In the long history of the Palestinian struggle against colonialism, occupation and apartheid 2012 will forever be remembered as the year of the Hunger Strike, the year of the battle of the empty stomachs, of #PalHunger. It was the year of Khader Adnan, Hana Shalabi, Tha’er Halahleh, Bilal Thaib, Mahmoud Sarsak and the mass Karameh hunger strike which thousands joined on Prisoners Day, April 17th. Thanks to these heroes it was the year of the prisoners’ movement taking its rightful place at the centre of the liberation struggle. Through social media Palestinian youth were able to direct international solidarity and administrative detention was brought to the world’s attention. The amazing and crucial work of Addameer was noted by the international solidarity movement and the Israeli occupation forces alike.
Perhaps a level of fatigue set-in but if we internationals are honest we will admit we were unable to sustain the levels of solidarity seen in the spring and summer even as hunger strikes continued. Although that may also have been the case on the ground, we leave that to Palestinians to evaluate and we focus instead on our role. Of course, there was campaigning here on the BDS front and there was another attack on Gaza to respond to but it’s still fair and accurate to say that as the year of hunger strike was coming to an end international solidarity was largely non-existent for one reason or another.
With or without the international solidarity they deserved, by mid December Palestinian political prisoners, Ayman Sharawna, Samel Issawi, Jafar Azzidine, Tarek Qa’adan and Yousef Yassin, all administrative detainees, were still on defiant hunger strikes. The year would end as it begun.
In this context reports via social media of a 21yrs old woman in Winnipeg, Canada embarking on an open-ended hunger-strike in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers may have been missed by many Palestinians and solidarity activists but for those who did pick-up on it, particularly Palestinians, it was an amazing act of inspiring solidarity. On Christmas eve, Sara McGlock ended her hunger strike after 7 days and released the following statement, which has been shared hundreds of times on facebook:
Author’s note: This article is written from the perspective of a Westerner who has had little first hand experience with any of the trials that the Palestinian people have experienced. This is simply the humble opinion of a 21 year old Canadian girl who has great admiration for the ongoing peaceful protests that the Palestinian people have organized in retaliation to the unequivocally prejudiced actions of Israel. There were many reasons why I felt passionately about the “Hungry Stomachs” (#PalHunger and #hungry4freedom) cause. First and foremost, I feel for the Palestinian people; there are very few nations that have had to endure what Palestine has conquered and continues to overcome. Palestinians have become second-class citizens in their own territory, even being forcibly removed to make room for a new community.
The western media chooses to cover only the violent response, branding Palestinians with an erroneous notoriety. Like many Canadians, I don’t agree with the stigma that North American media has associated with Palestine, and I don’t agree with Prime Minister Harper’s stance against upgrading the status of a Palestinian state. Moreover, I am an advocate of human rights and social justice. My religion is ahimsa, and I will always side with peace and non-violence. I have been following the Hungry Stomachs campaign since September, but it was the embarrassment of living under a government that sides with an oppressive occupation coupled with the inspiration of the Hungry Stomachs peaceful movement that gave me motivation to take action. It is unacceptable that our media reports upon news regarding Palestine, only when Palestine reacts with violence. How much longer must Palestine remain peaceful, while Israel unapologetically violates truce, before our media takes notice? To silence a peaceful protest is to perpetuate violence!
The goal of my 180 hour fast was to raise awareness for the peaceful protest of Hungry Stomachs. First, to explain the purpose behind Hungry Stomachs: Palestinians are being detained indefinitely in Israeli jails under administrative detention (without trial or charge), solitary confinement being used as a tool of pressure, denial of basic human rights (including food, medical care, and visitation rights), detaining children even under the age of sixteen, and arresting Palestinians in the Gaza strip under the “Unlawful Combatants Law”. Second, to reiterate that silencing peaceful protests cannot be consciously tolerated, unless the contrary is preferred and condoned. Going into the hunger strike, I had very little support from friends and family. I announced my intentions of the hunger strike the day before I began, receiving well wishes from just a handful of people, and only one of these people was educated on the issue at the time. Within a mere 7.5 days, I have found hundreds of supporters worldwide. My story has been shared directly through “Activists around the world for Palestine’s” Facebook page over 100 times. I have had overwhelming support, and though I cannot say for certain how many people I have educated, I can say for certain that I have taught someone something, and to me, that is worth the struggle. Dozens of my friends who had little to no prior interest on such issues felt my passion and asked me where I could learn more about the history of Palestine.
The hunger pangs were most painful during the first 78 hours. To get through, I would read articles on Ayman Sharawna, Samer al-Issawi, and other Hungry Stomachs activists, re-read the caring messages that supporters left on my wall, and take naps. I had an exam to write during my first day of fasting, and three shifts to work in the following four days. I work around food, so it took great self-control to ignore my cravings. Around day 4, I began having headaches and muscle pain. Though I was drinking water, it is possible that I may have been dehydrated, or it could have been a deficiency or electrolyte imbalance. The most effective solution is to simply sleep as soon as a headache comes on. I grew colder, and weaker throughout the week, shivering constantly and whiting out upon standing; I resorted to showering in cold water, as the steam in a hot shower would make me faint. However, on day 5, I developed thyroid pain on top of these symptoms. This worried my family, and I decided to announce the end of my hunger strike in advance at this time.
