Hunger strikes and nonviolence

The following piece was written by Jonathan Kuttab and published by the Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), a Christian organization seeking justice and peace in the Holy Land through education, advocacy, and nonviolent action.

August 2022 – Khalil Awawdeh has been on a hunger strike for over 175 days, shriveling down to about 80 pounds. Doctors have given dire warnings that he may die any day now, believing that he has already suffered irreparable harm. Nevertheless, the Israeli High Court has refused to order his release, saying that they will “suspend his detention” only as long as he is in the hospital. But, it will be reinstated automatically as soon as he is well enough to leave the hospital. This is a cruel decision that acts as a clear indictment against the court itself and its moral standing.

One of the tools the state of Israel uses to maintain dominance and control over the Palestinian Arab population, besides military rule and the military court system, is administrative detention. The Israeli Prison Authority recently revealed that it currently holds 724 Palestinians under administrative detention, 11 of whom are Israeli citizens. None are Jewish. In addition to the detained victims and their families, the threat of administrative detention hangs over the heads of all Palestinians: instant and arbitrary detention without charge or trial. All that is required is a decision by the military commander that he believes the incarceration of a particular person is important for “the security of the state of Israel.” The procedure for challenging these decisions makes a mockery of justice, relying on “secret evidence” that neither the victim nor their attorney is allowed to see.

Awawdeh has had no real recourse. Instead, he decided to employ a classic tool of nonviolent resistance, the hunger strike, to bring attention to the injustice he is experiencing at the hands of Israel. He is neither the first nor last Palestinian to do so. Hunger strikes are a favorite tool of resistance for Palestinian prisoners, who have used them for many years to obtain small, incremental improvements to the conditions of their incarceration and visitation rights.

One of the reasons nonviolence is most suitable for the Palestinian struggle is that it totally undermines the security justifications Israel typically uses to justify its oppression of Palestinians. Hunger strikers are primarily hurting themselves in order to highlight the injustice of their incarceration. By choosing nonviolence, Palestinians are not abandoning the struggle, nor are they choosing an easy, “cowardly” option like some might claim. As Awawdeh shows, it takes far greater courage to opt for nonviolence, and it can carry very grave consequences for the practitioner. I cannot imagine the courage and perseverance such an action takes.

Other forms of nonviolent resistance include: Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS); building civil society institutions and documenting human rights violations; campaigning for the application of international law; and pursuing accountability for those who violate international law by committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of apartheid.

Israel, which has built for itself an extraordinary war machine with nuclear, WMD, and conventional weapons, alongside a robust arms industry, and a powerful airforce that projects its power thousands of miles beyond its borders, has little to fear from its Arab neighbors. Yet, Palestinian nonviolence seems to be a greater threat. Israel’s deportation of Mubarak Awad, champion of nonviolence during the First Intifada, its efforts (along with its international allies) to criminalize BDS, and its current crackdown on Palestinian civil society organizations all show that Israel views this form of resistance with great seriousness.

FOSNA is proud that Sabeel and Palestinian Liberation Theology have consistently advocated for nonviolence as the true Christian response to evil and oppression. While international law permits an oppressed people to resort to armed struggle, Palestinian Christians have always argued that nonviolence is the better alternative. The fact that many Palestinians, Muslim and Christian alike, are willing to take this path is encouraging.

If Palestinians and Israeli Jews are ever to live together, violence will only make such efforts more difficult. For either side, reliance on brute strength and the infliction of death and destruction upon the other will only make a just resolution and eventual reconciliation that much harder.

Those who desire peace must work for justice, and nonviolence offers us the best path forward in our work for justice. One small step would be for friends of Israel to push for the release of all administrative detainees and for abandoning policies that criminalize the peaceful activities of civil society. Such policies certainly do not make Israel more secure, nor do they contribute to eventual peace.

 

Photo of separation wall: Montecruz Foto; Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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