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(The following article was published in Hebrew on May 23, 2017, in “Local Call” and Haifa ha-Hofshit)

While Trump‘s visit attempted to revive the illusions of “peace” in the framework of Pax Americana of the region, the ongoing hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners reminds us that the Israeli occupation regime denies the Palestinians even the most basic human rights.

A communiqué issued by “the captive movement” (al-Harakah al-Asira), as the prisoners call their resistance movement inside the occupation prisons, on the 20th day of the strike, called for the unification of the struggle on both sides of the Green Line and in the Palestinian Diaspora by a unified action of all the Palestinian

Nazareth Market street on strike - May 22 2017

Close shops in Nazareth on the day of the strike

patriotic forces, including the follow-up committee that represents Arab citizens of Israel. In a historic precedent, the leaders responded to the prisoners’ initiative, met in Ramallah and declared a general strike by the entire Palestinian people in all areas of the homeland and in exile, set for Monday, May 22, the 36th day of the strike. Indeed, throughout the West Bank, there was great response to the call yesterday, and streets were lined with closed shops and businesses. The strike was also felt, to a lesser extent, in East Jerusalem and Palestinian cities within the Green Line.

The Prisoner’s Square, Haifa

Haifa continues to be a focal point for Palestinian protest activity, in which an expanding stratum of activists emphasizes the unity of the Palestinian struggle beyond the borders dividing the territories occupied since 1967 and those occupied since 1948. However, the struggle also exposes the leadership crisis and the difficulty of giving effective expressing to the frustration, the anger and the desire to struggle. This difficulty is exacerbated because, according to the rules of the game of the “Jewish democracy”, Palestinian public opinion is not a factor to be considered.

Gathering in Prisoners Square

Gathering in prisoner’s square

The first protest vigil in support of the prisoners’ hunger strike took place in Haifa on the second day of the strike, April 18. It took place in the German Colony, the tourist center of the city, in the square named “The Prisoner’s Square” since October 2011, when a group of activist staged a hunger striker there, under the slogan “Hungry to Freedom”, in solidarity with a previous prisoners’ strike.

The vigil was also meant to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, April 17, which was chosen not coincidentally as the appropriate date to launch the strike. It should be noted here that when we speak in Arabic we don’t use the term “sajeen” (prisoner) but “aseer” that means “captive”. It conveys the view of Palestinian prisoners as prisoners of war – those held by the enemy as a result of their struggle for freedom. Compromising the correct translation is another concession that we inadvertently do to Israeli and Western public opinion, which have difficulty digesting the Palestinian narrative.

Marching up the German Colony

Marching up the German Colony

The next two protest vigils were held on April 29 and May 9 at the initiative of Herak Haifa. The site chosen by the Herak was a little up the German Colony, on the corner of Allenby Street and HaCarmel Avenue (Ben Gurion), a smaller space at the intersection where more traffic passes. When, a few months ago, Bassel al-A’araj, activist and theoretician of al-Herak al-Shababi in the West Bank, was assassinated by the occupation forces, Herak Haifa decided to name the junction after him. The holding of protest vigils at the junction is also intended to establish the name in the public consciousness.

On Friday, May 19, the Communist youth held another solidarity activity with the prisoners, slightly higher at the German Colony, in the Bahai Circle. They brought water, salt and glasses and offered passers-by to drink salt water as a symbolic show of solidarity with the strikers. The youth movement’s orchestra created another attraction to draw attention to the event.

Taking to the Streets

In the meantime, young activists began to organize, in the spirit of the movement that had halted the Prawer plan, aiming to initiate more united and militant activity. They called for a demonstration on Monday, May 22, even before the Palestinian leaderships on both sides of the Green Line declared the general strike on this day in support of the prisoners’ struggle.

They published an invitation to a Facebook event entitled “Ash-Shaware’a” (to the streets), hosted by 8 activists from different movements, and many activists worked intensely to invite and prepare. There were 254 “attendees” at the FB event and on Monday, before the scheduled hour, “The Prisoner’s Square” was already filled with young people, as well as many veteran activists, from Haifa and the region.

Entering Wadi Nisnas

Entering Wadi Nisnas

The police also made their preparations, bringing reinforcements, including special anti-riot units, some attack dogs and a special police van to carry potential detainees. In practice, however, the police preferred not to intervene, even when the demonstrators, after about half an hour of shouting slogans in the square, went down to Carmel Avenue, blocked the street and began marching.

Some 200 demonstrators marched on the main street of the German Colony in the direction of Allenby Street, between the crowded cafes and restaurants, providing the iconic images of Haifa with Palestinian flags waving and the Bahai Gardens and the golden Shrine of the Bab in the background. From there the protesters continued on Allenby Street in the direction of Wadi Nisnas, where the police blocked traffic on both sides. The demonstrators marched up al-Jabal Street (“ha-Ziyonut Avenue”), turned to Khuri Street and finally poured into al-Wadi Street, the narrow main street of Wadi Nisnas.

When the demonstrators reached the last intersection inside the Wadi (the valley), they made a small meeting in the middle of the street. The organizers thanked everybody for taking part and asked for their active participation in a pre-determined plan for the continuation of the struggle, including demonstrations, leaflets distribution and a “Day of Rage” on Thursday, June 1.

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