ABU NIMAH: A lesson for Israel and the PA 1Mar12 March 1, 2012

by Hasan Abu Nimah  -  Al Arabiya News  -  29 February 2012

Khader Adnan’s historic 66-day hunger strike was enough to teach both Israel and the Palestinian Authority a tough lesson: that the will of an individual can be an incredible force.

Adnan’s stance became a worldwide cause celebre as he stood uncompromisingly for his rights. His cause was very simple. Israel arrested him on December 17 and was holding him without charge or trial as an “administrative detainee”. He is one of more than 300 prisoners held by Israel without charge or trial, including two-dozen elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Thousands of Palestinian prisoners have been victim of this system of arbitrary detention, which dates back to the British mandate, and Israel uses it without any protest from the so-called international community. Even stranger, Israel still calls itself a democracy.

“Dignity is much more important for me than my life,” Adnan kept asserting even as he neared death. Finally, on February 21, Israel agreed to Adnan’s minimum demands: to release him on April 17, three weeks earlier than the planned end of the “administrative detention order”, and then not to renew the detention, as Israel routinely does.

He has inspired others to use their willpower the same way. Hana Al Shalabi, a 29-year-old woman from near Jenin, has been on hunger strike for almost two weeks, ever since she was arrested by Israeli forces, on February 16. Shalabi, who is also held without charges, spent more than two years in administrative detention, but was freed last October as part of the prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

As for Adnan, for those harrowing 66-days, despite all pressure, efforts and humanitarian appeals, including from his immediate family, he refused to bend. He put his freedom and integrity before life and any other consideration.

Quickly his resolve translated into embarrassment, for Israel and its supporters crowing of respect for human rights and due process, as well as for the Palestinian Authority which hardly defended its people in similar situations, when not collaborating with Israeli security to facilitate arbitrary arrests.

What surprised Israel and many others is that Adnan’s cause quickly gathered attention among Palestinians, and through social media.

He is not an obvious target for sympathy: Israel insisted on constantly describing Adnan as a dangerous “terrorist” and member of Islamic Jihad. But Israel’s accusations carried no credibility as long as it did not charge him — even under its laws — of any crime.

Calls for Adnan’s release or trial mounted from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Carter Centre and eventually even from EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. Israel’s usual tactics of abusing Palestinian rights in the dark weren’t working.

Hoping that the striker’s resolve would give way or that they would get away with punishing another Palestinian “terrorist”, the Israelis ignored all calls. But the campaign kept gathering strength, primarily as a result of the prisoner’s steadfastness.

Many made the comparison between Adnan and those who went on hunger strike in Ireland in the 1980s, a comparison which put Israel in an even more unfavourable light.

In the end, it became clear that the power of a starving frail and close to death individual at Israel’s mercy, or actually no mercy, prevailed over that of the entire state and its lethal military means.

Israel stood virtually powerless before the determined, dying baker, husband and father of two young daughters whose images also certainly helped generate sympathy and humanise a man Israel could only talk about using labels like “terrorist”. And then, finally, it accepted Adnan’s minimum demands.

Not only does this constitute a rare case of Israel submitting to the conditions of others, it is also the submission of the fierce wolf to the helpless lamb. This means that weakness is more a state of mind than a reality.

The Palestinian Authority decided many years ago that because it is powerless, it has only to beg for Israel’s mercy, negotiate without a plan, accept humiliation, submit to injustice, offer compromises and at every tip and turn declare helplessness. That invited excessive Israeli arrogance, intransigence and greed.

Since 2003, the Arab states decided peace as their only “strategic choice”, no matter what. Peace cannot be a strategy. It is a matter-of-fact state amongst all nations in normal conditions, while, contrarily, every nation has the right to resort to any measure, including the use of force, to defend its territory and people when subject to aggression.

In the last decade alone, the United States waged two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under the pretext that it was defending its people and its territory and even peace itself! Israel has been at war with most of its Arab neighbours since its creation. In the last decade, it waged two major aggressive wars on Lebanon and Gaza.

Meanwhile, no Arab state, let alone Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, would dare mention the use of force even as a last-resort self-defence strategy, despite Israeli occupation and constant aggression.

Why should the Arabs be deprived of practising the right to self-defence even if that requires force?

The answer is simple: because they decided to be weak, helpless and have no chance with an aggressor state.

Arabs decided that in any war with Israel they stand to lose, therefore they should accept defeat without even fighting the battle.

I am not speaking here strictly of military battles, but even in diplomatic, political and economic battles, the Arabs have conceded far too much, hoping that the “international community” and Israel will take pity and return their usurped rights.

Adnan’s hunger strike reminds us that we should not resign ourselves to surrender, and that whole armies are useless unless one first has the will and determination to endure, even when the balance of forces seems overwhelming.

Hasan Abu Nimah is a former Jordanian diplomat, writer, lecturer and prominent columnist in the Jordan Times where this article was first published.

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