In the Palestinian history there is a huge stock of experience with all forms of struggle and an extraordinary list of sacrifices – but preciously little victories. So it was with some suspicion that people here received the news of the agreement, signed on May 14, at the evening of the 28th day of the mass Hunger Strike, between the Israeli Prison Authorities and the united leadership of the striking Palestinian Prisoners.
But then details of the agreement came out, with decisive achievements on the three main fronts: To limit the usage of Administrative Detention such that most or all the 320 prisoners affected should be released within six months; End the policy of Isolation and bring 18 affected prisoners back to their prisons within 72 hours; Allow families from Gaza to visit their relatives in prison after 6 years of forced separation. More issues concerning the prisoners’ conditions will also be handled.
The way the agreement was concluded is not separated from the issues that were handled. The striking prisoners refused all the way that any other side, prisoners or politicians, will speak in their name. So the agreement was officially signed with the striking leaders. After signing the agreement the strike’s leadership was allowed access to prisoners in the different prisons to discuss with them the details.
This unprecedented victory for the prisoners’ strike is first and foremost the result of the struggle of the prisoners themselves and their readiness to suffer and put their lives in danger in order to gain dignity and Human Rights. But such a victory could not be achieved without the wide solidarity of the Palestinian people, the Arab masses and other solidarity activists around the world. After all, the Israeli authorities proved many times that they don’t give a damn for the lives and suffering of Palestinians in general and the prisoners in particular. What made them make concessions this time is the possibility that a prolonged strike will arouse a third Palestinian Intifada.
The mass campaign of solidarity with the striking prisoners is the first big expression of the Arab spring inside Palestine. It says a lot about the special nature of the Arab spring in this special front in the struggle. First, in Palestine, the main struggle is not against the local Palestinian leadership, however critical you may justly be of its behavior, but against the racist Zionist regime. Here “the people want the liberation of Palestine” – anything less than this is not a revolutionary slogan. Second, in Palestine, there was no political void that the Arab spring may fill – but a sequence of heroic battles. The new wave of struggle begins with connecting to the best of past revolutionary tradition – and nothing represents the revolutionary heritage better than the prisoners’ continuing sacrifices and resistance.
With all the specifics of the Palestinian front, it was the general trends of the Arab Spring that allowed the building of a mass solidarity movement to the level that was reached in the strike. The ability of different groups, mostly the youth, within the parties and in the public, to take the initiative and lead, enabled the spread of the solidarity action in many locations through all types of mass action.
On Sunday 13/5 there was a nice Demo of the Arab students in the Technion, the Technical University of Haifa. Almost 100 students dared to show up, leaving their stressed curriculum and ignoring the institution’s management that prevents any political expression. It was a brave step on their side, taking into account that at the last time the Arab students demonstrated in this place, against the May 2010 massacre on the Marmara, they were attacked by extremist Jewish students and the police, some were beaten, stones were thrown at them and they were arrested. But what made most impression on me, as a veteran of many demonstration, is how those serious types from the Technion are calling for the revolution – not as a slogan but as the proved way to change things…
In the Haifa University, which is usually much more politically lively, the administration refused to license any solidarity activity by the Arab students. On the last day of the strike, Monday 14/5, the students showed their creativity and in a symbolic act, similar to youth activities in Egypt before the mass protest begun, staged a powerful protest by simply standing up for 15 minutes on the university’s lawn. Many signed the “V” with their raised bare hands as a manifestation of defiance.
The new balance of power, as it is slowly but massively changing under the pressure of the action of the Arab masses, also showed up in the struggle of conflicting wills. Egypt, which used to be the main executioner of imperialist policy in the Arab camp, is now slowly tilting the other way. Even the European imperialist that were used to endorse Israeli policy en-bloc now view Israel as a local bully that disturbs their interests, arousing Arab anger by its brutality. As the power of the Arab public opinion and “The Arab Street” should now be taken seriously, Israel’s friends leaned on her to compromise.
Important as the victory in the strike is, the campaign of solidarity with the prisoners is not finished until all prisoners will be free to go home. And the Arab Spring in Palestine confronts the most entrenched regime – based on ethnic cleansing and discrimination, securing the loyalty of the vast majority of Jews by a systematic racist distribution of privilege and armed to its teeth by imperialism in order to be its stronghold against any liberation movement in the whole region.
So we have a lot of organizing to do to build a better base for the next struggles. The oxygen of the mass movement is hope and self confidence. Now they are available not only from the winds of freedom that are storming around us but also from the last experiences of the local struggle.
You can also see this report of Ad-Dameer about the result of the strike.