fighting on the same side in a war between moderates and extremists, and that no matter what happens we will be in Jerusalem together, forever and ever.

Despite being a comforting sentiment, it is simply not true. ‘Extremist’ and ‘moderate’ alike in Israeli politics have equally perpetrated the crimes of the occupation, and it is often the most leftist among Israelis who refuse to admit that what happened in the post 1948 Israel is in complete continuity with what is taking place in the ‘occupied territories’ today. Indeed, it was the Israeli secular moderates who governed Israel uninterrupted from 1948 until 1977.

It is foolhardy to say that despite efforts at ‘Judaization’ in Jerusalem, there will always be strong Muslim and Christian links to the city. What about the 500 plus villages and towns that were wiped off the map in what is now Israel, and whose memory has been pretty much erased from history? We don’t only want a historical legacy, we want a living memory.


It is always best to show instead of tell, so I will give an example. A friend of mine, originally from Nazareth, related a story to me a few years back from when she was a college student in the United States studying archaeology. She went home for a summer and was working on a dig in Israel. Her name is one of those ambiguous ones that could superficially pass as Jewish and she said that everyone assumed she was. At one point she was in the office of the head of the dig, who was examining a beautiful piece of Ottoman glasswork that had been dug up the day before. He turned to her and said: “Do you see this? This is not history,” at which point he tossed it...

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PLO committee agrees to push for landmark elections

With the Palestinian political horizon looking grim, reconciliation, elections and reform may be the only hope.

News of a major development in Palestinian politics was reached today in Cairo between leaders of various Palestinian factions.

A committee established by the reconciliation agreement signed in May 2011 to advance PLO reform has agreed to push for direct elections to the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the PLO’s parliament and highest legislative body, once polling and a mechanism can be reached. PNC elections, if held, would be a landmark accomplishment for Palestinian politics and pave the way for a representational government including Palestinians everywhere, not merely in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The move is highly popular among Palestinians, who see the deterioration in the PLO as a significant problem affecting political life. On March 15, 2011, Palestinian youth groups took to the streets in Ramallah calling for PNC elections. A a reconciliation agreement soon followed, signed in Cairo by Fatah and Hamas, along with other smaller factions.

The PNC has traditionally been comprised of appointed representatives from Palestinian political parties, trade and student unions, along with various other Palestinian groups and organizations located around the world. Direct elections to the PNC have never occurred due to the geo-political difficulties involved. Since the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993, the PNC has been increasingly marginalized in favor of the PA and barely constitutes a functioning body.

A dire situation

Beyond the headlines, Palestinian politics is in a state of crisis. Despite the achievements on paper, very little has been done on the ground to mend the divisions between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Elections to the Palestinian Authority, which were supposed to take place within one year from the May 2011 agreement, have been stalled, with the Central Elections Commission unable to complete voter registration in Gaza. The reconciliation agreement and the prospect of power sharing in the Gaza Strip has exposed rifts within Hamas, as the Gaza-based leadership is clearly unhappy with the arrangement.

The political division and lack of elections to the Palestinian Authority have also created an untenable state where the status and legitimacy of the PA is tied directly to one man – Mahmoud Abbas. Without elections, any successor to Abbas would have no legitimacy to head either the PA or PLO, both of which Abbas currently leads.

This is all amplified by...

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South African activist offers perspective on BDS

An impassioned speech by South African activist at Israeli Apartheid Week in London quickly gains attention.

The global symposium Israeli Apartheid Week kicked off a few days ago in cities and campuses around the world. Of particular note was an impassioned lecture given by a South African activist and PhD candidate called Mbuyiseni Ndlozi in London on Wednesday, on the connection between the struggle to end South African apartheid and what he described as an ‘evolved,’ and indeed worse, case in Israel.

Ndlozi’s statement stands in stark contrast to the recent video interview with Normal Finkelstein, who says plainly that the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid should not extend beyond the confines of international law. Ndlozi encourages activists to go further and appeal to people’s principles of freedom, justice and equality, what he said worked in South Africa.

Ndlozi also highlights how the South African apartheid regime manipulated world opinion for decades in regards to the justification of separating Whites and Blacks and how this deception must be broken when it comes to Israel.

