Global and Historical Feminism: The Hunger Striking Stereotype
The inspirational Palestinian woman Hana Shalabi made global headlines when she began a hunger strike protesting against administrative detention in Israeli prisons. Hana’s hunger strike lasted for 43 days before the Israeli authorities internally exiled her to Gaza. Punished for her non-violent protest, Hana’s hunger strike has galvanised between one thousand four hundred and two thousand five hundred Palestinian prisoners to continue her protest and intensify the campaign that she began. But why has #Palhunger not made headlines in the West?
Hana Shalabi courtesy of francismckee
On 16th February 2012, Hana Shalabi was arrested in the West Bank.
She was one of the 1027 Palestinian prisoners released at the end of last year in an exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
After her re-arrest this year, the 29 year old Palestinian prisoner then went on hunger strike for 43 days, before being exiled to the Gaza strip for three years, according to the WAFA news agency.
Handful to hundreds
Hana’s non-violent protest mobilised the communities in Palestine and beyond to stand in solidarity against Israeli jail policies and take part in the hunger strike.
The number of Palestinian prisoners taking part in the hunger strike now exceeds 1400.
The policies which they are protesting against include Israel’s insistence to imprison “threatening” Palestinians without trial. They are calling for more visiting rights in prisons and a greater access to educational materials.
Jail without trial
Of the 4000 Palestinian prisoners currently in Israeli jails, 320 are held in administrative detention, which means they have been jailed without trial.
This unlawful practice is used by Israel as a ‘security measure.’
Israeli ‘concessions’ have included an increase in the number of releases of those in administrative detention, which has further galvanised the movement.
However, in Hana’s case, she has arguably moved from one prison to another by being exiled to the Gaza strip, away from her family who live in the West Bank.
The justifications behind the prison conditions and policies faced by Palestinian political prisoners lie behind the imprisonment of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
When he was released, the ‘Shalit law’ which restricts family access to their loved ones in prison, and limits educational resources for Palestinian prisoners, still remained intact.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are in solidarity with the prisoners and are alerting the UN of the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli occupation jails.
Hana has created global awareness and outrage at the treatment of the Palestinians.
A further 2000 Palestinians who are not in prison have joined the hunger strike which has been labelled the ‘War of Empty Stomachs.’
Hunger strikes are taking place in both the West Bank and in Gaza.
However, the current hunger strikes, have lacked the global media coverage which Hana Shalabi received when she was protesting against administrative detention, a practice which is only legal under international law in extreme cases.
Hana Shalabi did not die, and was not killed, but she is not free.
However, the catalyst of #Palhunger has been silenced by the Israeli authorities with her exile, as well as by the Western media, who have since let the struggles of the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners go largely unreported.
Hunger striking is a somewhat alien concept in 21st century Western society.
In attempting to identify with the Palestinian prisoners, a comparison which sprung to mind is that of the women suffragettes of early 20th century Britain.
The women who went on hunger strike in Britain encouraged men to do so too and eventually a peaceful movement was formed which persuaded the government to give women the right to vote.
However, the negative stereotypes surrounding the suffragettes who often sacrificed their lives for women in Britain to earn the right to vote, still remain.
‘Feminism’ often conjures up images of militant women, chained to the railings of Downing Street in an ‘unladylike manner.’
But the women who went on hunger strikes in prisons from 1909 in Britain, just wanted freedom.
Hunger is a peaceful weapon, which makes authorities worry, and ultimately listen.
Global media organisations now need to listen to the hunger striking Palestinians.
Occupied Palestine (@occpal) tweeted @ourothersisters, telling us that the mainstream media is ignoring the struggles of the Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike, despite the strike being the biggest of its kind in the region since the Occupation began.
Follow the struggle of the Palestinian prisoners using the hash tag #Palhunger and act in solidarity with them on 5th May.
@royalsmc tweeted us a link to his new song, Tribute to Palestine. Listen to it here.