Hana Shalabi was released after 43 days on hunger-strike and has been released into Gaza for a period of three years. Everyone who stands against injustice and supports resistance must salute her bravery. Ultimately Israel became determined to prevent Hana from dying in their prisons, even threatening to break international law and ethical medical practices by force-feeding her. In the end they were able to present release to Gaza as a qualified victory for Hana to accept.
Adameer have accused Israel of coercing Hana in her most fragile mental state. We have to consider this when evaluating her decision, such as it is. We must also be clear: this is no complete victory for Hana. Gaza is a prison in itself and the Israeli policy of using it as a dumping ground for Palestinians from the West Bank must be condemned.
As with Khader Adnan, we need to ask exactly what Israel fears from a dead hunger striker? The regime has consistently exposed their racist ideology – mirrored by an orientalist Western media – that says Palestinian life is cheap and the death of Palestinians is just a matter of course. Today a cohesive international solidarity network exists, and in the aftermath of the Arab revolutions Israel is desperate to deny a new generation of Palestinians any fresh iconic symbols of resistance.
The analogies and comparisons with Bobby Sands and the 1981 H-Blocks hunger strikes in the North of Ireland are entirely valid. Sands’ death unleashed a wave of international solidarity with the Irish Republican cause and by the time the 10th hunger-striker, Mickey Devine, died, a new generation of activists had been mobilised and Sinn Fein had become a major political force.
When they found themselves staring into the eyes of Khader Adnan, Israel saw grim determination and steadfastness. And they blinked first. They backed down.
When they looked into the eyes of Hana Shalabi, they saw thirty-three others on hunger-strike standing behind her, and her now iconic image plastered across cities around the globe. Once again, the bullies blinked first.
As Hana has herself stated, as did Khader Adnan, this was always broader than a battle between her and the Israeli state. Hana stood not only for all those held under the draconian ‘administrative detention’ order, but against the occupation and the Zionist project itself. Hana was fighting for the liberation of the Palestinian people. When we look at this wider context it is quite clear that Hana was already victorious in several respects.
Firstly, she had already become the iconic figure that Israel feared her death would create. In Scotland she has already inspired and galvanised a new generation of Palestine activists. One only needs to look at the youthful energy in the marches through Glasgow to find the proof of this. The Palestinian resistance has entered a new phase and it enjoys almost un-paralleled popular support – an international solidarity.
The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement spans the globe. Its networks of grass-roots activists are scoring punitive victories against Israeli economic interests on an almost weekly basis. The three prong approach of the campaign rejects the apartheid two-state Bantustan reality of the PLO/PA negotiated Oslo agreement and addresses each section of Palestinian society.
Firstly, by demanding an end to the occupation of all Arab lands seized in 1967 and the dismantling of the apartheid wall, BDS addresses the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Secondly, demanding full and equal rights for Palestinian citizens living in current-day Israel, it challenges Zionism head-on. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it demands the right of return for all Palestinian refugees.
Put together, this rights-based approach amounts to the end of the Zionist project and positions the Palestinian struggle, perhaps for the first time, as a struggle against racism, colonialism and ultimately imperialism.
Its legitimacy and acceptance as an anti-racist movement rests on its ability to end Zionism’s post-war hegemonic appearance. This in itself rests on the movement’s ability to reveal to the world the openly vile racism of Zionism and the apartheid nature of that ideology in practice. To lay this bare reveals not only the ugly face of Israel but also the true nature and cost of imperialism.
Austerity in Europe and the Arab revolutions are posing a serious threat to the imperialist world order, central to which is the state of Israel. Israel itself is a fragmented society unable to sustain an uneasy marriage between the capitalist elite and religious right. Extreme maximalist Zionism has emerged and is a force akin to many of Latin America’s previous right-wing dictatorships. The brave but minuscule Israeli anti-Zionist left are facing increasing and worrying levels of repression. Many of Israel’s policy makers are all too aware that they are unable to rein-in Lieberman and his like whose fascistic Zionist movement is ultimately aiding the Palestinians in digging Zionism’s own grave.
This is evident in the minimalist – or soft – Zionist approach of pushing the two state solution as the only way to save Zionism and the Israeli state. So the strategy the Palestinians have devised is clear: reveal to the world the objective fact that Israeli democracy is in fact Israeli Apartheid.
Khader Adnan recognised a key moment. Because of his stand people began talking about the apartheid policy of administrative detention. Hana Shalabi seized that moment, as have all those now on hunger-strike.
As yet it is unclear how the hunger-strikes will play-out. But one thing is clear: another chink in the armour of Israeli democracy has been smashed open. Israel now has only two options: either end the use of the administrative detention policy completely or legalise its usage on Israeli Jews. Neither option is appealing to the Israeli state and the cul-de-sac they are in is all too evident. A Palestinian H-Blocks moment, with Hana Shalabi as its iconic and unifying figure, posed a serious threat to Zionism itself.
The unimaginable suffering of her hunger strike inspired thirty-three others to join her. Collectively they represent a new intifada capable of mobilising the Palestinian youth movement – hitherto repressed by the Israelis and the collaborators in the PA. This is her victory.
Hana has energised a new generation of activists and inspired them to make sacrifices for the Palestinian cause. She may be going to the bigger prison that is Gaza, but she has exchanged the cold Israeli dungeon for the warm embrace of her people. This is her victory.
As a women she has emerged as a figurehead at a time when Arab women assert themselves once again at the forefront of the resistance, challenging internal chauvinism and external orientalism. This is her victory.
Even in exile in Gaza, she lives and, as Ali Abunimah hopes, could become like Winnie Mandela in exile, a roaring and leading voice of the struggle. This is her victory.
Hana al-Shalabi, we salute you and we thank you for leading the way. This is your victory.