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Flickers of Unyielding Hope: The Resilient Spirit of Palestinian Resistance

By Tendai Makaripe

In the dimly lit cell of Israel’s Ramle prison, the passage of time was marked by the gnawing emptiness of hunger.

Khader Adnan, a Palestinian activist who had already endured 87 days of a hunger strike, lay on the cold floor, his frail frame shivering from both the hunger that now consumed him and the determination that had ignited his resistance.

In those final hours, as his body succumbed to the deadly cost of defying Israel’s apartheid and military justice system, the walls seemed to echo with a powerful, unquenchable spirit.

As the world remembers his life and the battles he fought, it’s impossible not to conjure vivid images of his final moments – an imaginary reconstruction of what might have transpired as his hunger strike reached its tragic culmination.

In those haunting hours, Adnan’s trembling body bore witness to a resilience that defied comprehension. The hunger, an insatiable force that gripped his very being, had become a testament to his unwavering commitment to the cause he held dear.

Each tremor was a silent proclamation that even in the face of impending mortality, the spirit of resistance burned brighter than ever.

Adnan’s fading breaths were a reflection of a struggle that extended far beyond his frail frame.

The internal organs that now threatened to give way were metaphors for a larger struggle – the collapse of a system of oppression and the rallying cry for justice.

While his body weakened, his will remained unbroken, echoing the resolve of countless Palestinians who have endured similar tribulations.

 Adnan’s tragic passing on May 2 2023 was a stark reminder of the agonizing cost that Palestinians pay for their unwavering pursuit of justice.

His hunger strike was a self-imposed sacrifice, a testament to the lengths he and others were willing to go in order to challenge the systematic arbitrary detention of Palestinians and demand the rights that Israel had long denied them.

The 44-year-old father of nine from the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, had a number of charges against him, including “involvement in terrorist activities”, “incitement”, and “belonging to a terrorist group.”

In previous instances, he had employed similar hunger strikes as a means to protest against his arbitrary arrests and detainment by the Israeli authorities.

Since 2004, he had engaged in five hunger strikes, including a 67-day strike in 2021 and a 55-day strike in 2015.

He experienced arrest on 12 occasions and spent approximately eight years incarcerated, with administrative detention being the predominant reason for his imprisonment.

Khader Adnan is the first Palestinian detainee to die as a result of a hunger strike since 1992. When his life was at risk, Israeli authorities refused him access to the specialized care he needed in a civilian hospital and instead left him to die alone in his cell.

“The appalling treatment of such a high-profile detainee is the latest alarming sign that Israeli authorities are growing increasingly brazen in their contempt for Palestinians’ rights and lives, and increasingly reckless in their cruelty towards Palestinians,” said Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Heba Morayef.

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The significance of his employment of hunger strikes must not be overlooked, as it underscores a vital tactic wielded by altruistic Palestinians in their struggle for the liberation of their people.

This approach demonstrates an unwavering commitment, where even the individual undertaking the hunger strike might forego the opportunity to relish the eventual fruits of freedom.

A hunger strike is a form of protest that involves refraining from eating as a political act of remonstration.

Distinct from conventional modern labour strikes in which laborers refrain from work by turning their labour into a means of struggle—a weapon—hunger strikes entail the deployment of the strikers’ bodies as weapons.

“Hunger strikes thus risk the decay of the body, even its death.  In this way, they politicize the body. The practice of hunger striking is not uniform across time and space,” said media, conflict resolution, and transformation researcher Lazarus Sauti.

“It derives its particular meaning from the historical, material context in which it is situated.  Writing about the praxis of the Death Fast Struggle waged between 2000 and 2007 by Turkish leftist political prisoners who protested against the introduction of high-security prisons, Banu Bargu theorizes the hunger strike as a means of making life itself into a weapon.”

The hunger strike, a facet of the Palestinian liberation effort, offers a potential avenue for transformative politics both inside and outside colonial prisons.

It seeks to challenge current prison oppressions while nurturing a revolutionary identity tied to ongoing struggle, with aspirations for a liberated Palestinian tomorrow.

Over the past decade, there has been an emergence of what are known as “individual” hunger strikes (idrab fardi).

These have arisen due to the decline of the Palestinian national liberation movement in the post-Oslo period.

On July 27, 2020, Maher al-Akhras, a Palestinian political prisoner, received an administrative detention order and promptly initiated an indefinite hunger strike to demand his release.

At the time, al-Akhras was 49 years old, a father of six, and hailed from Silet al-Dhahir, located to the south of the Palestinian city of Jenin.

Having been imprisoned multiple times in Israeli colonial prisons, his most recent arrest prompted his fifth detention and third instance of being held under an administrative detention order.

Throughout his 103-day hunger strike, al-Akhras grappled with recurring seizures, intense headaches, compromised vision, and hearing, as well as excruciating pain across his body, particularly in his chest region.

These conditions posed severe and immediate threats to his life.

Insisting on continuing his hunger strike, he affirmed his position to himself, his family, community, and people, as well as to all free people around the world: “My aim is freedom, either freedom or martyrdom; both options constitute victory for my people and prisoners.”

After a serious deterioration in his condition, al-Akhras was hospitalized in an Israeli hospital on September 9, 2020, but refused to cooperate with the doctors.

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On October 25, the Israeli court froze his administrative detention without releasing him.

He persisted in his hunger strike until November 6, 2020, when he was released after an Israeli court ruling.

Palestinians celebrated his freedom as their own; his freedom was perceived as the possibility and opening of their own freedom.

“When taken to the extreme, the hunger strike is a life-and-death struggle, a fight for freedom driven by the forced choice between “martyrdom or freedom.” The hunger strike that risks a life to obtain freedom resonates with the fight to the death that Hegel delineated in his account of the master-slave dialectic, which has instigated such rich and diverse intellectual discourses on oppressive encounters,” said Assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Institute of Women’s Studies at Palestine’s Birzeit University, Lena Meari.

The Israeli government is ill-treating Palestinian prisoners and making life miserable for those outside penitentiaries.

Those who attend protests risk being arrested, seriously injured, or unlawfully killed.

Human rights defenders are placed under travel bans, arrested, or forcibly transferred or deported; the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is outlawed; human rights organizations are banned; and hunger strikers risk their lives.

Innocent lives have been lost in Gaza, Jenin, and Nablus among other areas.

“The bloodletting scenes of Israeli Jewish terrorist militias in Huwara destroying the life of every discoverable Palestinian and burning homes, cars, trees, and animals to ash and rubble, are sickening and unprecedented in scale and ferocity,” said the Palestinian ambassador to Zimbabwe Tamer Almassri.

“Israeli Jewish terrorist groups chanted “death to Arabs” and danced on the rubble of burned homes and the bodies of dead and injured Palestinians, all while protected by Israeli occupying forces,” he said.

However, the resilient and selfless spirit of some Palestinians like Adnan continues to flicker in the darkness.

“Our fight is continuing and the enemy will realize once again that its crimes will not pass without a response. Resistance will continue by all might and determination,” said the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in a statement following the death of Adnan.

Nonetheless, the Palestinian fighting spirit is apparent.

“Hunger strikes serve as a complex tool in the battle against Israel’s Palestinian territory occupation.

While they may not always yield immediate policy shifts, they effectively raise the voices of the oppressed and spotlight the ongoing struggle,” said analyst Jethro Makumbe.

The ethical questions they provoke stimulate discussions on governmental duties, the efficacy of nonviolent protest, and the critical need to address the core problems of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As long as the occupation endures, hunger strikes are likely to persist as a powerful instrument in the broader fight for justice and human rights.

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