Mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strikes continue. Freedom, dignity, and respect for their rights are at issue. Strikers want horrific Israeli prison abuses ended. More on that below.
On Saturday, thousands of Israelis rallied nationwide for social justice. They picked up where they left off last summer. Major grievances remain unaddressed. They include:
- Unaffordable housing.
- High food and energy prices.
- (Low wages and eroding social benefits.
- Onerous taxes on working households.
- Lack of free education and better healthcare benefits.
- Weak labor rights.
- A disproportionate amount of construction funding for settlement development. Too little remains for affordable housing in Israel.
- The “high cost of raising children” most Israelis face.
In Shapira, Levinsky, Hatikva, and other neighborhoods, marches converged on Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Demonstrators chanted:
“We want justice, not charity.”
“Taking from the poor, giving to the rich, what a country of corruption.”
Along with America and Britain, Israel has the greatest wealth disparity and social inequality among developed nations.
Over 20% of Israel’s population is poor. In a nation of 7.9 million, over 850,000 children live in poverty. More than two-thirds of them lack nutritional security. Around 75% miss meals. Over 80% lack proper dental care. Some beg, borrow or steal to eat.
Since the 1990s, neoliberal harshness significantly increased poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and hunger. Housing is a major problem. Tel Aviv apartment prices doubled in recent years. In Jerusalem they increased nearly two-thirds. Rents also skyrocketed. Growing numbers of Israelis face intolerable burdens too great to bear.
Last summer they reacted. Netanyahu promised change. Betrayal followed. On Saturday, Israelis reacted.
Tel Aviv rally organizer Orli Barlev said:
“The message is one against the political system that does not count the citizens.” Referring to Israel’s heavily criticized Fatah/Kadina unity government deal, she added:
“What we saw this week were moves that resulted from personal interests of power and control. This government has greatly deepened social gaps.”
Nothing is done to address them. Social inequality festers. Anger filled Israeli cities. Rallies were held in Jerusalem, Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, Nahriya, Pardes Hanna, and Eilat (as well as the largest one in Tel Aviv) under the banner: “Returning the country to the citizens.”
Similar protests were held worldwide. “Global May” commemorated the anniversary of Madrid’s 2011 mass Puerta del Sol square social justice rally. It inspired others across Europe and America that followed. This year’s theme is “We are not alone.”
Last summer’s Israeli campaign waned but didn’t die. Organizing efforts sought more participants. People’s Assemblies were formed. A manifesto was written, stating:
“We are living in a world controlled by forces incapable of giving freedom and dignity to the world´s population. (We) condemn the current distribution of economic resources whereby only a tiny minority escape poverty and insecurity.”
We demand an economic “system where labour is appreciated by its social utility, not its financial or commercial profit.”
“Fully democratic” rights were called for. Last summer’s protests swept Israel. Hundreds of thousands participated. Rallies and tent encampments drew world attention. Saturday perhaps launched Act II.
A recent global Gallop poll ranked perceived Israeli corruption on a par with Greece, Slovenia and Sierra Leone. It scored worst among Middle East countries. Around 85% of respondents said Israeli business is corrupt. Israel replicates the worst of major Western nations.
The greater social injustice gets, the more most Israelis suffer. Now they’re reacting.
They want more than social justice. Serious issues fester. Since last summer, protests became more common. Where things go from here remains unknown. Sustained critical mass is needed. So far it’s absent.
On Saturday, youth participation was high. “All the (political) parties have failed,” said one speaker. Police were out in force, this time nonviolently.
Days earlier they reacted harshly. About 1,000 Israelis protested against the Fatah/Kadima unity deal. A “stinking maneuver,” they called it. Early elections were cancelled.
Democracy was nowhere in sight. Israel, of course, has none. Police accosted Habima Square demonstrators brutally. Arrests followed, including two journalists. Social activists were detained. So was Tel Aviv city councilman Yoav Goldring.
Police called the rally illegal. Israelis were treated like Palestinians. More demonstrations are planned. Organizers hope for a July 14 “March of the Million.”
Expect a long hot summer. Habima Square police brutality may become commonplace. Who knows what’s possible before fall. Perhaps Israelis will identify more with Palestinian suffering. That type unity would be significant.
Palestinian Prison Protests for Justice Continue
Major issues remain unresolved. On May 11, hunger strike leaders issued Statement No. 5, saying:
“To the masses of the Palestinian people….you are free before our nation…you are free before the world.”
“We have held a lengthy meeting with the leadership of the Prison Services in Nafha prison last night, including all members of the Central Committee of the Leadership of the Strike.”
“The Prison Service attempted through prevarication and procrastination to pressure us to break the strike with unverifiable promises.”
Prisoners have unequivocal demands. Unity to continue struggling remains strong. “We call on the masses of our people and our nation to act” supportively. We “promise again that we will not retreat without securing our just human rights.”
“We are all willing to be martyrs for the sake of our dignity and our rights, and therefore we promise that will will live (in) dignity or die.”
Growing Palestinian street protests show support. Activists call the strike “pivotal.” It reflects the wider liberation struggle. It’s a rallying position across Palestine. Whether a third Intifada follows remains unknown.
On May 11, thousands of Palestinians rallied supportively in West Bank villages. Under the slogan “Friday Anger: Victory for the Prisoners,” Israeli security forces confronted them violently. Tear gas, sound bombs, rubber bullets, and water cannon fired “skunk” spray were used. It contains harmful chemicals. Beatings, injuries and arrests followed.
Israeli Arabs participated supportively. Thousands of Galilee residents displayed prisoner photos and Palestinian flags. They chanted slogans voicing solidarity and demanding liberation from Israeli prisons.
Haifa, Umm al-Fahm, and Kfar Kana youths began a three-day supportive hunger strike. Activists and political groups on both sides of the Green Line voiced support.
Hadash, Balad, National Union, the Palestinian People’s Party, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and others endorsed a public statement, saying:
“The immediate demand to the Israeli government is the release of all administrative detainees, and all prisoners, those on hunger strikes and those who aren’t.”
They’re all political prisoners locked in Israel’s gulag for wanting to live free on their own land.
The manifesto added:
“Also, we are calling for the end of the policy of administrative detention, as a method for arrest without trial, based on secret evidence not shared with prisoners or lawyers. This policy is not in line with basic standards of justice.”
The statement pointedly accused the Israel Prison Service (IPS) of ignoring longtime prisoner demands to end extreme harshness. It also said the hunger strike reflects a national liberation struggle.
In Haifa, Palestinian merchants closed shops and displayed banners saying: “The shops are closed because our prisoners are in danger.”
Hundreds of Jerusalemites participated. Among them were prisoner families. For the second consecutive day, Palestinians blocked the ICRC’s Ramallah headquarters entrance. They demand strong support. On May 10, protests outside a UN building raised the same issue.
One participant said:
“We are targeting those who we believe can help to bring an end to the hunger strike and save the lives of our prisoners.”
So far, they offered little more than lip service. EU ministers do little better. Obama said nothing. On May 11, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was silent on what’s ongoing.
During a briefing she was asked to comment on the strike situation. Her dismissive comment said:
“I don’t have anything for you on that.”
A follow-up question asked about a State Department position on uncharged strikers, especially long-term ones close to death.
She contemptuously remained dismissive, saying:
“….frankly, I don’t have anything one way or the other. I don’t know if we have a comment on it.”
US contempt for Palestinian suffering is longstanding. European nations aren’t much better. Lip service substitutes for action.
Israel commits appalling human rights abuses. Courageous hunger strikers confront them. So should everyone. Then challenge their own homegrown injustice. Otherwise it won’t end.