On July 15, 1981, as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Bernie Sanders spoke out for Irish political prisoners on hunger strike against their treatment by the British government.
“We are deeply disturbed by your government’s unwillingness to stop the abuse, humiliation and degrading treatment of Irish prisoners now on hunger strikes in Northern Ireland,” he wrote to Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister of the United Kingdom.
“We ask you to end your intransigent policy towards the prisoners before the reputation of the English people for fair play and simple decency is further damaged in the eyes of the people of Vermont and the United States.”
Today, as a United States senator and presidential candidate, he should do no less for Mohammed al-Qeeq, a Palestinian journalist and political prisoner who, on February 23, entered the 91st day of a hunger strike protesting his torture and “administrative detention” – imprisonment without charge or trial – by Israel.
Tragically, Sanders’ 1981 appeal fell on deaf ears, and ten Irish hunger strikers died.
But despite his record-breaking fast, al-Qeeq is still – barely – alive. And unlike the UK, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians relies on billions of dollars in economic and military support from the US government, giving Sanders both influence and responsibility.