SARAH BLAHOVEC / THE EAGLE
By Rachel Karas
Eagle Staff Writer
With bandanas tied around their faces and midday sun beating down upon their heads, a small group of students sat in the middle of the Quad with signs, leaflets and empty stomachs.
Five members of AU Students for Justice in Palestine began a hunger strike Sept. 7, resolving to abstain from food until three Palestinian political prisoners are released or end their own strikes, SJP member Damián Fontanez said.
The group hopes to remain on the Quad from Sept. 10 to 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fontanez, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, said the hunger strike is a show of solidarity with Palestinians who are detained without cause or due process.
“[We will do this] every day,” Fontanez said, adding that he hopes more students will join in the fast. “I’m hoping the prisoners are released as soon as possible … Samer al-Barq is near death and he hasn’t stopped his strike.”
Though prisoners often use hunger strikes as a form of protest, the five SJP members are striking for three detainees who have gone longest without eating: Samer al-Barq, Hassan Safadi and Ayman Sharawna.
As of Sept. 7, al-Barq was on his 140th day without food since April 15, according to Amnesty International. Safadi was on his 150th day of hunger strike since March 5 and Sharawna was on his 69th day of hunger strike, according to Palestinian prisoners’ support and human rights network Addameer.
SJP members also held a hunger strike in February in support of Khader Adnan, who had then been fasting for 60 days, The Eagle previously reported. The AU students’ strike lasted six days before Israeli authorities announced Adnan would be released in April.
Michael Dranove, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he believes holding a strike of their own is the best way to support the imprisoned.
“We’re being optimistic about how long we can last,” Dranove said. “I eat a lot of food … I have a fast metabolism. It’s going to be very difficult, but I’ll go through with it.”
The group is also asking students to write letters to Brigadier General Danny Efroni, military judge advocate general of the Israeli Defense Forces, to “demand an end to this cruel policy of unjust imprisonment,” according to an SJP leaflet.
As of September 2011, 272 Palestinians were held in “administrative detention” without charge, according to Human Rights Watch.
Fontanez said they had received a positive and curious response from people passing by on campus, and said many others have written messages of support online even if they choose not to fast.
According to Dranove, a student wearing a Star of David necklace approached the group, said he had brought a burrito and chips, tried to feed them and then told Public Safety that SJP had tried to attack him.
Public Safety officers later spoke with the group, who denied attacking the student, and told The Eagle that they were unable to release information at the time.
Fontanez said food should not be given to the group, but to “others who need it more.” While he ate around 200 calories each day during last semester’s strike, he is now choosing to drink only water and tea.
“I want to challenge myself for an oppressed people,” Fontanez said, comparing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that of American colonists and Native Americans. “That’s what keeps me going.”
Dranove and Fontanez said they believe the creation of the state of Israel came at the expense of 700,000 to 800,000 Palestinians and has resulted in “ethnic cleansing.”
“I try to take an intellectual standpoint on the whole thing, and I wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t weighed the arguments,” Dranove said. “There’s two sides to every story, but most of the time, there’s one side that’s right.”