These three points, which he repeats several times, boil down to the essence of calls for the solidarity campaign on which BDS is based.

Israeli Apartheid Week began in 2005 by a student group on the University of Toronto in Canada. It now takes place in over 40 cities worldwide and includes lectures, films, workshops and other activities that educate “about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system,” according to the website

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Deadly clashes erupt across occupied territories

Across the West Bank, clashes took place between Palestinians and the Israeli military. Several people were arrested and injured and at least one Palestinian was killed.

Clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military erupted across the occupied territories over the weekend, from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to the old city of Hebron, with scenes reminiscent of the start of the second Intifada.

It is not exactly clear what caused the clash at the Al-Aqsa Mosque because of differing reports, however, violence ensued between Israeli forces and Palestinians inside and around the compound, with teargas entering the mosque.

As news of the clash at the Muslim holy site spread, so did protests in other locations of the West Bank. Dozens were injured and one Palestinian was killed at a rally in front of the Qalandia checkpoint, the main junction separating the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. Reports said the protester, Tal’at Ramia, was killed by live fire.

Friday also saw the annual Open Shuhada Street demonstration organized by Youth Against Settlements in downtown Hebron, calling for the reopening of the main thoroughfare in the Old City that has been closed to Palestinians since 1994. The date marks the anniversary of the massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque that precipitated the closure, when the Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on worshipers, killing twenty-nine and wounding over a hundred.

Friday’s demonstration comprised hundreds of people and was immediately dispersed by the Israeli military without provocation or stone throwing. Soldiers fired tear gas, stun grenades and “skunk” water directly into the crowd once they were in range, as the video I shot below clearly shows.

As the crowd fled, Israeli soldiers descended from all sides firing teargas at small pockets of Palestinians, forcing them indoors. The demonstrators regrouped on several occasions, throwing stones and burning tires in front of the Israeli blockade.

At least two Palestinians were arrested by soldiers in Hebron, including a youth activist from Ramallah, Fadi Quran. Quran was one of the organizers of the Freedom Rides campaign on November 15, 2010.

Soldiers repeatedly threw stun grenades directly at journalists and other bystanders in the vicinity, including myself on several occasions.

A second demonstration was held in front of the Qalandia checkpoint on Saturday to commemorate the death of Ramia after his funeral. Ma’an News reported clashes between soldiers and protesters, including the use...

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Randa Adnan, wife of hunger striker, discusses her husband's struggle

The wife of hunger striker Khader Adnan tells me about how she is handling the situation.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to sit down for an interview with the family of Khader Adnan in their home in the village of Arrabeh, outside of Jenin. The purpose of the interview was to get a sense of how the family, particularly his wife and two small daughters, are coping with what is obviously a tremendously stressful and difficult period.

I found in Randa Adnan an extremely strong and articulate woman who is doing the best she could to support her husband in his time of need. Time, however, is no longer her own, nor is it on her side. She has visited her husband twice in the 63 days of his hunger strike, and today I believe she went to see him again. When she is not with Khader, she is trying to raise awareness about his struggle, dealing with a constant stream of visitors, and taking care of their two girls, Maali, 4, and Bissan, 18 months.

At the beginning of our interview she spoke with determination and the instinct for publicity that comes from being thrown in the limelight and choosing to swim instead of sink. Later, in a more private setting with my female colleague Abir Kopty, she opened up as a woman and a human being.

Randa told us of her husband the family man, the anxious and excited father to be (Randa is five months pregnant), who would wake up every morning and make her breakfast and freshly squeezed juice.

“If you knew him,” she says, “his life would have become precious to you. He is that kind of person.”

Below is an exerpt from the article published on Al-Jazeera English’s website.

Randa Adnan panics every time the phone rings, and these days it never seems to stop. For now, it is mostly journalists, family, friends and supporters asking about her husband, Khader, who lies shackled by his hands and feet to a hospital bed in Israel, while his body wastes away.

Through sixty-four days of a hunger strike, the longest in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Randa Adnan has only been allowed to visit her husband twice, for a total of an hour, and each time surrounded by armed guards.

She speaks in a rush, a slight desperation in her otherwise resolute voice, as...

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