73 days: Bilal, Thaer and the Irish hunger strikers against colonial rule
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73 days: Bilal, Thaer and the Irish hunger strikers against colonial rule


On 2nd August 1981, the Irish revolutionary and member of the Irish parliament in the south, Kieran Doherty, died after 73 days on hunger strike. Along with nine other prisoners, he started a hunger strike to protest the policies of the British state in the north of Ireland and the conditions of Irish Republican political prisoners. Of the ten Irish martyrs, Kieran Doherty’s survived for the greatest length of time, with his other comrades dying after between 46 and 71 days.


Today the Palestinian political prisoners Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh enter their 73rd day without food, the longest running of the estimated 2,500 Palestinians now refusing to eat in protest against their illegal detention by the Israeli occupation forces.


Bilal and Thaer have equaled the longest surviving Irish hunger striker in 1981, a terrible yet heroic achievement that must inspire us all to redouble our efforts in support of them and every single Palestinian prisoner. On the ground in Palestine the resistance is intensifying: in protest at the international community’s cowardly failure to hold Israel to account for its systematic human rights violations, Palestinians yesterday blockaded and shut down the offices of the UN in Ramallah, and have today targeted the offices of the ICRC. While international institutions shame themselves with their silent complicity in Israel’s crimes, international civil society is increasingly standing side by side with the Palestinian people and showing its uncompromising solidarity with the oppressed, with the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) at the forefront of this international movement.


International solidarity with the Palestinian people echoes the support the Palestinian people lent to the Irish hunger strikers in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in 1981, and the incredible wave of pressure against the British government of Margaret Thatcher to grant the demands of the prisoners. As the Palestinian people enter this tragic, yet hugely important phase of their fight for freedom, it must be remembered that Israel is trying to break the resistance with the same tactics that Britain used against the Irish people; in fact the administrative detention laws used by Israel in 2012 are adapted from a 1945 British Mandate law. Our struggles are one and the same, and our enemies are the same, though their flags and accents may not be: They are the powerful and the colonizers; those who fear freedom. As the Israeli army’s raid on Stop the Wall’s offices in Ramallah on Tuesday morning showed, Israel is preparing for a new wave of repression as Palestinians escalate their resistance to occupation, colonization and apartheid. But we are many, and they are few, and to paraphrase Bobby Sands, the first Irish hunger striker to die in 1981:


They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irish or Palestinian person who does not want to be broken.