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Book Review ‘Sacrifice is the brother of freedom’

Reflections by former Irish and Palestinian hunger strikers shine a light on the latter’s continuing use of this protest to resist Israeli persecution, writes GAVIN O’TOOLE

A Shared Struggle: Stories of Palestinian and Irish Hunger Strikers
Edited: Norma Hashim
An Fhuiseog £10

IT IS self-harm and a last resort, yet the hunger strike is a powerful weapon of resistance.

As former UNHRC Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk writes in his foreword to this book, it is “the ultimate form of non-violence possessing unlimited symbolic potential.”

And nowhere has it been more integral to struggles against oppression than in Ireland and Palestine — both victims of colonial injustice rooted in British imperialism.

Yet in terms of perception, we instinctively associate Ireland with this weapon of the weak, when in reality Palestinians employ it against Israeli tyranny extensively: as I write, seven Palestinian hunger strikers face death.

There are good reasons for limited awareness of what Palestinians call the “battle of empty stomachs,” from Israel’s aggressive response to symbolic challenges to its apartheid, to how media in the US and Britain — countries complicit in Israeli crimes — ignore these.

This makes A Shared Struggle more than a book, but the latest act in longstanding mutual solidarity between Irish and Palestinian activism. As Danny Morrison of the Bobby Sands Trust writes: “The cause of Palestine is the cause of Ireland.”

Editor Norma Hashim has compiled moving and shocking narratives of former hunger strikers that expose similar, systemic responses by occupying powers.

Gerry Kelly’s reflections on force feeding, for example, resonate with the experiences of Mohammed Alian, and the psychological torture endured by Dirar al-Hroub and Hassan Safadi with the trauma experienced by Laurence McKeown and Pat Sheehan.

We learn of the misery heaped by authorities upon the families of hunger strikers, and how these protests catalyse political change — what Falk calls the “power embedded in the powerlessness of the prisoner.”

Among lessons to take away are historical comparisons of two anti-colonial struggles sharing common roots, as noted in the introduction by Palestinian-Irish academic Asad Abu Sharkh.

Britain’s nefarious role is ever present: Israel routinely uses “administrative detention” to incarcerate Palestinians without due process under emergency laws dating from the British mandate and indistinguishable from “internment” in the north of Ireland.

But the resounding messages are of Israel’s contempt for international standards in its racist treatment of Palestinian prisoners, and how these share with their Irish counterparts a remarkable steadfastness — called sumud — that derives from righteous indignation.

This explains why both Britain and Israel failed to break titans such as Bobby Sands in 1981 and, most recently, Maher al-Akhras in 2020.

As former prisoner Hanna Shalabi notes: “Sacrifice is the brother of freedom.”

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