Over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners launch open-ended hunger strike
Date: Wednesday, 19 April 2017
Publication: The News Line
MORE THAN 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody launched an open-ended mass hunger strike on Monday morning on Palestinian Prisoners Day, led by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, under the banner of ‘Freedom and Dignity’ for prisoners.
Prisoners purged all food products from their cells and shaved their heads in Israeli prisons from the north to the south, namely in the Gilboa, Hadarim, Ashkelon, Ktziot, Nafha, and Ramon prisons.
In the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, a number of activists in al-Duheisha refugee camp shaved their heads in solidarity with the hunger strikers, while a rally took place on Sunday marking prisoners’ day in the nearby Aida refugee camp that honoured current and former prisoners from the camp.
Initially called for by Fatah-affiliated prisoners, Palestinian prisoners from across the political spectrum have since pledged their commitment to undertake the strike, which by some estimates, exceeded 2,000 participants when it began after midnight on Monday morning.
The Palestinian prime minister’s office released a statement on Monday, summarising the long list of demands put forward by hunger strikers under Bargouthi’s leadership: ‘A mass hunger strike started today calling for basic needs and rights of prisoners in an attempt to put an end to the practice of arbitrary administrative detention, torture, ill-treatment, unfair trials, detention of children, medical negligence, solitary confinement, inhuman/degrading treatment, deprivation of basic rights such as family visits and the right to education.’
Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said on the occasion of Prisoners’ Day and the hunger strike: ‘We honour and pay great tribute to our prisoners for their courage, continued steadfastness, and commitment to independence and justice in the face of the belligerent military occupier.
‘Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip began nearly 50 years ago, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been kidnapped and imprisoned by Israel, and in the past two years alone, at least 13 discriminatory and racist laws have been enacted by the Israeli government that deliberately target Palestinian prisoners and are in direct violation of international law and conventions,’ Ashrawi wrote in an impassioned statement.
‘The entire global community should be alarmed by Israel’s willful breach and devaluation of the rights and lives of Palestinian political prisoners, especially in regards to the imprisonment and ill-treatment of Palestinian men, women, children, and the elderly.’
She reiterated condemnation for the suppressive and inhumane measures used against Palestinian prisoners, stressing that ‘Israel must not be given a free hand to systematically dehumanise the Palestinian people without any serious accountability or punitive measures,’ and expressed the PLO’s full support for the hunger strike’s aim to bring an end to the policies.
Imprisoned hunger strikers, she said, ‘represent the most selfless struggle for justice and freedom in Palestine, and expose the criminality of the continued military occupation. Their nonviolent actions should be acknowledged and embraced by all members of the international community.’
Ashrawi affirmed on behalf of the Palestinian leadership it’s ‘unwavering commitment to ensuring the safe and unconditional release of all 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners,’ which includes 57 women, 300 children, 13 MPs, 500 administrative detainees, 800 prisoners who require medical care, and 18 journalists.
Meanwhile, according to the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, 65 per cent of the Palestinians imprisoned in Israel are affiliated with the Fatah movement. Amnesty International said in a statement ahead of the hunger strike last week that ‘Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law.’
Raad al-Husban, the deputy protection coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory said on Monday that the ICRC would intensify their visits to hunger striking prisoners to check on their health conditions and update their families.
The ICRC has become a secondary target of the hunger strikers, as one of their demands is the resumption of the second monthly visits for prisoners that were halted by the organisation last year.
The group was the target of protests last summer after implementing the change, while the ICRC has also been criticised for its perceived inability to improve incarceration conditions in Israeli prisons. Al-Husban reiterated the ICRC’s traditional stance of impartiality, saying that we respect any detainee’s decision to go on hunger strike, but we neither support such decisions, nor denounce it.
‘As an impartial humanitarian mediator, we never put pressure on prisoners to end hunger strike, neither do we put pressure on the relevant authorities to urge them to respond to the hunger strikers’ demands.’
The ICRC official said the organisation would not be giving comments to media during the hunger strike. ‘Out of the principles of medical privacy, we don’t reveal in public the latest developments about the hunger strikers’ medical conditions no matter how insistent media outlets could be.’
After the hunger strike was announced, an Israel Prison Service official reportedly said that they would not respond to any of the prisoners’ demands, while Israel TV reported that Israeli security has expressed fear of a ‘collapse in security conditions’ in prisons during the strike.
