Harriet Sherwood on the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike – high on pathos, low on fact.

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, (1949), pt. 1, ch. 3)

Next month will mark the second anniversary of Harriet Sherwood’s arrival in Israel. Those two years have made no noticeable difference to her reporting – suggesting that Sherwood’s tendency to blindly reproduce frequently unsubstantiated claims made by various individuals or organisations (often with a lot more to them than Sherwood chooses to inform her readers) is more a matter of method than lack of knowledge or experience. 

As we saw just a couple of months ago in the Guardian’s coverage of Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, what Sherwood (and others) omit from their reports is often just as critical to the overall picture as the words they do choose to write. Thus Adnan – an Islamic Jihad activist seen on record recruiting suicide bombers – became a baker as far as Guardian readers were concerned, whilst the victims of his militant group  (as Sherwood elected to term a proscribed terrorist organisation) remained outside the sphere of Guardian readers’ awareness.  

Now Sherwood is at it again, with an article from April 26th on the subject of the latest round of hunger strikes by Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli prisons. In it, she covers two specific prisoners; Bilal Diab (aged 27 from the village of Ra’ei, south-west of Jenin) and Tha’er Halahleh (aged 34 from Hevron and one of the leaders of the hunger strike). 

What Sherwood refrains from informing her readers is that – like Khader Adnan – both men are members of the Islamic Jihad

בלאל דיאב מהכפר ראעי שבקרבת ג'נין. נמנה עם הג'יהאד האיסלאמי. צם 48 יום בדרישה להשתחרר

Bilal Diab

ת'איר חלאלה. ממנהיגי שובתי הרעב, מהג'יהאד האיסלאמי. מאזור חברון. דורש לבטל את מעצרו

Tha’er Halahleh

Sherwood quotes ‘Addameer’ in her article, describing it as a ‘prisoners’ rights group’ but declining to mention the organisation’s political aspects and its use of Palestinian prisoners as a means of political leverage. 

This interview (worth reading in its entirety) with Addameer legal researcher Mourad Jadallah gives an idea of the group’s political affiliations and the significance of the subject of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons in internal Palestinian political power struggles.

Asa Winstanley: Palestinian hunger strikes seems to have developed a lot recently. It’s an old tactic, but there seems to be a new focus on it.

Mourad Jadallah: We have days for hunger strike for prisoners from Fatah and [then] twenty other days for prisoners from the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], which means that also the prisoners’ movement is not united like it was [in the past]. So what happened outside the prisons is reflected inside the prisons’ movement.

AW: The factional divisions you mean?

MJ: Yeah. Like today — this is something we don’t want to talk about but maybe for The Electronic Intifada we can say [that] until today we are not sure that the prisoners of Fatah will participate [in the hunger strike starting tomorrow].


 This is one side of how we can explain all these hunger strikes in the prison. From one side, the peace process failed to release the prisoners … And the other side, you have the [prisoners] exchange. Most of the prisoners released … they are affiliated to Hamas. So the other prisoners said, OK, what we have [are] political factions who just look out for their own prisoners and if we are from other parties nobody will ask for us and the peace process can’t release all the prisoners … The prisoners decided and they understood that they have to fight for themselves.

AW: Most of the prisoners released in the exchange were from Hamas?

MJ: Especially in the first phase of the release — 80 percent of them were from Hamas.

AW: Why was that?

MJ: This is what Hamas wanted, and also the majority of prisoners today, they belong to Hamas. This is the reality even after the exchange. And we know that Fatah and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], when they release the prisoners, they look for the Fatah prisoners, they want to keep this legitimacy at least in the eyes of the Fatah prisoners.

So everyone is saying, OK, Hamas succeeded to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — 80 percent of the first phase, which is like 450, they were Hamas. And the others, who were serving short sentences, were from different parties. So maybe it’s time for others to do the same as Hamas and release their prisoners.

… Since the beginning of the year there have been some short hunger strikes … Then suddenly you have the PFLP prisoners who went on an open hunger strike for twenty days, then Hamas came and did the prisoner swap … And then Khader Adnan put all the focus on Islamic Jihad. So you have a competition between the political parties. At some point you have the focus on the Fatah prisoners.

An additional aspect connecting this latest round of hunger strikes to its many predecessors -which Sherwood also completely ignores – is its role in the ongoing attempt by some  Palestinian groups (including organizations such as Addameer) to have people serving sentences due to convictions for terrorism recognized as political prisoners. In fact, as Addameer’s director Sahar Francis states in this article, they already view all Palestinian security prisoners as ‘political’ – even leaders of terrorist groups such as Ahmed Sa’adat of the PFLP and those convicted of acts of terror. 

Sherwood’s next quote in her article comes from Shawan Jabarin of Al Haq. As was previously pointed out by CiF Watch when Sherwood wrote a puff piece about ‘Defence of Children International – Palestine’ in January 2012, Jabarin (who sits on the board of DCI-Pal together with Sahar Francis of Addameer) is linked to the proscribed terrorist organization the PFLP. 

In June 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court noted that:

“[Jabarin] is apparently active as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in part of his hours of activity he is the director of a human rights organisation, and in another part he is an activist in a terrorist organisation which does not shy away from acts of murder and attempted murder, which have nothing to do with rights, and, on the contrary, deny the most basic right of all, the most fundamental of fundamental rights, without which there are no other rights – the right to life.”

If – as with almost everything she writes about – Sherwood were not so busy endeavoring to reduce the subject to simplistic concepts of innocent, helpless Palestinians and bad, powerful Israelis, she might have been able to broaden her readers’ knowledge on the subject of these repeated hunger strikes as part of a comprehensive strategy to try to secure the release of prisoners. 

She could have pointed out the connections between the well-organized strikes and the calls by Khaled Mashaal and other prominent members of Hamas such as Ismail Haniyeh, Ahmed Bahar and Ismail Radwan to kidnap more Israeli soldiers as a ‘second front’ in the bid for the release of convicted terrorists from Israeli prisons. 

She might have mentioned the statements by Issa Qaraqa  (PA Minister of Prisoner Affairs) and PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi on the subject of the coordinated hunger strike – both of which called for ‘internationalization’ of the issue – adding  further evidence to the fact that rather than some kind of spontaneous reaction to specific grievances, the strike is part of a co-ordinated political campaign, as the between Hamas and Fatah leaders in its promotion also indicates. 

“Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke by telephone Thursday about rallying Palestinians to support Palestinian prisoners in their hunger strike against certain Israeli prison policies, such as administrative detention, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported Friday, citing a Hamas statement.

The two also discussed tactical strategy for emphasizing the hunger strike and prisoner issues on the public relations and diplomatic fronts.”

But unfortunately for anyone who actually relies upon the Guardian for news and information about what goes on in Israel, they will learn nothing of the wider context of the hunger strikes in Israeli prisons because Harriet Sherwood apparently deems it unnecessary for readers to be aware of the connections of her subjects and interviewees to terror groups or the political campaigns of which the strikes are part and parcel. 

Instead, she’s busy piling on the pathos; slowly but steadily narrowing her readers’ range of thought in true Newspeak fashion. 



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