1,500 Palestinian hunger strikers ended their protest against prison conditions after the signing of an intensely negotiated agreement between the Israeli Prison Services and the prisoners themselves, with the mediation of Fatah, Egyptian intelligence sources and Jordanians.
As is normal in these situations, the proof will be in the execution. Such agreements have a long history of being disregarded, especially by Israel, when the moment suits. Here is how the Guardian describes the deal:
Under the agreement, which was signed following mediation by Egypt and Jordan, Israel will end solitary confinement for all prisoners and allow around 400 prisoners from Gaza to receive family visits. It agreed to discuss improvements to prison conditions, such as access to televisions and telephone calls.
Prisoners on administrative detention orders – Israel’s term for imprisonment without charge or trial, the key issue behind the hunger strike – will not have their terms renewed without fresh information or evidence being brought before a military judge.
The first two items are clear victories for the non-violent strikers. Israel had removed family visits during Gilad Shalit’s capture as a form of collective punishment/retribution. At least one Palestinian detainee had been in solitary confinement for ten years.
But administrative detention is a thornier issue. I can’t see that Israel has given up much, if anything on that score. The issue isn’t so much what evidence is used. Israel always claims it has evidence to justify administrative detention. The problem is that there is no real judicial process of review which allows the defendant to challenge or even see the evidence. This agreement seems not to have changed the worst aspects of this system.
That means that I predict that the next administrative detainee whose sentence is renewed without proper review will start another hunger strike. If Israel is smart (which it invariably isn’t) it will use this procedure sparingly, if at all in the future. We’ll have to see whether it’s learned any lesson from this. It’s doubtful, but wonders never cease.
As for what the prisoners have given up, I don’t see much if anything:
Palestinian prisoners’ leaders have “signed a commitment to completely halt terrorist activity inside Israeli prisons”, including recruitment, practical support, funding and co-ordination of operations, according to a statement released by the Israeli security agency, Shin Bet.
These prisoners have to be among the most closely and intrusively monitored prisoners in the world. I don’t see how any prisoner could engage in any of the activities listed without it being exposed and frustrated by prison authorities. Which means, this is a face-saving gesture from the Shin Bet which needs to appear to have wrung a meaningful concession from prisoners.
I don’t see any of the liberal Zionists who bitched and moaned “if only the Palestinians embraced non-violent resistance” clamoring in support of the hunger strikers. As I wrote yesterday, not a word that I’ve heard from Peter Beinart or Gershom Gorenberg on this issue. Where’s the Palestinian Gandhi, Gershom? He was on death’s door yesterday after 77 days of fasting in which you could’ve made a statement of support. Where were you?
This article was published by Tikun Olam
About the author: Richard Silverstein
Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.