Mondoweiss

Israel cracks down on thousands of hunger strikers, as Palestinians take to the streets in mass solidarity

Palestinians take part in a prisoner solidarity rally in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. (Photo: Reuters/ Ammar Awad)

Palestinian prisoners declared a mass open-ended hunger strike entitled “Freedom and Dignity” on Monday — Palestinian Prisoners day — eliciting an immediate crackdown from Israeli authorities.

Prisoners from across the political spectrum have pledged their allegiance to the strike, with some estimates reporting up to 2,000 participants. If the strike continues as planned, it will be the largest mass hunger strike undertaken by Palestinian prisoners in recent years. The strike was launched with the intentions of receiving a long list of demands (published at the bottom of this report).

Following the strike’s launch on Monday, Israeli authorities declared that hunger striking prisoners would be barred from family visits for as long as the strike continues. According to Issa Qaraqe, the head of the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, hunger strikers have also been barred from visits from their lawyers, though it is unclear if that will be an ongoing policy throughout the strike.

According to official Palestinian media Wafa, the media committee of the striking prisoners reported that the prison administration in Ofer prison isolated all prisoners taking part in the strike, “stripped” them of their clothes, “forcing them to wear a special dark brown prison uniform,” and gave prisoners’ dirty blankets.

In addition, the leader of the strike, Marwan Barghouti, has been placed in solitary confinement.

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

Barghouti is one of the most popular living leaders among Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. He was detained in 2002 and charged with five counts of murder and being a member of a “terrorist organization” — the Fatah movement’s armed wing. Barghouti denied the legitimacy of the Israeli courts at the time and refused a defense. The court sentenced him to five life sentences and 40 years in prison.

In an op-ed Barghouti wrote for the New York Times International Edition about the launch of his hunger strike (the piece did not appear in the NYT domestic edition), he explained why the strike was important to the Palestinian people.

“Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent,” Barghouti wrote.

“Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.”

According to an Associated Press report, Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan on Tuesday vowed not to negotiate with the hunger strikers.

“These are terrorists and incarcerated murderers who are getting exactly what the international law requires,” he told Israel’s Army Radio. “My policy is that you can’t negotiate with prisoners such as these… There is no reason to give them additional conditions in addition to what they already receive.”

While Israel has been accused of breaking international law in multiple ways with Palestinian prisoners, one glaring violation is the fact that all but one of the prisons used to jail Palestine prisoners from the occupied West Bank are located in Israel, in direct contravention of international law, which requires an occupying power to imprison those from occupied territory within the occupied land. The forcible deportation of Palestinian prisoners to Israel constitutes a war crime under international law.

During the radio interview, Erdan added that Israel has established field hospitals outside the prisons to respond to any immediate medical needs. Palestinians are concerned that the field hospitals could be more likely to “force feed” hunger strikers, something civilian hospitals, with the support of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, have refused to do.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli Prison Service declared that  “Prisoners who decide to strike will face serious consequences.”

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi called Israel’s “efforts to crush” the hunger strike “draconian” and condemned the “punitive measures” taken by the state.

During a march in Bethlehem many demonstrators brought photos of their loved ones currently serving time in Israeli prisons. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

Mass Palestinian Solidarity

While Israel has cracked down on the hunger strikers, Palestinians across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory showed their support through mass demonstrations on Monday.

Israeli soldiers shot copious amounts of tear gas at the protest, as well as rubber bullets and sponge rounds. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

In the occupied West Bank, there were protests at Ramallah’s Ofer Prison, and the city’s Betuniya village, as well as in Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Bethlehem and more, according to local and social media.

In Bethlehem alone, thousands of Palestinians took the streets, marching in solidarity with the protesters. The march, which started around noon, broke out into clashes after youth began throwing rocks at the separation wall. Israeli forces responded with sponge rounds and copious amounts of tear gas. Clashes went on for hours, while later in the afternoon, Dheisheh refugee camp put on a Dabka concert, where youth from the community performed traditional Palestinian dance, dressed in black and focused on Palestinian prisoners. Leaders of the community also gave speeches in support of the hunger strike. In front of the city’s most popular tourist attraction, the Nativity Church, a large tent has been set up to educate people about the strike. The tent will be a permanent installation as long as the strike continues.

Protests also took place in the Haifa district’s town of Umm al-Fahm and in Gaza, according to Ma’an News Agency.

There are currently 6,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails, including 500 being held without charge or trial and 300 children, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer.

A young man crouches down, before launching a stone toward Israeli forces (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

List of demands as published by Ma’an News, with editor’s notes by Mondoweiss

  1. Install a public telephone for Palestinian detainees in all prisons and sections in order to communicate with their families.
  2. Visits:
  1. Healthcare:
  1. Respond to the needs and demands of Palestinian women detainees, namely the issue of being transported for long hours between Israeli courts and prisons.
  2. Transportation:
  1. Add satellites channels that suit the needs of detainees.
  2. Install air conditioners in prisons, especially in the Megiddo and Gilboa prisons.
  3. Restore kitchens in all prisons and place them under the supervision of Palestinian detainees.
  4. Allow detainees to have books, newspapers, clothes and food.
  5. End the policy of solitary confinement.
  6. End the policy of administrative detention. (Editor’s Note: Administrative Detention is an Israeli policy under which Palestinians are held without charge or trial for renewable six months periods)
  7. Allow detainees to study at Hebrew Open University.
  8. Allow detainees to have end of high school (tawjihi) exams in an official and agreed manner. (Editor’s Note: Without passing official Tawjihi high school exams, Palestinians are unable to be hired in many employment fields and barred from attending university in the occupied Palestinian territory. The exam is noted as arguably one of the most difficult high school level exams in the world and takes weeks of studying and preparation)