On April 17, Palestinian prisoners launched a mass hunger strike against the dehumanizing and apartheid-style conditions inside Israel’s detention facilities. The strike has reached its eighth day, and already it stands as an historic act of defiance that is shaking the earth beneath the military Occupation of Palestine.
Among the strikers’ 13 demands are improvements in conditions and an end to solitary confinement, heavy restrictions on family visits, and administrative detention (prolonged imprisonment without charge).
Israeli authorities are increasing their punitive measures against strikers, while in the “courts” of Israeli public opinion and mainstream media in the United States, they are largely condemned as terrorists and murders.
Despite intensifying punishment and public stigmatization, the resolve of the 1,500 hunger strikers is growing stronger. Each day more and more prisoners are joining the strike. The situation is escalating quickly. Across all sectors and factions, Palestinian civil society has been galvanized, and a General Strike followed by a “day of rage” have been called in the West Bank and Gaza for Thursday, April 27 and Friday, April 28.
The survival and growth of the strikers’ movement for “dignity and freedom” depends, in large part, on its continuing visibility in international media and public opinion. Since time is of the essence, a rapid-response solidarity initiative of artists and organizers is now being launched to amplify the hunger strike with daily contributions in the form of images, words, voices, and actions of all kinds. As coordinators, we are inviting contributions to be sent to [email protected]; they will be posted here.
This initiative, which will continue until the prisoners call off the strike, is tied together by two hashtags. The first is #dignitystrike, a phrase that draws on the principle underlying the tactic of hunger strike and indeed the Palestinian freedom struggle itself. The second hashtag is #decolonizethisplace. This is a phrase familiar to many in the art world from the transformation last fall of the historic venue Artists Space into a round-the-clock movement space and organizing hub.
At Artists Space, Decolonize This Place wove together five strands of struggle — de-gentrification, global wage workers, indigenous uprising, black liberation, and free Palestine — within a decolonizing framework of action and organizing. Far from an isolated and remote struggle with which we might choose to be in solidarity, the occupation of Palestine and the movement against it bear deep affinities with movements against displacement and dispossession in the United States, from Standing Rock to the Bronx. As a geopolitical proxy of the United States, Israel and its expansionary settlement policies affect us in far-reaching ways. We are all implicated, to the point of complicity, in this toxic relationship between settler-colonial powers, which threatens to grow even closer with the new Trump administration.
This complicity is as true in the art system as it is in US society more broadly. Among the actions undertaken in the fall by Decolonize This Place was a campaign targeting Artis, the nonprofit arts organization that works to promote Brand Israel in the United States, effectively artwashing the Occupation. Artis makes a point of refusing direct funding from Israeli government, thus putting it technically beyond the purview of the BDS movement, which advocates action against state and institutional agents of the Occupation. In keeping with our belief that BDS is “a floor not the ceiling,” we, along with allies from movements throughout the city, targeted Artis for its role in “muddying the waters” for those looking to support the Palestinian path toward liberation.
The campaign that launches today is in the spirit of BDS. It answers a call from Palestinians, and it is aimed directly at the forces underpinning the Occupation. The hunger strike reminds us of the life-or-death stakes (now visibly unfolding in real time, hour-by-hour) of the institutional politics of BDS movement.
The Palestinian prisoners’ strike for dignity and freedom calls on all of us — including cultural workers — to amplify their struggle in confronting the tyranny of jailers. Let us link our struggles with theirs, and perhaps our own capacities of imagination and action will in turn grow, flowing back into our efforts to decolonize this place, which is inseparable from the task of decolonizing all places, including Palestine itself.