Fresh hunger strike hits Israeli jails

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In April last year, many Palestinian political prisoners in Israel went on hunger strike calling for rights to family visits and the end of solitary confinement. Israel eventually conceded their demands.

But now Israel says the deal did not apply to the Palestinian political prisoners who held Jordanian citizenship. These prisoners are still prohibited from family visits and various other basic rights.

On May 2, five Palestinian detainees with Jordanian citizenship launched a hunger strike to compel Israel to end their bad prison conditions and treat them according to international conventions and laws. They demanded better conditions in jail, the right to family visits and medical attention provided by the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv.

The five hunger strikers are Abdullah Barghouti, Mohammed Rimawi, Muneer Mari, Alaa Hammad and Hamza Othman al-Dabbas. The detainees are taking only salt and water.

The hunger strikers later demanded to be transferred to a Jordanian prison to serve out their sentences. According to the Wali Araba Agreement between Jordan and Israel, Jordanian prisoners can serve their sentences in Jordan.

This agreement was previously applied to the case of Sultan Al-Ajouli, who was transferred to Jordanian custody.

The political prisoners are also demanding Israel reveal the whereabouts of 20 Jordanian prisoners who disappeared while in Israeli custody. They also want Israel to return the remains of Jordanians killed in custody, whose bodies are in nameless graves.

The prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than 90 days. Their health is progressively worsening and they are facing severe health threats due to their lengthy hunger strike. The hunger strikers are suffering dehydration and persistent headaches. They have all lost a considerable amount of weight.

One of the hunger strikers is Abdullah Barghouti, a Hamas leader sentenced to 900 years in prison for his resistance to Israeli occupation. His sentence is the longest Israel has ever given a Palestinian political prisoner. He has been held in solitary confinement for 11 years without seeing the sun.

Due to the effects of the prolonged hunger strike, his health is rapidly deteriorating. He is suffering many severe health problems, including liver failure, inflammation of the heart, a weak heart rate and potassium deficiency.

Barghouti also has wounds to his feet and hands due to being held in shackles. Doctors from the International Committee of the Red Cross have expressed concern over Abdullah Barghouti’s deteriorating health. The Israeli prison service is threatening to force feed him. He is now being held in Afula hospital.

Another hunger striker is Mohammed Rimawi, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) whose health has also seriously deteriorated. He is suffering from high blood pressure, fatigue, fever, inflammation and is at risk of a sudden heart attack if action is not taken soon. He is being held at Soroka Hospital.

The Israeli Prison Service has reportedly moved hunger-striking prisoner Muneer Mari to an unknown destination. Mari, who was arrested in 2003, is serving five consecutive life sentences for charges related to resisting the occupation.

The other hunger strikers are being held in the Ramle Prison clinic. All are shackled, hand and foot to their hospital beds. Prisoner rights group Addameer said prisoners are “assaulted and treated violently by IPS”.

The prisoners are also under mounting pressure from the IPS to end their hunger strike action. In response to the hunger strikes, Israel has sought to punish the detainees, Addameer said.

Addameer said Israel's tactics include using solitary confinement, withholding medication, blocking prisoners’ access to lawyers, limiting family visits and physically assaulting them while they are handcuffed to their beds.

Kelly also said soldiers cook and eat in front of fasting prisoners.

“The most worrying recent development is a proposed bill [in the Israeli parliament] that will allow Israel to reintroduce force-feeding of Palestinian political prisoners,” Kelly said, adding that this “amounts to torture.”

One of the hunger strikers, Alaa Hamad, told Addameer he was “threatened to be force-fed if he does not end his strike”.

Another, Muneer Mari, who is over 90 days without food, reports that he has been “held in small isolation cells and denied basic necessities for hygiene”, as well as being “verbally abused by a prison clinic physician”.

Israel is pressuring the detainees to end their strikes in exchange for release and transfer to the Gaza Strip, Kelly said. This practice has been used by Israel to deal with Palestinian political prisoners in the past.

“It is a forcible transfer and therefore illegal under international law,” Kelly said. “Basically they are being sent from one to prison to another ― Gaza.”

The Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are among 14 Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Some of the other hunger strikers are administrative detainees, held without charge or trial and demanding their freedom.

Other Palestinian political prisoners in Israel are planning to escalate measures in solidarity with the hunger striking detainees. The Palestinians plan to disobey prison rules in support for the Jordanian detainees, said Shireen Nafe, a member of the Fedaa media team that supports Jordanian prisoners in Israel.

“If the Palestinians go ahead with their threats, chaos will spread in Israeli prisons,” Nafe said.

Many protests in support of the hunger strikers have taken place in occupied Palestine and around the world. Demonstrations on the occupied West Bank have been violently repressed, with many protesters arrested and injured, by Israeli soldiers.

The Jordanian Parliament has called for international efforts to help end the hunger strike by the five prisoners. “We hold Israel responsible for the safety and life of the Jordanian prisoners holding an open-ended hunger strike,” Jordanian MPs said in a statement.

The MPs said: “We hail the courage of all prisoners in Israeli jails for their legendary resistance of Israel’s arrogance and racism.”

Addameer has called for the immediate intervention of the international community, including the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union, to pressure Israel in the strongest manner possible to save the lives of the hunger strikers.

The hunger strikers have indicated they will continue until Israel respects their basic human rights. They are threatening to stop drinking water if there is no response to their just demands.

[For more information, visit Addameer.]

From GLW issue 977