By: Michelle Weinroth
I recently chanced upon a Facebook page that posts video footage and photos of daily occurrences in Palestine. The images make for difficult viewing; and they are endless. We witness Israeli Occupation Forces raiding Palestinian homes in Hebron, detaining young children before their helpless parents, soldiers kidnapping children, Jewish settlers setting Palestinian olive trees ablaze, Palestinians bludgeoned and beaten at demonstrations, etc. But these myriad instances of Israeli violence are nowhere in the mainstream media. Yet, in Palestinian life, such cases of abuse are rampant and constant. Scarcely sensationalized, they are the entrenched reality, and the raw footage makes this all-too-clear.
The 1967 Israeli Occupation has become normalized. After 50 years, its boots are now planted firmly in Palestinian soil. Israelis, who might once have felt a twinge of bad conscience, are now, for the most part, in denial, resigned, or fearful of contesting the status quo lest they suffer reprisals from the mob. They may live 15 minutes away from these sites of draconian military rule, but prefer to turn a blind eye to the horrors across the Green Line.
Celebrated literary critic Jacqueline Rose has analyzed the psychology of those complicit with totalitarian rule. Invoking Freud’s insights, she writes: “Fascism is a form of resistance, a carapace against what the mind should, ideally, be able to do with itself. Something shuts down, closes cruelly into its allotted and unmovable place…It is because we are creatures of the unconscious that we try to exert false authority over ourselves. Autocracy is in itself … a way of staving off internal panic. The news that reaches our consciousness … is deceptive and cannot be relied upon, but we submit all the more willingly to its dictates. We do not want to hear the internally unsettling news that might come from anywhere else. We are never more ruthless than when we are trying to block out parts of our own mind.”
Driven, in part, by similar impulses, the North American media, like an uneasy mind, has quashed its psychic disquiet over Palestine; it has shoved the rattling skeleton back into the closet. For the past month, it has blacked out the 2017 Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, and buried it under a heap of reports about high class extravaganzas — from Pippa Middleton’s wedding to Trump’s lavish reception in Saudi Arabia. Such excesses of wealth are paraded unashamedly before the world while news of the hunger strikers’ sublime martyrdom is held under wraps. And yet, despite the media’s repressive silence, the collective will of Palestinian prisoners grows and intensifies with each new day of starvation. Having exceeded a month, the strike has become a monumental display of unflinching mettle, of human wills steeled in a struggle for dignity and freedom. The prisoners’ courage has become contagious. Solidarity hunger strikes have proliferated, extending to other Israeli prisons. Outside the prison walls, they have mushroomed not only in Palestine, but all around the globe. Thanks to the alternative media, reports of the prisoners’ subjection to physical torture and humiliation have pierced the mantles of state censorship, releasing word of the prisoners’ historic stamina. Is this not breaking news?
If cynical commentators have construed the prisoners’ demands as paltry, such individuals have failed to see that the strikers’ requests — for extended family visits and payphones, for books, humane medical care, and, for an end to detention without charge — are demands for human dignity and equality. They are absolute and non-negotiable requests, and they strike at the core of Israel’s dominion, at the heart of her military rule over Palestinians. Domination is not compatible with dignity, and the prisoners’ unswerving protest foregrounds this truth with eminent clarity. If Israel cannot relinquish its punitive mastery over Palestine, the prisoners, in their own cells, will take destiny in their own hands and pry it from the chains that now shackle them body and soul. This marks their tragic self-emancipation.
Hunger strikes throughout history (led by Gandhi, Bobby Sands, or the English Suffragettes) have turned their starving heroes into martyrs. And martyrdom is a powerful magnet of public consciousness. It inflames passions, consolidates the masses, and bolsters the morale of the besieged in the face of their oppressors. The Palestinian prisoners’ protest, though seemingly circumscribed, is monumental in scale. It is an unflappable defiance of Israel’s ongoing dispossession of historic Palestine, erected on the bodies of 1500 men, and their supporting strikers: mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers — from all parts of the world.
To date, this collective action marks the most formidable resistance to Israeli domination, for it eludes the hackneyed accusations of terrorism and security risk with which Palestinians have been for so long maligned. No stone, no bomb, no tunnel can or will be as robust in its force as this show of human fortitude. In future years, the indomitable spirit of the prisoners will haunt the stage of history, and posterity will look aghast at an injustice that world powers refused to redress, let alone confront. History will be the final judge and it will judge the culprits mercilessly.
Michelle Weinroth is a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. She is based in Ottawa on unceded Algonquin territory.