Prison hunger strikes in Palestine: a strategic perspective

Malaka M B Shwaikh, Rebecca Ruth Gould

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This monograph reveals in unprecedented detail how prison hunger strikes achieve monumental feats of resistance through the weaponization of lives. It shows that sometimes the need for dignity (karamah) and freedom (hurriya) trump hunger and thirst.

The research fully centers the voices of hunger strikers to better understand their strategic choices, communication and coordination tactics, and negotiation process. Transnational in its approach, it also relies on extensive interviews with Palestinian, South African, Kurdish, Irish, and British former prisoners and hunger strikers.

The study is analytical in its framing, exploring the different forms and tactics of hunger strikes in a carceral space designed to cut prisoners off from the rest of the world. The analysis results in multiple lessons and actionable takeaways that will be as useful to prison activists as they will be to their allies around the world. These include:

Lessons for the Public:

* Hunger strikers prepare themselves to give their lives for the ethical goal of preserving their dignity.

* Even when they embark on a strike while in solitary confinement, hunger strikers never act alone.

Takeaways for Sympathizers and Allies:

* Solidarity organizations and individuals can use a wide range of solidarity actions to raise the visibility of prison hunger strikes for the wider public.

* Engagement with media is crucial, as it can increase public support for hunger strikers and raise the visibility of solidarity actions.

Takeaways for Hunger Strikers:

* Direct the narrative away from self-harm: death is never a desired result. Nor is death—or any kind of self-harm—the ultimate purpose.

* Pace the strikes to maximize mobilization: Frequency is an important factor when choosing to embark on a strike. An extended pause between hunger strikes along with different strategic planning may cause public support for the prisoners to swell.

* Hold awareness sessions: Awareness-raising sessions among prisoners are needed to answer difficult questions about whether hunger strikes are needed and whether they can bring about the desired outcomes in the particular circumstances of the prisoners.

* Minimize the risks: it is crucial for a prison hunger striker to minimize the danger the strike poses to themselves and their fellow prisoners, without compromising the effectiveness of their strike. This can be achieved through holding awareness sessions to discuss lessons from previous hunger strikes and issues that may have increased or decreased their effectiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationWashington, DC
PublisherICNC Press
Number of pages112
ISBN (Print)9781943271856
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2023

Publication series

NameICNC monograph series


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