The following speech was given at a solidarity demonstration in support of Palestinian prisoners who have been on a hunger strike—“the battle of empty stomachs”–since April 16. The goal of the event was also to shed light on the plight of the Palestinian people after nearly fifty years since the start of the 1967 occupation, and 69 years since the Nakba. (It was held the day before Nakba Day.) It was endorsed by the International Peacekeepers Alliance, the ILPS-Canada (International League of Peoples’ Struggle), the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoners Solidarity Network, the Canada Palestine Association, and Plan Peace. An IJV press release was also read as part of this speech, which can be read in full here.
It is a great honour for me to be here to represent Independent Jewish Voices-Vancouver at this event in solidarity with 1,700 Palestinian prisoners who are courageously making such immense sacrifices in defense of their human rights, their dignity, and their right to a free and independent existence in their homeland.
The hunger strikers are protesting a wide range of human rights violations, but on top of all these is the most grievous of all—the fifty-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the massive violations of Palestinian human and national rights it entails. The Israeli human rights group Btselem has stated, “The prisoners’ strike cannot be seen in isolation from the broader context: in one month’s time, the occupation will mark its 50th anniversary. As part of its longstanding control, Israel has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in its own territory—most without a fair trial, and some with no trial at all. The incarceration of thousands of Palestinians and the extreme restrictions imposed on them are part and parcel of the occupation.”
Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz (May 8), “There are among them [the strikers] young and old, healthy and sick, and they are all being tortured because their struggle is just and their sacrifice is great.”
Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti wrote, (“Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons,” New York Times, April 16): “Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending the occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace.”
Unfortunately, our current government, like its predecessor, continues its long-time practice of uncritical support for Israeli occupation policies. I hope these polices are overcome, and that support for Palestinian prisoners—and the Palestinian struggle for freedom–continues to spread, and that the example of the Canadian Labour Congress is taken up by all Canadians, and people through the world, including tendencies within Jewish communities, such as Independent Jewish Voices and Jewish Voice for Peace in the U.S., until the prisoners’ demands are met and the Palestinians enjoy the freedom and self-determination which has been denied them for so long, and that Israel Jews are also free—as the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz put it—of the curse of dominating another people.
On May 27, Palestinian prisoners ended their 40-day hunger strike after an agreement was reached between thehunger strike leadership headed by Marwan Barghouti and the Israel Prison Service. Issa Qaraqe, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission, said at a May 28 press conference that “80 percent of the demands” of the prisoners were achieved in the strike, calling it “an important achievement to build on in the future on the basis of the protection of the prisoners’ rights and dignity.” For more information, visit Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network <samidoun.net>.