Today at noon, I will end my hunger strike.
I believe that I have suffered very little for what has been gained in these short few days. I feel very honored to be in a position that enables me to have any amount of influence, and I feel it would be ungracious to not use this influence to preach ahimsa and advocate peaceful action. In the very least, I hope that this non-violent protest has influenced and inspired many more to take a stand for what they believe in, because all it takes to gain traction is a single courageous voice and a just cause.
In solidarity with Palestine until justice is restored
Sara McGlock December 24, 2012
We Are All Hana Shalabi interviewed Sara on December 27th:
WaaHS: You’ve said in your statement that you heard about the Palestinian hunger strikers in September, did you know much about Palestine before this?
SM: I did know about Palestinian history, but it was very difficult to follow current events. I actually began following the current events on twitter
WaaHS: You’ve mentioned twitter, what is main stream media coverage of Palestine-Israel like in Canada?
SM: I don’t watch much main stream media, as there is so little coverage of such world events. The Palestine-Israel conflict is largely untouched, as there is a division among the people and the government, as well as indifference from the people. This indifference is likely caused by the lack of media coverage, which is a cyclical problem. Also, influence from the American government is strong in our Canadian media.
WaaHS: Where you aware of how staunchly pro-Israel the Canadian government was before you began following the prisoners issue?
SM: No, that really shocked me. It’s offensive how much Harper has changed Canada while he has been in power. Canada was once known as an international peacekeeper, and now it publicly encourages colonialism?
WaaHS: You’ve said in your statement that this party motivated you to begin your 7-day hunger strike,what else motivated you and was your focus primarily on raising awareness in Canada?
SM: Yes my hunger-strike was also motivated by Sharawna and Issawi’s dedication to the Hungry Stomachs movement. My focus was to raise awareness of these issues primarily in Canada, but the short-sighting was only because I never expected my actions to influence people on such a global scale. It is a blessing to be in the position that I am in, I am very grateful. It was very important to me to raise awareness of this non-violent protest within North America, because I believe that North America has had a lot of negative influence on the Arabic community’s image, by highlighting the violence which occurs and ignoring the peaceful demonstrations.
WaaHS: You’ve written how you had to come off the strike 2 days early after your family became worried about your health, how do you feel now healthwise?
SM: Oh, I finished all 180 hours of my hunger strike, sorry about that confusion! 2 days to the end of my strike (which I had not planned an endtime for), I announced that my endtime would be Monday, December 24th at noon (CST). I didn’t explain why at the time, but I later specified that it was because of the unexplained thyroid pain I had been experiencing.
WaaHS: How do you feel now?
SM: I feel good. I did notice muscle atrophy, and I have had some abdominal pain as I have been getting used to food again, but it is feeling much better now. I can’t imagine what the others have gone through. Recovery is much harder than the actual fasting, I can vouch for that.
WaaHS: People in Palestine know of your action, have you been to Palestine before and if not do you have any plans to visit?
SM: I am so thankful that my message has reached Palestine. I have never visited, as I’ve been busy with school and work, but I guess I will just have to take some time off to visit in the near future. I would be honored to visit.
WaaHS: In your statement you’ve spoken about your beliefs and non-violence a little, can you elaborate on that?
SM: Non-violence is of utmost importance in my life. I try to live non-violently through my actions, emotions, and even feelings. I believe in the path of least violence. I fully support the right to the use of armed resistance in self defense However, I value very highly the alternate option of non-violence where ever feasible.
WaaHS: During your hunger strike Chief Theresa Spence embarked on a hunger strike for indigenous rights in Canada which grew into the #IdleNoMore movement which seems to be spreading globally, where you aware of this and what do you think of the Idle No More movement
SM: I was aware of the hunger-strike, and I am in alliance with the Idle No More movement. It is disgraceful of our Canadian government to ignore a non-violent protest which is occurring within our own country on his (Harper’s) watch and regarding his decisions directly.
WaaHS: So what next for you now in terms of Palestine activism? You’ve said your not involved in any Palestine solidarity organisations or groups, do you intend to seek out like-minded people and get involved locally?
SM: Yes, definitely! I am very apprehensive of organizations, so I will have to investigate thoroughly each group, but many of my supporters have suggested organizations to me, and I will begin looking into them. Right now, I am still working on raising awareness through this hunger-strike; I have landed several interviews so I am grateful for these opportunities.
WaaHS: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us in Scotland.
SM: The pleasure is all mines, thank you so much for this opportunity, I am very grateful.
You can follow Sara McGlock on twitter: @sarawla
Read Malaka Mohammed’s latest update on the condition of Samer Issawi published on Mondoweiss