Palestine: Hunger strikers vow to resist occupation

March 10, 2013
Protesters hold placards of Samer Issawi, a Palestinian political prisoner who readch 200 days on hunger strike on February 27.

Palestinian political prisoner and hunger striker Samer Issawi wrote in the Guardian on March 3: “Do not worry if my heart stops. I am still alive now and even after death, because Jerusalem runs through my veins. If I die, it is a victory; if we are liberated, it is a victory, because either way I have refused to surrender to the Israeli occupation, its tyranny and arrogance.”

As of January, according to Palestinian human rights groups, Israel held 4812 Palestinian prisoners in its jails.

Of these political prisoners, 1031 were being held until the conclusion of legal proceedings; 178 were in administrative detention, held indefinitely without trial or charge (in February at least a further 382 Palestinians were detained adding to this number); 166 were under the age of 18; 23 were children under 16; and six were women.

The remainder have been sentenced, in a harsh and unfair military system, with torture commonplace, almost complete lack of due process, vague charges, very low standards of evidence (or no evidence) presented and proceedings in Hebrew.

These political prisoners include 25 members of the Palestine National Council and the Speaker of the Parliament. Various writers, scholars, students and artists are also political prisoners.

Holding members of parliament is a violation of international law, and one of many laws Israel regularly breaks with impunity in its treatment of Palestinian political prisoners and the Palestinian people generally.

The conditions of their imprisonment are outrageous. Detainees are often held in solitary confinement for long periods, abused, tortured and denied proper health care.

No charge, no trial

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.”

The Israeli military has subjected Palestinians to administrative detention since the beginning of the Israeli occupation. Since 2000, Israel has issued 20,000 detention orders on Palestinians.

This is a system under which a military court can order suspects to be detained indefinitely, subject to renewal every six months by a court, without trial or charge. Israeli military law is sham justice. Palestinians are detained on the slightest excuse and held on false charges, on secret evidence unseen by lawyers or the accused, or on imprecise charges and no evidence.

Those re-arrested are often made to serve the remainder of their sentences or be sentenced on new charges.

Detained prisoners cannot dispute charges, cannot see alleged evidence against them and can be held for an indefinite period. This phony justice system depends on the whim of the Israeli military, denies due process because that’s the way the Israeli system operates, and abuses prisoners’ human rights and violates numerous international laws.

The Israeli military says it uses administrative detention to suppress any acts of resistance and dissent by Palestinians against the brutal Israeli occupation.

Hunger strikers fight for basic rights

Last year several Palestinian political prisoners went on hunger strike to protest their unfair detentions and mistreatment in Israeli jails. Issawi started his hunger strike in August and was joined by three other hunger strikers to protest the injustice of their administrative detention and that of other Palestinian political prisoners.

In December, he said: “My detention is unjust and illegal, just like the occupation is. My demands are legitimate and just. Thus I will not withdraw from the battle for freedom, waiting for either victory and freedom — or martyrdom.”

All the men initially took vitamins. Now, they drink only water and are refusing medical treatment and any food supplements.

Issawi, 33, is a political activist and member of resistance organisation the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He organised numerous protests against the Israeli occupation. He was arrested by Israeli forces on April 15, 2002 in Ramallah. He was wrongly charged with planning military attacks on Israel. There was no evidence for the charges, but he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Issawi was released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. But he was re-arrested by the Israeli military for allegedly violating the terms of his release.

He was told to leave Jerusalem, but was arrested in the village Hizma, which is within the boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality. Israel’s claims were false and just an excuse to re-arrest Issawi. He has since been detained without charge. It is Israel that has broken the release agreement by re-arresting Issawi and other former political prisoners.

Issawi had been on hunger strike for 200 days on February 27 and was transferred to hospital. He was reported to be suffering various health problems and in a critical condition. He recently escalated his hunger strike and has stopped drinking water, and is resisting continuous pressure from the Israeli military to end the hunger strike.

Ayman Sharawna, 36, was also released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange deal.

But Sharawna was re-arrested by the Israeli military authorities for allegedly violating the terms of his release. He has since been held in jail without charge or trial, on the basis of a “secret administrative file” that neither he nor his lawyer have seen. They have not been told the nature of the alleged breach.

The Israeli military have also threatened to cancel his early release. This means he could be made to serve the remaining 28 years of his original sentence.

Sharawna has been on hunger strike since July last year, except for a brief break in December, when he was told he would be released. He resumed the hunger strike in January after learning that the Israeli Prison Service had lied about their promise. Sharawna’s health has seriously deteriorated.

Tareq Qaadan and Jafar Ezzedine have been held in administrative detention on secret changes that even their lawyers havenot seen. Qaadan and Ezzedine have been on hunger strike since November, to protest their detention without charge and demanding their release.

They were both transferred to hospital after their health seriously deteriorated when they refused to drink water.

In February, eight more Palestinian hunger strikers joined the protests.

Campaign against inhumane actions

Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination urged Israel to end the practice of administrative detention, saying it was discriminatory and constituted arbitrary detention, which is illegal under international law.

European Union spokesperson Catherine Ashton said on February 18: “Israel must adhere to international human rights obligations regarding hunger striking Palestinian prisoners.”

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, once again called on Israel to either charge administrative detainees and allow them a fair trial or release them immediately.

The hunger strikers have brought to the world’s attention the plight of the Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention. Israel uses administrative detention to arrest and imprison Palestinians without cause, charges or trial and hold them indefinitely, many facing months or even years in prison.

The international community has a responsibility to condemn the continued practice of arbitrary administrative detention against Palestinians and compel Israel to comply with international humanitarian law and human rights laws in this regard and in other improper and illegal procedures used against Palestinian prisoners.

For far too long the US, Australia, Britain and other governments have turned a blind eye to the rogue state behaviour of Israel. It is overdue that the world community say they have had enough, and pressure governments to make Israel respect the human and civil rights of the Palestinian people.

The just cause of the Palestinian political prisoners requires immediate international exposure and support to improve their dire conditions. Many Palestinian political prisoners have been imprisoned illegally and deprived of their basic rights and liberties that are guaranteed by human rights and Geneva conventions and international law.

The Israeli occupation continually violates international law and conventions in its mistreatment of the Palestinian people. The international community must exert real pressure on Israel to end its blatant violations of human rights laws and stop the brutal abuses inflicted on Palestinian political prisoners.

The people of the world must let their respective governments know they have had enough of Israeli brutality and demand the UN, the EU and other world bodies stop their negligence of and complicity in Israeli crimes and take measures to force Israel to comply with international and human rights laws.

The world’s peoples and governments cannot allow Israel to continue to commit crimes with impunity, and have a moral responsibility to act.

Issawi said in his Guardian article: “My health has deteriorated greatly, but I will continue my hunger strike until victory or martyrdom. This is my last remaining stone to throw at the tyrants and jailers in the face of the racist occupation that humiliates our people.”

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