In spite of the moral equivalence with a Palestinian terrorist hunger striker in the final paragraph, this article in +972 magazine by Orit Bashkin gives an interesting insight into how Jews and Communists went on hunger strike in the Iraq of the 1950s, leading, she claims, to 'regime change'. One Jewish hunger striker, Regina Lukai, was the subject of an Israeli TV film. (with thanks: Janet)
Many Jews were imprisoned for political reasons, because of
anti-Semitism, or because of their connections to radical or Zionist
organizations (including this writer’s own great grandfather, who was
imprisoned in Russia because he was a Zionist and escaped to mandatory
Palestine in 1927). And even in the prisons of mandatory Palestine,
communists and revisionists used hunger strikes as part of their
In Iraq, the subject of my research, Jewish prisoners used hunger strikes in the 1950s.
Since the mid-1940s, two illegal underground organizations had been
growing in influence in Iraq among Jewish youth and students: the
Zionist and the Communist. The Zionist movement was smaller, in contrast
to the Communists, who exerted influence throughout all of Iraq and
included all faiths.
The Iraqi government brutally repressed both movements. Many Jews who
were, in fact, neither Zionist nor communist, were arrested by the
state in 1948 on the false accusations that they were members of those
One of the most infamous prisons in Iraq was Nuqrat al-Salman, a
fortress in the desert where Jewish and non-Jewish political prisoners
were kept. In 1951, Nukqat al-Salman held 50 Jewish prisoners out of the
162 political prisoners; 8 Jews had been stripped of their nationality.
Paradoxically, moreover, the jails in Iraq became a hotbed for
political activity, given that they contained such a concentrated number
In July 1951, the prisoners began a hunger strike, which quickly
became a nation-wide event. The political prisoners argued that the
court which judged them did not have the authority to do so—part of them
were, in fact, judged by emergency laws imposed in 1948—and demanded
that the prison be closed.
The Iraqi opposition, from both the left and the right, reported on
the hunger strikes and the tortures through their newspapers. Protests
broke out in Baghdad and in Basra to display support for the hunger
strikers. Until today, the 1950s hunger strike protests are remembered
as one of the critical aspects of what became a wave of protests against
Another case relates to a 16-year-old girl, Regina Lukai (now
Herzliya Lukai) from Irbil in northern Iraq, who had been arrested
because she simply had a letter in Hebrew. She recalls being imprisoned
in Irbil with male prisoners who protected her from the police guards.
She was then transferred to Baghdad, interrogated and, though she was
not provided an attorney, was sentenced to a two year imprisonment on
charges of cooperation with Zionism.
She served six months in Baghdad, and then was again transferred to a
prison in Irbil, where she joined communist female prisoners and needed
to pretend to be a communist in order to be in their graces. Together,
the women began a hunger strike, and Regina was on her 21st day when she
was force fed along with her fellow inmates. On the way to the force
feeding, the women screamed that they were political prisoners. The
strike itself was covered in the press.
Regina, who was ultimately released and celebrated in her city of
birth, was the subject of a film shown on Israeli television in 1989
called “Tsamot.” The hunger strike frames the narrative and appears in
the beginning and the end of the story.
I assume that at this point many readers might be annoyed, and
rightly so. After all, there is nothing alike in the Zionist and
Communist undergrounds and the Islamic Jihad of which Mohammad Allan
is allegedly a member. The undergrounds in Iraq were secular and
modern. The communists encompassed all religions and protested
sectarianism. These organizations have nothing in common with Islamic
Jihad in their world view or their tactics.
However, all hunger strikers – Iraqi and Palestinian, Muslims,
Christians, and Jews – raised similar claims: that prisoners are
entitled to the right of a fair trial, that an attorney present their
case, that their imprisonment conditions be fair, and that torture would
not be a part of their “interrogations.”
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