Palestinian strike: a coup for non-violent protest (AFP) AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE) By Selim Saheb Ettaba 05/15/12)
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The deal that ended the Palestinian prisoners´ mass hunger strike not
only headed off a confrontation with Israel, but also proved the
growing success of the Palestinian strategy of non-violent protest.
The agreement, signed just hours before Nakba Day, when Palestinians
mourn the "catastrophe" that befell them in the war that accompanied
Israel´s independence in 1948, provided a happy ending for local,
regional and international players.
Not only did the prisoners manage to improve their lot through the
deal, but Israel was able to avoid what could have been a potentially
serious backlash if any of the prisoners had died, and all sides
breathed a sigh of relief.
In a statement welcoming the deal, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony
Blair said he had repeatedly pushed Israel "to resolve the crisis
expeditiously in order to avoid a tragic outcome which had the
potential to destabilise conditions on the ground."
Gaza´s Hamas rulers and the radical Islamic Jihad movement had warned
Israel it would face dire consequences if any of the 1,550 prisoners
Most of the detainees refused food for four weeks, but two of them,
Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, both from Islamic Jihad, went 76 days
without eating, setting the record for a hunger strike among
"If anything had happened to Thaer or Bilal, for example, it would
have pushed Islamic Jihad to react immediately by firing rockets at
Israel from Gaza, which Hamas would not have wanted because it wants
to keep the peace there," a Palestinian official told AFP.
In a bid to resolve the standoff, Hamas had last week dispatched a
delegation of former prisoners to Cairo to participate in
negotiations, which were mediated by Egypt.
The explosive potential of the strike had also worried officials in
"Like Israel, some Palestinian circles were worried that the strike
could deteriorate into a new intifada (uprising), which would be run
by leaders of the first and second intifadas, but this time from
inside Israeli prisons," said political analyst Khalil Shahine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s spokesman Mark Regev said
Israel had backed the agreement "in response to a request by
President Abbas" in the hope that it would "build confidence between
the parties and further peace."
But, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said it was unacceptable that
the prisoners were forced to endanger their own lives in order to
secure basic rights.
"We regret that Israel´s authorities had for years violated inmates´
rights, so they had to risk their lives in their struggle," said Anat
Litvin, head of prisoners and detainees at PHR.
But she hailed the detainees for their use of a non-violent campaign
to achieve their rights.
"The Palestinian inmates proved that a non-violent and just struggle
can bring important achievement and raise international awareness,"
she said in a statement.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza also paid tribute
to "the most serious and longest hunger strike in Israeli prisons."
"The agreement was not achieved without struggle and the
determination of prisoners who put their lives at risk in one of the
highest forms of resistance and peaceful protest," it said.
In a speech on Monday night, ahead of Nakba Day, Palestinian
president Mahmud Abbas spoke in broad terms of "peaceful popular
resistance against occupation, settlement, and the (Israeli West Bank
separation) wall, in which foreign activists and Israeli pacifists
take part part."
He mentioned the boycott of settlement products as an example.
Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi also hailed the prisoners´ peaceful
protest as a "victory" for the entire Palestinian people.
"They have truly demonstrated that non-violent resistance is an
essential tool in our struggle for freedom," she said in a statement
on Monday evening.
"Our new heroes are Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Lurther King,"
Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath has repeatedly said, alluding to
three giants of peaceful popular resistance who have inspired the
current Palestinian strategy, which was even publicly approved by
Hamas in 2011.
In a report published on Tuesday, Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki
noted that "a majority of Palestinians oppose a resort to violence as
a means of resisting Israeli occupation."
Even though 61 percent of respondents declared themselves in favour
of non-violent resistance, he said, the numbers of those actually
taking part in such acts was low. (Copyright © 2012 Agence France
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