Political prisoners, the hero-martyrs of Palestine


April 17, 2017
Sarah Benton

Reuters and Ma’an news


Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, April 17th, was marked throughout the West Bank and Gaza with various displays of solidarity with the prisoners, this one a rally in Ramallah. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/ Reuters

Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails begin hunger strike

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta, from Gaza and Ramallah, Reuters

April 17, 2017

Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails began a hunger strike on Monday in response to a call by prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, widely seen as a possible future Palestinian president.

Palestinians termed the open-ended strike a protest against poor conditions and an Israeli policy of detention without trial that has been applied against thousands since the 1980s.

Israel said the move by the prisoners, many of whom were convicted of attacks or planning attacks against Israel, was politically motivated.

The protest was led by Barghouti, 58, a leader of the mainstream Fatah movement of the Palestine Liberation Organization, serving five life terms after being convicted of murder in the killing of Israelis in a 2000-2005 uprising.

The strike, if sustained, could present a challenge to Israel and raise tensions between the two sides as the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip approaches in June.


Bethlehem, 17.04.17. Photo by Ammar Awad/ Reuters

Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now run by Hamas Islamists, in 2005, but peace talks on the creation of a Palestinian state collapsed with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2014.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Monday, Barghouti said a strike was the only way to gain concessions after other options had failed.

“Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses … Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention,” he wrote.

FIELD HOSPITAL

Israel denies Palestinian inmates are mistreated and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the Barghouti-led protest was “prompted by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands”.

Palestinian officials said some 1,500 inmates affiliated with all political factions including rival Fatah and Hamas were taking part in the protest. An Israel Prisons Service spokesman said some 1,100 inmates at eight jails had joined the strike.

Ramallah, 14.04.17. Photo by Mohamad Torokman/ Reuters.

Almost 6,500 Palestinians are being held in 22 Israeli prisons, said Qadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club that advocates on behalf of the inmates.

The Prisoners’ Club said a main demand was for Israel to halt detention without trial for some 500 Palestinians currently being held, and for an end to solitary confinement.

The strikers also want better medical treatment and that disabled inmates or those suffering chronic illness be freed, access to more television channels and more phone contact with relatives and more family visits.

The strike prompted a large rally in Gaza and a protest broke out near the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem where Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli forces.


Gaza City, 17.04.17. Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP/ Getty

Palestinians consider brethren held in Israeli jails as national heroes. Long-term mass hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners are rare, but in past cases of individual inmates who stopped eating for weeks, detention terms were shortened or not renewed after they were hospitalised in critical condition.

Erdan said a field hospital would be erected next to one prison – an apparent move to pre-empt transfers to civilian medical facilities, which could draw wider media attention.

Abbas, 82, said in a statement that efforts would continue to secure prisoners’ freedom. He condemned what he called Israel’s intransigence in the face of “fair” prisoner demands.


Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons launch open-ended hunger strike

By Ma’an news
April 17, 2017

BETHLEHEM– More than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody launched an open-ended mass hunger strike Monday morning on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, led by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, under the banner of “Freedom and Dignity” for prisoners.

Sources told Ma’an that prisoners had purged all food products from their cells and shaved their heads in Israel 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 Sunday marking prisoners’ day in the nearby Aida refugee camp that honored 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 Monday morning.

The Palestinian prime minister’s office released a statement Monday, summarizing 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 Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said on the occasion of prisoners’ day and the hunger strike, “we honor 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 dehumanize 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 Palestinian leadership “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. Meanhile, according to the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, 65 percent of the Palestinians imprisoned in Israel are affiliated with the Fatah movement.

Amnestry 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 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 organization last year. The group was the target of protests last summer after implementing the change, while the ICRC has also been criticized 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 organization 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 reported 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 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.”

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