Meanwhile, Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan has reportedly ordered for a military hospital to be established to ensure that hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners were not transferred to civilian hospitals – which have so far refused to force feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.
While the Israeli Supreme Court recently decided that force feeding hunger-striking prisoners was constitutional, Israeli doctors have sided with internationally accepted medical ethics that regard the practice as a form of torture.
Palestinian prisoners’ solidarity network Samidoun warned that it was ‘highly possible’ that Erdan’s field hospital proposal was ‘an attempt to impose mass force feeding on striking Palestinian prisoners outside the civilian medical framework.’
Palestinian prisoners from across the political spectrum pledged to join the hunger strike led by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi. Prisoners affiliated to the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP) announced they would undertake the ‘Freedom and Dignity’ strike, according to jailed PPP leader and member of the PPP Central Committee Bassem Khandaqji.
‘After consultations with prisoners of various factions, PPP-affiliated prisoners decided to join the battle for freedom and dignity on April 17, which coincides with Palestinian Prisoners Day,’ Khandaqji said in a statement.
The Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) also said on Sunday that prisoners affiliated to the group would join the Fatah-led strike. The PPSF statement went on to warn of a potential ‘serious escalation by Israeli authorities against prisoners after they launch the battle for freedom and dignity, which will mark a turning point in the life of Palestinian prisoners.’ The group said it ‘urged the Palestinian people to organise actions to support the hunger strikers in their battle, both at popular and official levels.’
Hamas meanwhile confirmed in an official statement on Sunday that prisoners affiliated to the movement held in Hadarim prison would join the strike. The higher leading committee of Hamas-affiliated prisoners in Israeli custody said it ‘completely supports the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike, which an elite group of brave prisoners will start tomorrow in order to forcibly obtain our stolen rights.’
‘We warn the Israel Prison Service against bringing any harm to the hunger strikers. Any delay in answering their just demands will explode the situation inside all prisons. All prisoners will unite in the face of all those who might harm prisoners and their dignity,’ the Hamas statement said.
The Palestinian National Council (PNC), the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), meanwhile expressed its support for the strike on Sunday. The PNC reaffirmed the right of Palestinian prisoners to fight ‘oppressive’ Israeli policies, stating that ‘the prisoners’ cause is a major element of Palestinian national struggle.’
It also called on international bodies to hold Israeli authorities accountable to implement all conventions regulating prisoners’ rights, and to impose sanctions for violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Following are the demands of the prisoners who started an open-ended hunger strike as of Monday. The demands were announced by Marwan Barghouthi, leader of the strike:
1. Installing a public telephone for Palestinian detainees in all prisons and sections in order to communicate with their families.
a. Resuming the second visit that was stopped by the Red Cross.
b. The regularity of visits every two weeks without being disabled by any side.
c. No relative of the first and second level shall be prevented from visiting the detainee.
d. Increase the duration of the visit form 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half.
e. Allow the detainees to take pictures with their families every three months.
f. Make facilities for the comfort the visiting families.
g. Allow children and grandchildren under the age of 16 to visit detainees.
3. The medical file:
a. Closing the so-called Ramle prison hospital because it does not provide the necessary treatment.
b. Ending medical negligence policy.
c. Making periodic medical examinations.
d. Performing surgeries whenever needed.
e. Allowing specialised physicians from outside the prisons.
f. Releasing sick detainees, especially those who have disabilities and incurable diseases.
g. Medical treatment should not be at the expense of the detainee.4. Responding to the needs and demands of Palestinian women detainees, whether by special transport or direct meeting without a barrier during the visit.
a. Accord humanitarian treatment for detainees during their transport.
b. Return detainees to jails after the clinics and courts and do not keep them at the crossings.
c. Prepare the crossings for human use and provide meals for detainees.
6. Add satellite channels that suit the needs of detainees.
7. Install air conditioners in prisons, especially in the prisons of Megiddo and Gilboa.
8. Restore the kitchens to all prisons and place them under the supervision of Palestinian detainees.
9. Allow them to have books, newspapers, clothes and food.
10. Ending the policy of solitary confinement.
11. Ending the policy of administrative detention.
12. Allow them to study at the Hebrew Open University.
13. Allow detainees to take the Tawjihi matriculation exams in an official and agreed manner.