The Real News looks at the gains made by Palestinian prisoners' hunger strikes against Israel. Transcript below.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Sunday, March 17, Israeli authorities conceded to the ongoing Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike, releasing one of the four men who have gone more than a hundred days without food.
Ayman Sharawneh, who is 53, was released to the Gaza Strip under the condition he not return to his West Bank home for ten years. His release marks the third high-profile success of the strike since it began nearly two years ago. The prisoner to start it, Khader Adnan, was the first to be released after 66 days without food. Following him, Hana Shalabi, whose hunger strike lasted for 43 days, was also released, but under the condition she be deported to Gaza.
Ran Cohen is the director of the Physicians for Human Rights group, whose doctors were able to visit some of the prisoners.
RAN COHEN, PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike began a little over a year ago in December 2011 with administrative detention prisoner Khader Adnan immediately after his arrest. His hunger strike becomes a very big campaign in Israel, in the occupied territories, and around the world. And so even when he continued with the hunger strike, it transformed from just his story to that of all striking prisoners in administrative detention.
TARACHANSKY: Sharawneh was one of the prisoners released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal, where roughly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were exchanged for one Israeli soldier. He was rearrested shortly after the deal. Then, only hours after being released this Sunday, the army arrested his brother.
In recent months, the movement centered around four of the six striking prisoners, making the longest prisoner on strike, Samer Issawi, its symbol.
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It is written on our hearts. [Samer] Issawi is our beloved. From the prisons of the occupation, we send a warm hello to [Samer] Issawi. Hey, prisoner, prisoner, prisoner, we are with you until freedom.
TARACHANSKY: Issawi began his hunger strike in July after spending ten years in jail. Releasing a statement he published in The Guardian, Issawi wrote:
"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."
Unlike Sharawneh, Samer Issawi refused to accept a release deal in exchange for deportation, saying he would rather die in his hospital bed than be banned from his home in East Jerusalem.
For weeks, protests in solidarity with the prisoners have spread all over Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and even abroad.
While the prisoners' hunger strike protests Israel's practice of political imprisonment, it was specifically started against administrative detention, a practice Israel inherited from the British Mandate before the state was even formed.
COHEN: Administrative detention prisoners are basically held without trial without seeing the evidence against them, not themselves nor their lawyers. They cannot properly defend themselves. And a military court extends their term every six months as a military order, for basically indefinite time.
TARACHANSKY: In the coastal city of Jaffa, weekly protests continue for nearly two months. On Sunday, Issawi's mother attended the protests.
MOTHER OF SAMER ISSAWI (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It is not strange for you to stand here to be in solidarity with Samer. As you chanted earlier in the protest, freedom is invaluable. When Samer was arrested, he was demanding his freedom and to live freely in his homeland, in Jerusalem. But he was arrested unjustly, because he entered the Al Ram checkpoint. All he did was enter the checkpoint. And they gave him 20 years in jail or 10 years with exile to Gaza. He refused and said, either martyrdom or return to Jerusalem to his relatives and loved ones in all of Palestine.
COHEN: The last [Israeli] elections focused on issues like social justice, the economy, housing, and so on. Meanwhile, the occupation was pushed to the margins. The hunger strikes basically return it on the table from a different angle, that of Palestinian prisoners, which is tough for the Israeli public, because the public automatically concludes that if a person is in jail, he's guilty of something. The media and government paint the prisoners as terrorists and as fighters and dangerous and so on without revealing any other information about them. And then these supposed terrorists come and show that they're resisting nonviolently.
I think the achievements of the hunger strikes as nonviolent struggle have been meaningful, because eventually Israel slowly releases the prisoners who are on strike, and we're seeing a drop in the number of administrative detention prisoners. Today we're talking about 178 prisoners in administrative detention, which is a lot, a great deal. But at the same time, the numbers used to be far greater. If I remember correctly, when Khader Adnan started, there were roughly 350 in jail, which means the number dropped in almost a half.
Does it point at a trend? I hope so, and I hope the numbers will continue to fall. In my view, no prisoners in Israel should be under administrative detention.
TARACHANSKY: At the time of writing, ten prisoners remain on hunger strike, with the longest, Samer Issawi, spending more than 220 days without food. For The Real News, I'm Lia Tarachansky.