Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Ashjan Ajour

Lecturer in Sociology, School of Social, Historical and Political Studies, University of Wolverhampton

Hunger Strike Experience and the Embodiment of Palestinian Dispossession and Collective Revolutionary Subjectivity

The hunger strikers’ discourse of their dispossession in the Israeli prison system and sacrifice  of the body in their hunger strike is constructed in relation to the way in which Israeli settler  colonialism aims at the dispossession of Palestinians and the annihilation of their political  subjectivity and resistance. This article illuminates the relationality between the hunger  strikers’ lived experience and Palestinian collective subjectivity. Through interviews it reveals  that the exceptional act of hunger striking is an exemplification of the collective anti-colonial  resistance subjectivity in the face of colonial dispossession. From their singular encounter with  colonial power, they constitute an intersubjective political consciousness of Palestinian self determination at the collective level.  

This article situates the hunger strike experience in the wider context of the Palestinian struggle  against Israeli settler colonialism and the condition of the indigenous Palestinian people. It  investigates the hunger strikers’ subjectivity within that context and provides insights into their  experiences in relation to it. Their embodied practice of hunger striking, which is a singular  and solitary act, is in fact viewed by the interviewees as the carrier of the collective political  struggle against Israeli colonisation. The hunger strike becomes a representation of Palestinian  self-determination and the body of the hunger striker a symbol of the collective Palestinian  body politic and collective will. The accounts of former hunger strikers stress that the  dispossession experienced in the Israeli prison system goes beyond the incarceration of the  captive body. It also functions with the aim to dispossess Palestinian detainees of their  humanity and annihilate their political subjectivity and Palestinian collective revolutionary  consciousness. 

I look at the experience of individual hunger strikers in relation to the broader collective  national liberation movement which strives for freedom and self-determination. This provides  an understanding of the historical production of resistance subjectivity in the context of settler  the Israeli colonial project. The article is based on in-depth interviews between 2015 -2018  with Palestinian former hunger strikers who were protesting against their administrative  detention in Israeli prisons. They recounted after their release reached through agreements with  the Israeli Prisons Authorities (IPA). The narrated experiences of Palestinians hunger strikers  risking their lives in the face of the colonial dispossession reveals a way of being that can  inform the production of knowledge about the praxis of resistance. Interviewees emphasized  that they went through this experience because they aspired to life which challenged the  hegemonic discourse of the dominant Zionist narrative that characterises them as suicidal  terrorists.  

Hunger strike has a long a history in Palestine and it is an ongoing contemporary phenomenon  which reflects the continuing struggle between Israeli settler-colonialism and Palestinian anti colonial resistance. Following the decline and fragmentation of the national struggle in the  post-Oslo period the Palestinian hunger strikers’ commitment to liberation politics became  divorced from the post-Oslo politics which replaced resistance with a neoliberal state building  project (Dana 2017; Ganim 2009; Khalidi 2007; Massad 2006; Said 2002; Sayigh 1999).  Despite that, and the fact that contemporary Palestinian hunger strikes appear to be individual  acts of resistance, the hunger strikers' discourse reveals a form of collective subjectivity driven  by broader Palestinian revolutionary politics.

Ashjan Ajour completed her Ph.D. in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London in August 2019. Her research interests and teaching experience are situated in sociology; gender studies and feminist theories and movements; political subjectivity; incarceration; and decolonization and global indigenous politics. In 2019, she engaged as a teaching fellow in Sociology at Warwick University and worked as a research fellow in the School of Media, Communications, and Sociology at the University of Leicester focusing on the “Decolonising the Curriculum” research project. She is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Wolverhampton.