Opinion |

The Most Justified Social Protest in Israel

The 1,000-plus Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are all part of a national struggle for freedom, something that should seem admirable even to Israelis

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The most justified social protest of them all is not troubling anyone. A despicable campaign of incitement is being waged against it, orchestrated by the government with the knee-jerk cooperation of the subservient media. The most justified social protest in Israel is being presented as a danger and threat to security.

The most justified, courageous and profound social protest in Israel today is the hunger strike of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, one week long on Sunday. Would that we had people of conscience to join the strike, or at least to protest in support of it. Instead we have the young men of the National Union, who light barbecues opposite the windows of the Ofer Prison to torment the hungry.

This is despicable behavior on the sadistic margins of the right wing. No one protested that disgusting show either.

The most justified social protest in Israel in not depicted in this light at all. On the contrary, everyone taking part in it is presented as an abominable murderer. Are all the Jewish prisoners “abominable murderers” as well? But public discourse in Israel does not like moral doubts when it comes to the Palestinians. And so political prisoners are presented as murderers and no one speaks about the goals of their struggle, which undergoes sweeping delegitimization in the military commentary grinder, dictated by the Shin Bet security service.

Notice the explanations that are being stuffed down our throats: This is an internal Palestinian struggle to benefit Marwan Barghouti; it’s Barghouti against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – all the propaganda chatter of the security establishment, intended to obscure the goals of the strike. And no one asks whether it is possible that the goal of a hunger strike by more than a thousand people, with all the suffering involved, is to advance the career of a prisoner serving four life sentences? Can anyone take that seriously? Does anyone even know what a hunger strike means? Is there no possibility that these courageous people, who are willing to sacrifice their well-being and even their lives, are doing this for just causes?

Their causes are incomparably just. There is not even one demand that is extreme. They want a little more humane treatment. They want public telephones, like the lowest Jewish criminals have, and they want to extend the visiting hours of their families. They want to be photographed from time to time with their loved ones and receive proper medical care. Those who will have to spend most of their lives in jail want to be able to study. And of course, they want an end to administrative detention. In short, they want a little more justice. These are social causes, not political ones.

Read the history of hunger strikes. Almost all of them were just and admirable. Beginning with the hunger strikes of the black slaves on British ships in the 18th century, through the great hunger strike of the IRA prisoners in Ireland and on to the Chinese students’ strike at Tiananmen. Mahatma Gandhi, Andrei Sakharov, Abie Nathan. Role models. And now Marwan Barghouti, whom Yedioth Ahronoth says incites people. What precisely does he incite over? Bringing books into prison? Installing a public telephone?

There are murderers among them – the minority, by the way – and they also have rights. Some are in prison over political activity. Some have not been tried. A few have been hauled in recently for their assumed intentions. And they are all part of a national struggle for freedom. That should seem admirable even to Israelis. They have been given heavy sentences, lacking all proportion and, of course, without due process. The conditions of their incarceration also scream shameless apartheid when compared to those of Jewish prisoners.

Now they are fighting for their basic rights. Their struggle deserves support. The campaign of incitement against them should be opposed. The goals of their strike are much more justified than the incitement of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and more moral than the demagoguery of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

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