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Why Canadians should care about the hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners

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There are many ills in our struggling world and many struggles for justice and peace. The dire situation of Palestinian political prisoners is one drawing my attention right now. Upwards of 1500 Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons have been on a hunger strike since April 16, as detailed by Marwan Barghouti in the New York Times the same day. 

I read his opinion piece with shock and deep sadness that these prisoners -- men, women and even children, including parliamentarians, activists, journalists, and academics, feel so desperate they are compelled to act in this way, inviting death as a means to be heard. 

Their demands are basic: More frequent family visits, an end to administrative detention and prolonged detention without charges or trial, an end to medical negligence, improved prison conditions, and an end to solitary confinement. It's a long way from Canada and our civil and political environment -- though we too have prison justice issues and incarceration that is disproportionately endured by vulnerable populations that should not be in jail. 

So what do the Palestinian prisoners and their demands have to do with us? Why should we care and pay attention? As Canadians we pride ourselves on upholding values of fairness and reason. We DO care about what happens in the global community because we are connected one way or another, through trade, family, culture, and upholding international law. During the Harper years, Canada's official views and position on Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land changed dramatically. The Conservative government was supremely uncritical of its ally and Israel's violation of international law and ushered in a decade of pervasive intimidation of any criticism. I experienced those years in Parliament and I hope they are gone for good.  

I believe most Canadians want to see our government advocate for human rights globally and uphold international law. We cannot be silently complicit in crimes against humanity. Canada can, and should, use its influence at the UN, in the international community, and with Israel directly, to call for attention and action to respond to the Palestinian prisoner demands.  

This raises the question of what we can do to put pressure on our Canadian elected representatives to act, no matter what party they belong to or whether they are a cabinet minister or a back bencher. I can think of three things we can do: 

1) Drop a quick email to your MP and show your support for this issue. Ask them specifically if they will raise it with their party and call for action by their party. You can find your MP here.

2) Write to the foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland (Chrystia.Freeland@parl.gc.ca) and ask her what her government is doing to support justice for the political prisoners.

3) Circulate information about the issue and urge for broad support.

There are approximately 6500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. As Barghouti states in his letter, "there is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members."

Let's speak out. 

Libby Davies was a Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2015.

Image: Flickr/43405897

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