Dignity Strike demand poster (left) and a second poster in Arabic (right). Photo: Decolonize This Place

Artists Join Palestinian Prisoners’ Fight for Human Rights

The artist and activist group Decolonize This Place is campaigning on behalf of Palestinian prisoners who began a massive hunger strike on April 17 in protest of the dehumanizing conditions they face while incarcerated in detention facilities in Israel. “From now until the prisoners call off the strike, we will be posting creative contributions on a daily basis,” the group said in a statement. Dubbed “Dignity Strike!,” the effort has been spearheaded by artists, writers, and scholars who want to raise awareness about the prisoners’ denial of basic rights.

The more than fifteen hundred Palestinians participating in the hunger strike plan to continue with the action until the government declares that it will meet their thirteen demands, including improved medical care, increased family visits, and an end to detaining individuals who have not yet been charged.

According to the Electronic Intifada, several men have already been hospitalized, and officials are refusing to negotiate with them. “When it comes to the hunger strike by terrorists in Israeli jails, I take the approach of Margaret Thatcher,” Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Facebook. The former British prime minister ignored a hunger strike carried out by prisoners in Northern Ireland’s Maze prison in 1981—by the end of the strike, ten prisoners had died.

“There is no real justification for this strike,” Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan added. “Terrorists aren’t in prison to get good conditions. They’re there to be punished. A hunger strike shouldn’t change our behavior as the state toward the prisoners.”

Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian prisoner who spent the last fifteen years in an Israeli prison, wrote an op-ed published in the New York Times on April 16. Barghouti said that a hunger strike is the most peaceful form of resistance for prisoners who refuse to surrender to Israel’s “inhumane system.”

He wrote: “Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about two hundred Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions . . . There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.”

In response to the article and for his role in spearheading the strike, Barghouti has been placed in solitary confinement. Authorities are currently investigating whether his wife or his lawyers helped smuggle the essay out of prison.

Decolonize This Place is calling for daily submissions to bring attention to the plight of these prisoners. Its website states: “Their strike for dignity and freedom calls on all of us—including cultural workers—to amplify their struggle in confronting the tyranny of jailers. Today, we begin the work of supporting them through art and action in all forms.”