Video by Scott Campbell/Angry White Kid.
Following 23 days of open-ended hunger strike by more than 2,500 prisoners, yesterday Palestinians fed up with the lack of support to their cause shut down a United Nations building in Ramallah.
From 7:30 am to 5 pm approximately 50 protestors blocked the entrance to the UN Ramallah Common Premises building and called for the international organization to take strong measures in condemning Israel's use administrative detention and lack of human rights for prisoners. UN staff were spotted leaving the building around 8:30am, and the building remained closed for the remainder of the day.
Palestinians locking down the UN in Ramallah. (Photo: Scott Campbell/Angry White Kid)
While the facility was shut down, demonstrators denounced the UN in both English and Arabic, chanting, "UN chose a side! Human rights or apartheid." And event posters reflected a similar sentiment, reading "UNFAIR, UNJUST," and "Your Silence = Death Sentence." Palestinians for Dignity, the youth who organized the event, are angered by the UN's lax response to the hunger strikers, the largest strike since October 2011. The UN has "done nothing. It hasn't spoken not one word on the prisoners," said protestor and activist Linah Alsaafin. At the time of the direct action, the UN and Ban Ki-Moon had yet to make a public statement regarding the prisoners and their demands for treatment in accordance to international law.
After today's demonstration, the UN issued a statement with indirect quotes by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, made via a spokesperson. Ki-moon urged "all concerned to reach a solution without delay."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed the importance of averting any further deterioration in the condition of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody who are on hunger strike, and urged everyone concerned to reach a solution to their plight without delay.
'The Secretary-General continues to follow with concern the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, in particular those held in what is known as administrative detention,' according to information provided by his spokesperson.
'He stresses the importance of averting any further deterioration in their condition,' the spokesperson added. 'He reiterates that those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay.'
In response, Palestinian organizers of the UN action wrote a public letter to Ban Ki-moon:
We note with disappointment your silence ever since this protest movement began in December 2011 with Khader Adnan's arbitrary arrest and subsequent hunger strike. This stands in stark contrast to your vocal and persistent remarks in support of formerly incarcerated Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Though Shalit has been released, Palestinian prisoners are still suffering under the so-called 'Shalit Law', which imposed harsher measures on their conditions of detention.
We remind you of your responsibilities as Secretary-General of the UN. We invoke the norms of international law that guarantee basic rights to Palestinian prisoners, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention Against Torture and the World Medical Association Malta Declaration on Hunger Strikers.
We urge you to take a firm and vocal position in opposition to Israel's abuse and violation of Palestinian prisoners' rights and encourage, through UN mechanisms at your disposal, measures of accountability for these violations. We urge you to take an official position in line with the Palestinian prisoners' demands and to encourage member states to stand against these gross human rights' violations. We await your urgent response.
Read the full letter by Palestinians for Dignity.
Kindergarteners protest in Gaza with signs stating, "No to solitary confinement," "Freedom and dignity for Palestinian political prisoners," "Our little heart and minds are with you." (Photo: Joe Catron)
Meanwhile in Gaza, a demonstration was also staged in the protest tent, the site of daily dissidence in support of the hunger strikers. Over 100 children led today's protest. Blogger Shahd Abusalama attended the event. Her account:
This morning was very eventful one in the Gaza sit-in tent. As I arrived around 10:00 am, more than a hundred kids, each about four years old, entered the tent. They looked very beautiful and innocent. They came from Gassan Kanafani's kindergarten carrying signs like 'I want to hug Dad,' 'I want Dad to be free,' or 'Freedom for Palestinian political prisoners.'
They didn’t fully understand why they were there, but their participation put smiles on the faces of the hunger strikers and the detainees' families, who joined their soft voices while chanting along with them: 'Free, free Palestine!' All generations united their voices to call for the victory of our political prisoners' battle of dignity, which continues for the 23rd day
Palestinians demonstrating in Jaffa on May 7, 2012. (Photo: Shady Khafaga)
Meanwhile, inside of Israel's prisons outcry persists. Since April 17, 2012 when the hunger strike began, the number of participants has jumped to 2,500 strikers, with some outlets reporting 3,000 strikers. And almost daily additional groups join the cause. These strikers are noted for their diverse composition, reflective of all sectors of Palestinian society. They span party affiliation, gender and even nationality. Last week a group of 40 Egyptians in an Israeli prison entered the strike. Their demands include an end to solitary confinement, reinstatement of family visits and access to high school and university education.
Yet for detainees on strike, fasting is but one difficulty. Israel applies punitive measures to strikers, which has brought up charges of collective punishment for their use of daily raids by "special forces," transfers to other prisons, axed family visits, and fines. Detainees who banged on their jail cells in support of the hunger strikers today where charged a fine 450 Shekels.