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‘We would prefer not to’

Mar 05,2016 - Last updated at Mar 05,2016

Mohammad Al Qeeq, the Palestinian journalist who was administratively detained by the Israeli colonial army for more than three months, has finally triumphed over his oppressors.

Yet, he did not become triumphant by using the weaponry with which this war-infested region is overly familiar. His primary weapon was, and still is, his will. With it, he has asserted that he is a free individual through and through. 

Prior to his heroic battle — a 94-day hunger strike —Qeeq had been arrested several times.

He was not arrested because he had violated “the law”; he was arrested because Israel is always punishing Palestinians only because they are Palestinians and, more importantly, because it is always targeting anybody who presents an alternative, truthful account of its crimes against humanity.

The point of that targeting process is to make Palestinians bow down to the fiction imposed on the ground, to Israel’s bogus narrative that has been refuted even by so-called new Israeli historians, such as Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris.

Through his work as a journalist for the Saudi-based Al Majd network, Qeeq, vigorously tried, against all odds, to show that fiction for what it really is.

He was only doing his job; that is, excavating the truth.

When he was arrested on November 21, 2015, his wife, Fayhaa Shalash, a journalist herself, showed the Israeli officer his International Press Card, but the Israeli officer had no qualms about dismissing it.

But why was Qeeq arrested this time?

We were not told. We were only told that he had to experience the infamous “administrative detention”, which,  according to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, is “detention without charge or trial that is authorised by administrative order rather than by judicial decree”.

B’Tselem also says that the practice itself is permissible in international law, but Israel abuses it.

Not only does it deny the detainees access to any form of defence, it also detains them indefinitely, by constantly renewing their detention.

There are more than 600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli administrative detention now.

No rational human being accepts that kind of detention, especially when it is accompanied by harsh conditions, including torture and maltreatment.

Palestinians have always legitimately protested against this draconian measure through different means so that they can be charged, tried and, hopefully, set free.

This is not to suggest that the Israeli judiciary is ideologically neutral and will actually set them free; most often, it is just a cog in the Israeli machine.

Despite those legitimate protest moves, the Israeli army is adamant and defiant, so detainees or prisoners have no choice but to embark on hunger strikes.

Qeeq is only the last to wage the so-called “empty bowels” battle, which he ended at HaEmek Medical Centre Hospital in Al Afula. His body was so weak that he was unable to speak, but the voice of his spirit was much stronger than the lies of his oppressors.

Yes, Qeeq has triumphed. 

However, to single him out is counterproductive, as his strike — erroneously called passive resistance — is only a small part of a collective, global resistance to occupation. 

He was preceded by Abd Al Qader Abul Fahem (1970), Rassem Halawah and Ali Al Jaafari (1980), Mahmoud Freitikh (1984), Hussein Nimer Obeidat (1992) — who all died, or rather were killed, because of their hunger strikes.

More recently, Qeeq’s strike was preceded, and perhaps inspired, by the well-known strike of Khader Adnan, who also fought against the Israeli machine and triumphed over it. 

Qeeq is then only one member of that constellation of heroic individuals. He is also only one member of the Palestinian people struggling against the Israeli colonial machine.

But placing his admirable feat within a narrow national narrative is to miss the boat. For, his strike is part of a larger global struggle, the most resonant example of which is the struggle of Bobby Sands and other nine Irish prisoners who died while hunger striking in protest against the cruel treatment to which they were exposed during the reign of Margaret Thatcher. 

Qeeq’s struggle is also reminiscent of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and many others.

Those global stories of remarkable individuals are sometimes co-opted by the oppressors to the extent that while one admires the heroism of such individuals, one forgets about the material conditions they were resisting and ignores the unheard, unseen millions who fought alongside them.

In a recent interview, African-American activist and scholar Angela Davis puts it explicitly: “It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognise their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.”

We can only heed Davis’ caution if and only if we do not lionise Qeeq, the indisputably admirable individual, and if we place him within a larger framework of a global struggle against oppression.

Writer Herman Melville’s Bartleby solitarily uttered the unforgettable: “I’d prefer not to.”

But for Qeeq’s act of resistance not to be misconstrued as a single, singular cry, one needs to think of it as part of the Palestinian and global mosaic of resistance; it is, therefore, the “We would prefer not to” that gestures towards an alternative way of life.


The writer, a Fulbright scholar, contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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