Hunger strike in Israeli jails by those denied lawyers and freedom to travel to West Bank

July 13, 2011
Sarah Benton

Welcome to Palestine
Israeli authorities set stringent conditions for release of “Welcome to Palestine” prisoners
The large majority of international visitors are still incarcerated under brutal conditions, begin a hunger strike in Israeli jail
International Solidarity Movement
Bethlehem, 10.07.11

Over 120 internationals attempting to visit Palestine are still being illegally detained — kidnapped — in two Israeli detention centers, in Ramle and in Beer Al-Saba’ (Beersheva). These friends of Palestine, among which there are minors and elderly persons with medical conditions, have been and are being mistreated and subjected to unnecessary brutality.

For example, Dr. Hikmat Al-Sabty, 57, of Rostock, Germany, is being denied needed medication that is in his suitcase; this was reported to his wife by the German Embassy in Tel Aviv, but his wife has not been allowed to speak with him directly. All of those detained have stated repeatedly that they are non-violent and want only to accept the invitation to visit together with Palestinian friends in the program “Welcome to Palestine.”

The Israeli authorities released two older German men from Bersheeva prison yesterday, but only on condition that they sign an Israeli legal document that was presented to them only in Hebrew and English. One of the two men came to Bethlehem. He is uncertain of the full contents of the Israeli paper he signed because his English is not good, and he was unable to first consult with his attorney in Israel before signing the paper: the Israeli authorities yesterday made attorney access to prisoners very difficult, and large number of those detained can only be seen by their attorneys today and tomorrow.

The German man now in Bethlehem believes that he has agreed in writing not to go to Ramallah, Jenin, and certain other Palestinian cities, but that the Israeli authorities have allowed that he to go to “tourist” areas in the West Bank. Because he is still uncertain of the full content of the Israeli document he signed, he prefers not to give his name at this time. The Israeli authorities refused, in violation of international law, to give him a copy of the paper he signed. His attorney is seeking to obtain a copy of the document he signed from the Israeli authorities.

We received a letter from the Belgian men in Bersheeva prison, who state that they began a hunger strike last night. In the letter, the Belgians demand, on behalf of all the prisoners, to have contact their families and with their attorneys. They demand an international investigation into the behavior of airline companies and Israeli officials. They also demand to be able to have contact with each other in the Israeli prison. For example, because the French and Belgian men and women are separated in the Bersheeva prison, the men do not know whether the women are also aware of the hunger strike. It is believed that the French men have joined the hunger strike. According to the Germans who were released from Bersheeva, the German men and women there are also participating in the hunger strike, but the men and women are not allowed to speak with each other.

Those few international guests who were able to reach Bethlehem on Friday were invited by their Palestinian hosts to go to either to a demonstration in Qalandia at noon or else to attend a gathering in Bilin at 11 am, from which they then joined Palestinian friends in Nabi Saleh. There Israeli soldiers prevented the bus-loads of passengers and local Palestinians and Israeli supporters from holding a peaceful demonstration. The Israeli forces shot stun grenades and at least two kinds of tear gas canisters at them. The nearby agricultural fields were set ablaze by these tear-gas canisters. The Israeli forces illegally detained — kidnapped — four peace activists, including three Israeli citizens and one Brazilian. Several participants were injured.

Events planned continued. Today, there was a gathering in Beit Sahour in front of the Greek Orthodox Church, an event at Aida Refugee Camp and an event in Al-Walaja.

Welcome to Palestine Activists Call for Attorneys Access, Investigation into Their Arrest
Nikki Hodgson for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

Standing with his back to the Separation Wall, an older German man is eager to tell his story, but not his name. Participating in the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign in which some 650 activists attempted to enter Palestine via Tel Aviv on Friday, 8 July, he was moved to an Israeli detention center upon his arrival Friday night.

Around him groups of demonstrators are waving Palestinian flags and standing in front of the Wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers peer down from the control tower, but that is their only response to the international and Palestinian activists shouting, “2,4,6,8 destroy the Wall and end the hate.”

The man, wishing to remain anonymous for security reasons, tugs his baseball hat down and asks me to warn him if there are any soldiers arriving. He is wary of being spotted at a protest. “We were all put on a prisoner bus at half past 1:00 a.m. [Saturday morning].” After spending hours in a detention center he was made to sign a form that he is still unclear about. “It was in English and Hebrew only,” he explains. “My English is not very good and I don’t speak Hebrew. I think it was a form promising that I would only go to tourist areas in the West Bank and that if I was found anywhere else I could be arrested again.” When asked if he had access to legal help or was informed of his rights, he shakes his head firmly. “No. We had no contact with anyone. Our phones were taken from us and we were made to stay in a small cell with no toilet.”

Unable to first consult with his attorney, he signed the paper but was denied his request to receive a copy of the document; a violation of international law. His attorney is currently attempting to obtain a copy from the Israeli authorities. Activists have reportedly had limited contact with their consulates, attorneys, and family members. Welcome to Palestine organizers report that they have received a letter from a group of Belgian activists, currently in a Be’er Sheva detention center, who began a hunger strike on Sunday night. They are demanding contact with their families, attorneys, as well as an international investigation into the actions of Israeli authorities and the behavior of the airlines involved. They are also demanding contact with one another as the men and women are separated in the detention centers and are unable to communicate. The exact number of detainees remains unclear with reports of 120-300 being circulated.

On Friday demonstrations were held in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Ramallah and in airports and other locations throughout Europe to protest the treatment of the “Welcome to Palestine” participants. In Paris, 20 activists were reportedly arrested when they were demonstrating on rue de Rivoli. They were later released without charges.

Describing the 5 hours he spent in the Be’er Sheva detention center, the German man says, “We were not able to access medication, go to the bathroom, or have anything to eat. We were given four small bottles of water to share between five men. Finally we were moved to another prison cell with a bathroom. We were nine. There was room for five people to sit and four to stand. If you wanted to go to the bathroom, you had to crawl over people.”

When asked why he came to the region he responds, “I know what is needed. People here are suffering and we need to take a stand for human rights.” He shakes his head. “What we suffered was unbelievable, but it was nothing compared to what the Palestinians endure.”

In a statement issued on Sunday, “Welcome to Palestine” organizers said, “All of those detained have stated repeatedly that they are non-violent and want only to accept the invitation to visit together with Palestinian friends…Israeli Occupation forces are now searching for internationals crossing the (illegal) checkpoints to the South of Ramallah, but our program continues.”


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