Hunger Strike Wins Concessions

Israel has subjected thousands of Palestinians to detention without trial, a tactic that finally provoked a hunger strike and at least modest concessions from Israeli authorities regarding prison conditions, as described by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The agreement that ended a hunger strike by as many as two thousand of the Palestinians held prisoner by Israel is modest, uncertain and shaky.

Negotiated with the involvement of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, the deal calls for Israel to ease the conditions of detention in several respects. About 20 prisoners will be taken out of solitary confinement. Family members from the Gaza Strip will be permitted prison visits, which have been denied them in recent years.

Protesters rally in support of Palestinian hunger striker. (Photo credit: Al Jazeera)

Prisoners under “administrative detention”, incarceration in which neither they, their families, nor anyone else in the outside world are told anything about why they are imprisoned, are supposed to be detained beyond six months only if evidence about them is brought before a military court.

The prisoners reportedly made some vaguely defined commitment about not engaging in any activity that would support terrorism. It is unclear whether a couple of the prisoners who have been engaging in hunger strikes longer than the rest will end their fasts.

Israel has not conceded much. It is not ending administrative detention, a legal netherworld in which those incarcerated are treated neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war and which makes the U.S. concept of “illegal combatant” look like a paragon of due process. We don’t know anything about the sorts of procedures that would lead a current detainee to be kept imprisoned beyond six months.

In any case, there seems to be no impediment to Israel continuing to catch and release and catch again, resulting in serial detentions of the same individuals without anything ever being said about why they are imprisoned. It also is easy to envision the whole arrangement breaking down, with Israel declaring the deal to be void at the first sign of anything that can be labeled terrorist activity and can be connected in any way to anyone imprisoned.

Many Palestinians nevertheless see the deal as a success. Insofar as it is seen as such, it will sustain a belief that has gained increasing traction among Palestinians in recent years: that peaceful protest has potential to gain relief from the Palestinians’ predicament. It is a belief that is based on appeal to the conscience of Israelis and of the world community.

In appealing to the conscience of the world community, it dovetails with the Palestinian diplomatic strategy of framing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a multilateral issue worthy of attention in the most multilateral of forums, the United Nations.

Despite the meager nature of results thus far from actions such as the hunger strike, an intensified Palestinian commitment to peaceful protest is all to the good, for multiple reasons that ultimately redound to the benefit of both Palestinians and Israelis.

It is good because the continued lack of resolution of the conflict between these two peoples is fundamentally a moral issue involving political rights, having to do with the principles that conflicting claims to land ought not to be resolved through the might-makes-right device of superior military force, that peoples with a national identity ought to enjoy self-determination rather than to endure subjugation and that all peoples are entitled to a secure life inside their own homelands.

It is good also because peaceful protest represents a rejection of past Palestinian uses of violence, which were condemnable failures both in the direct harm and suffering they caused and in leading Israelis understandably to frame the conflict in terms of their own security. Peaceful protests that do no physical harm to Israel do not have those ill effects.

Peaceful tactics aimed clearly and specifically at relieving the plight of the Palestinians as a subjugated people also avoid contributing to the fallacious notion, which Israeli spokesmen and apologists habitually voice, that the problem is an effort to “delegitimize Israel” by those who somehow hope to destroy it.

Anyone who has such views and intentions today is a fringe that is almost irrelevant to resolution of this conflict. Such views are not held by the Palestinian leadership, by the community of Arab states as expressed through the Arab League, or by the vast majority of people throughout the world who have ever had anything critical to say about Israeli policies.

The central problem is not illegitimacy of a state or efforts to impute illegitimacy to a state but instead the illegitimacy of denying political rights through conquest and colonization.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

2 comments for “Hunger Strike Wins Concessions

  1. incontinent reader
    May 20, 2012 at 12:39

    Nonviolent protest does win more hearts and minds in the world, and removes rationale for claiming that oppressive measures are necessary to protect “national security”, but the position and agenda of Likud government, its US lobbyists, our Congress and Administration that is hostage to the Likud and keeps feeding and enabling the oppression, and even the hardening of attitudes by the majority of the Israeli population doesn’t give one much confidence, at least in the near future. Moreover, the daily facts on the ground suggest that the government, including the IDF have become aggressive, not less. Stephen Lendman has summarized a number of actions in the past week at: Also, always has something to report that has been an egregious violation of Palestinian rights- whether it is more expropriation of property, or beatings by the police or military, or denial of justice in the courts.

  2. incontinent reader
    May 19, 2012 at 23:49

    This may gain the “moral high ground” and the result has been encouraging, but the movement will continue to need help from all quarters to pressure Israel to sit down and commit to a just solution to its over 60 year-old conflict with the Palestinians, including some show of independence by leaders of foreign governments whose peoples are fed up with U.S. partisanship and intransigence, and an expansion of the boycotts. In the meantime, the prospects are not optimistic that anything will change soon in the official U.S. position. As with Clinton and GW Bush, Obama’s State and Defense Departments, etc., have been imbedded with AIPAC flacs (and as Sibel Edmonds and others who were with the FBI have reported) Israeli and Turkish spies, and purged of independent thinkers- at least enough to neuter George Mitchell, and rid itself also of Chas Freeman and Dennis Blair, (as well as, over the years, the best and brightest of its Middle East Arabists). Unfortunately, Romney’s Administration would be even worse- with Bolton, Hadley, Kagan, and the rest of the neocon hacks, and, if William Kristol’s recent announcement qua prediction is correct, Uncle Joe Lieberman as Secretary of State. (Makes one marvel at the amount of damage he would have caused as Vice President to a malleable Gore. Now, he’s back.)

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