Palestinian prisoner hunger strikes to continue until demands respected

October 15, 2011
Palestinians held in an Israeli prison.

Sitting in the shade of a small lemon tree in the German Colony area of Haifa in northern Israel, eight Palestinian activists are on hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners. The prisoners have been going without food since September 27 in protest against poor prison conditions and a lack of basic rights.

Muhannad Abu Ghosh, a Haifa resident and one of the hunger strikers, said: “I decided to participate in the hunger strike in order to support the political prisoners, the freedom fighters, imprisoned in the Israeli dungeons.

“As a Palestinian, I know for sure that those fighters, those men and women, have fought in order to defend my rights.”

More than 100 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on hunger strike. Their demands include stopping Israel’s use of solitary confinement, ending arbitrary denial of family visits and ending the routine humiliation of detainees during prison transfers.

Thousands of Palestinian prisoners are said to be taking part in acts of civil disobedience, including the hunger strike, in various Israeli-controlled prisons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in June that he was imposing harsher conditions on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including ending access to university education and books, due to the fact that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

More severe restrictions after Netanyahu’s announcement included intensifying prisoner searches and placing Palestinian political leaders in solitary confinement, among others.

More than 5200 Palestinian prisoners and security detainees were being held in Israeli prisons at the end of August, statistics provided by the Israeli Prison Service indicated.

It is estimated that Israel has detained more than 700,000 Palestinians ― 20% of the Palestinian population of the occupied West Bank and Gaza ― since the Israeli occupation of these territories began in 1967.

Sahar Francis, director of Palestinian prisoners support organisation Addameer, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the Israeli prison authorities have worsened the treatment of Palestinian prisoners since their hunger strike began.

“In Ofer prison, three of the prisoners on the hunger strike were beaten and attacked by soldiers on their way from the detention facility to the court,” Francis said.

“They told the lawyers as well that ... because they are on a hunger strike, every night the prison guards take them and force them to walk all over the prison in order to tire them. This is to put pressure on them so they will stop their strike.”

Initially led by prisoners affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the hunger strike has extended to prisoners from other Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and Fatah.

Francis said: “The other political groups will support the hunger strike three days a week, and if they feel that there’s no positive reaction from the Israeli authorities, they will join the strike [full-time].

“All the prisoners believe at this point that their demands are not very high and it’s very basic rights that they are demanding.”

Demonstrations have been held in the West Bank, Gaza and inside Israel in support of the prisoners’ hunger strike. Activists from around the world staged protests, sit-ins and day-long hunger strikes in London, Edinburgh, Brussels and other cities on October 7.

Francis said international support is important to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinian prisoners.

Francis said Israeli authorities were “reacting in a very tough way to this strike”.

“The Israeli authorities are not hearing what the prisoners want. They are not open to dialogue or discussion.

“But I don’t think the prisoners will stop the strike without having achieved an agreement and succeeding to guarantee that they will get these rights back.”

[Abridged from .]

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