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A third intifada?

Expect violence and chaos if the Palestinian hunger strikers perish.

New Statesman
Hanaa Shalabi (R) spent 43 days on hunger strike after being arrested and held without charge Source: Getty Images

 

In her excellent report today on the 2,000 or so Palestinian hunger strikers, the Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood quotes Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas telling Reuters:

If anyone dies … it would be a disaster and no one could control the situation.

She also quotes Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, telling a solidarity rally in Jaffa:

If one of the striking prisoners dies, a third intifada [uprising] will break out.

A third intifada? Is that what the world wants to see? If not, why on earth has so little attention been paid to the plight of these prisoners in "administrative detention"? Why has so little pressure been brought to bear on the Israeli government?

In a provocative and passionate column today, the Independent's Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes:

The moralistic Chief Rabbi will not be on "Thought for the Day" expressing sorrow for the treatment of these prisoners. Ardent British Zionists will not be pressed to condemn those responsible for the state barbarism. You certainly won't get a big TV hit like Homeland, (based on Hatufim, an Israeli TV series that fictionalised the capture by Palestinian militants of the IDF soldier Gilad Shalit) being made about these men. Come on, you cool, edgy TV chaps, how about a film about a handsome Palestinian held by the Israelis till he loses his mind? Do I hear a choral "No"?

Western opinion formers have been indifferent, in some cases knowingly so, about what is happening. No condemnations are heard around our Parliament. They say we must have freedom of speech, but that right is never evoked when it comes to Israel.

Perhaps it is our own morally questionable behaviour that is holding us back in relation to Israel's behaviour. As I noted in a column that I wrote on the plight of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, the detained father-of-two who ended his remarkable 66-day hunger strike on 21 February as doctors warned he was "in immediate danger of death":

As is so often the case, international law is not on the side of the Israelis. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - to which the State of Israel is a signatory - makes clear that no person should be "subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention". The ICCPR allows for governments, in narrow and extreme circumstances, to derogate from this obligation temporarily, yet, as Litvin notes, "Israel uses it on a regular basis".

In fact, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has condemned Israel's use of long-term administrative detention - in particular, those cases, like Adnan's, in which detainees are held without trial merely for belonging to an "illegal organisation".

Here in the west, however, we have abandoned any moral high ground we may have occupied. The last Labour government inter­ned terror suspects without trial in Belmarsh between 2001 and 2004; the current coalition government's Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures allow for indefinite house arrest without charge. In the US, President Obama has signed into law the National Defence Authorisation Act, which permits the indefinite detention in military custody of terror suspects. Habeas corpus has been consigned to the history books.

You can read the full column here.