The Electronic Intifada Washington, DC 16 February 2012
On Wednesday, 8 February, a group of us coordinated across three cities — Washington, DC, New York and Chicago — to hold three simultaneous protests in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan. The protests varied in size, and our protest in Washington, DC was fairly small — we coordinated the day before and we witnessed a combination of rain and snow that afternoon.
But what mattered more for our protest was to have photographs and some video of our stance. The action was not necessarily about the here and now of capturing the attention of authorities in the neighborhood, or about distributing enough informational flyers to change the minds of a substantial number of passersby.
This was about reaching hundreds, maybe thousands, rather than the tens of pedestrians around us. Our action was meant to go beyond the hours-long period on a Wednesday night after work. We intended to use social media to keep that modest rally alive for days, maybe weeks.
Yet even on the day of our action we were, and remain, unsure how of many days Khader Adnan has to live. And this is one factor that creates the sense of urgency around his issue. The other factor is the sheer significance of the issue of abused prisoners to the Palestinian people, as well as its weight as a human issue on the entire world.
Galvanized by incarceration
As the events surrounding Khader Adnan’s incarceration reveal, one of the greatest uniting causes for the Palestinian people is prisoners. All of us have some experience with detention. I am the child of refugees who never lived under Israeli occupation. Rather our suffering as a family was in the form of being stateless people fated to live in refugee camps in foreign countries. Still our family and friends have been incarcerated in similar conditions by Israel.
There are stories of abuse that are so difficult to tell and to hear that they are relegated to mere whispers. And this is by no means particular to Palestine and the Palestinians. Incarceration galvanizes individuals and groups because we all have spirits. And we can at the very least relate to human dignity. Simply put, abuse, torture and confinement to a prison cell is an anathema to our nature.
But it is not entirely personal. We are not in solidarity because we fear for our own human spirits. We are in solidarity because fundamentally we believe that when one human suffers we all suffer. It reflects negatively on all of humanity. And the least that we can do from our relatively un-powerful positions is twofold: to pressure our own authorities who do have power, and along the way to show the Palestinian people that others around the globe stand with them.
What happened to Adnan could happen to any Palestinian living under occupation at any moment. The Israeli military routinely breaks into homes, wakes members of a family at gunpoint and detains children, parents and siblings — regardless of sex or age. Take a moment to imagine that under occupation in the West Bank your home could be invaded by soldiers who occupy your homeland, raid and search it without a permit, confiscate your personal papers and devices, arrest you or a member of your family without a warrant, and hold you without charge or trial probably under deplorable conditions by any standard of human rights.
We are all Khader Adnan
We are in solidarity because we can all imagine ourselves as Khader Adnan. Maybe if his jailers thought for one moment that they could also be Khader Adnan they would have more compassion. It is by chance that we were not born under Israeli or some other occupation, but we could have been. By some other chance we could not have been as lucky as we are. And our circumstances as young activists in the United States gives us very little in the way of concrete action we could do to liberate another human being who is held unjustly in prison. The hopeless feeling when another human being is suffering, even when we cannot see him, is unbearable.
So why protest in DC, Chicago, or New York? First, the Palestinian people deserve to know that they have brothers and sisters around the world who support their struggle and offer solidarity when it is deemed necessary. Second because we believe that without money and influence we can mobilize our numbers and media tools to create the necessary pressure. We know the limits of our power. But simultaneously we are aware of the magnitude of our power. So why would we not harness that energy and utilize it to the greatest maximum capacity? Khader Adnan is dying to live. The least the rest of us can do to further the cause of humanity is to stand with him in his plight and try to save his life, even to the very last moment.
The campaign that has been pushed by normal people like us who otherwise hold no power has produced some results, albeit short of convincing a military occupation from releasing Khaled Adnan, from trying him, from offering him better treatment, or from granting him access to an independent physician to assess his health.
Until recently the only news outlets covering his issue were local and national Palestinian media and activists from Palestine who turned our attention to his strike. Now CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera English have carried his story, primarily because of his insistence on maintaining a hunger strike, breaking the record for longest hunger striking Palestinian prisoner, and secondly because activists blasted his story over and over in social media, insisting that mainstream media turn its attention to Adnan. Today, even other Palestinian prisoners have harnessed the power that they have, deciding by the hundreds to launch a hunger strike in solidarity with his.
The photos and videos are a tool to document this moment in history and effectively capture it in time so that we never forget. And it is a tool for broad dissemination. We do not know what will happen in the case of Khader Adnan over the next few days, but our collective conscience will not rest until we know that we have done everything we can to ensure that this story has been heard far and wide, and no matter how this specific story will end, that in the future we are ready to respond immediately and nothing will keep us from acting.
Nehad Khader is an artist, art curator and an educator. She is currently working on a multi-dimensional project documenting her mother’s first visit to her home city of Haifa.