The prisoner issue is emotional for Palestinians, many of whom have had a loved one behind bars at some point during decades of conflict. Palestinians generally view them as heroes, regardless of the reason for their imprisonment. – Blake Sobczak, writing in the Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star.
According to a report by various Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) is not fulfilling several important commitments given two months ago in the agreement that ended a general Palestinian hunger strike.
Haggai Matar at +972 writes that the report states the Israelis have failed to implement the release of all prisoners who are “classified as administrative detainees” as agreed upon. Also, the prisoner service has not allowed family visits from Gaza, reinstituted higher education for prisoners, ceased violent searches or improved health care.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL) and Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner support group, have urged the international community to intervene on behalf of the prisoners and demand that independent physicians be given unrestricted access to all hunger strikers, that no hunger striker be shackled while hospitalized and that hunger strikers’ families be permitted visitation rights and given access to up-to-date medical information about their loved ones’ conditions.
Addameer and PHR-IL have also called for the immediate release of Akram Rikhawi who has been on a hunger strike for over 87 days. On July 4th, a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel visited Rikhawi along with his lawyer, Mona Neddaf, after a judge ordered the IPS to permit the visit.
Following the visit to Akram [on July], the PHR-IL doctor reported the alarming deterioration of Akram’s asthma, which continues to be unstable. The doctor believes Akram has been given very high doses of steroids as treatment, which can cause severe long-term and irreversible damage. [emphases mine, IG] The doctor reiterated recommendation for immediate examination by a lung specialist, which was not performed as recommended after the last visit by an independent doctor on 6 June.
Akram also reported that he is experiencing severe dizziness, can no longer walk and is having difficulty standing. Even more troubling, Akram has not been given any assistance in these matters, leaving him vulnerable to the danger of falling, which could result in fatal injury due to his osteoperosis. The doctor further noted that Akram is experiencing tingling and numbness in his left thigh, which could indicate peripheral nerve damage, and recommended immediate examination in a public hospital, for fear of permanent neurological damage.
The IPS has continued to punish Akram for his hunger strike by confiscating his books and reading materials, isolating him from other prisoners and cancelling his daily break. He is also being held in a cell with no fan or air conditioning, despite the high humidity and how badly it affects his asthma.
Akram pointed out to the independent doctor and to Addameer lawyer Mona Neddaf in her visit today that he was recently hospitalized at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, but was shackled at all times to the hospital bed and felt his needs were mostly ignored by the medical staff. He emphasized to Ms. Neddaf his desire to have unrestricted access to the independent doctors from PHR-IL.
The Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, quoting Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security force, says that Rikhawi was sentenced to nine years for “smuggling suicide bombers for the Islamic militant Hamas, planting explosives for another Palestinian group, the Popular Resistance Committees, and attempting to bomb Israeli soldiers.” Officials of the IPS claim that Rikhawi is not in any immediate danger.
Rikhawi, who has served 8 years of his 9 year term, is requesting early release on humanitarian grounds based on his deteriorating health. In addition to asthma, he also has diabetes. Addameer and PHR-IL have included Rikhawi’s immediate release in their recent demands.
Hassan Safadi and Samer al-Barq
Hassan Safadi is on the 17th day of a hunger strike. He previously fasted for 71 days and ceased his hunger strike when he thought he had received a promise from the Israelis for release at the end of his six-month administrative detention sentence. However, after six months, Safadi was given another six-month sentence, which according to his lawyer, was in violation of his agreement with the prison authority. Safadi has stated that he will not eat until he is free. A military judge has agreed to review his case in two weeks.
Omar al-Barq is on the 49th day of a hunger strike. He is suffering from a kidney ailment, high blood pressure and has lost 25% of his pre-fast weight. He is currently only consuming water and glucose. Al-Barq is an administrative detainee. The Electronic Intifada reports, “on June 21, PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for independent physicians. On 25 June the IPS denied this request without providing any reasons.”
Administrative detainees are not charged with a crime and they are subject to indefinite extensions in their terms of incarceration. This is a violation of international humanitarian law. Addameer and PHR-IL demand that both Safadi and al-Barq, along with all administrative detainees, be immediately and unconditionally released.
Mahmoud Sarsak and others expected to be released soon
Mahmoud Sarsak, the footballer from Gaza who is the only Palestinian prisoner categorized as an illegal combatant, is scheduled to be released today, July 10th. Sarsak won his release after a hunger strike that lasted over 90 days. +972 reports that four other hunger strikers are expected to be released in the next two months. Thaer Halahleh, Khader Adnan and Hana al-Shalabi are administrative detainees who have been released after long hunger strikes. Bilal Diab, an administrative detainee, who ended a long hunger strike is expected to be released at the end of his current of his current term on August 11.
A month-long Rachel Corrie Ramadan Football Tournament in Gaza, which is sponsored by the Rachel Corrie Foundation, has encountered financial difficulties and is soliciting donations. This year the tournament will be dedicated the Mahmoud Sarsak.