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Mass hunger strike lingers, another looms as Rikhawi family asks help

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As several Palestinians detainees continue the Karameh (“Dignity”) hunger strike, which began April 17 and officially ended with a May 14 agreement, the family of one hunger-striking prisoner, Akram Rikhawi, has appealed for public support, while thousands more plan to launch another mass action inside Israel’s prisons and detention centers.

“We know it will happen September 13,” Doa’a Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees’ and Ex-detainees’ Affairs in Gaza, said this week. “But we don’t have any other information about it. When detainees plan a hunger strike, they only give us the date it will start, not any details about it, to ensure its success.”

The deal struck by hunger-striking detainees and Israeli authorities included provisions limiting the Israeli military’s use of administrative detention, renewing family visits from the Gaza Strip, restricting night raids, denials of legal counsel and education, and other punitive measures by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), and releasing administrative detainees at risk of death from their participation in the hunger strike.

Plans for the next mass hunger strike follow claims that Israel has breached the terms of the agreement. “Israel has not changed its policy of administrative detention, family visits from the Gaza Strip have not been renewed, and punitive policies are still employed against prisoners and detainees,” Physicians for Human Rights – Israel said in a statement Tuesday. “Moreover, at least one administrative detainee who was due to be released has had his detention order renewed in violation of the agreement.”

Administrative detainees facing extensions of their sentences include Samer Al-Barq and Hassan Safadi, who received new administrative detention orders for six months each on May 21 and June 21, respectively. Both immediately resumed their hunger strikes. Akram Rikhawi, sentenced to nine years by an Israeli military court in 2004, is on the 78th day of a hunger strike demanding his release on medical grounds.

Another long-term hunger striker, Mahmoud Sarsak, ended his 92-day fast on June 18 in an agreement for his tentative release on July 10. Sarsak, a celebrated Palestine national football player, has been held by Israel since 2009 under the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law, which its military uses to detain Palestinians from the Gaza Strip indefinitely.

A statement from the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, which has provided legal counsel to Palestinian prisoners including Sarsak, says that “the Unlawful Combatants Law contains fewer protections for detainees than even the few that are granted under administrative detention orders in the West Bank.”

Sarsak secured the deal after his strike drew attention and support from football fans, players, and associations around the world. This included public statements by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro), and nearly two dozen footballers, colorful protests by supporters of Celtic Football Club and other teams, and calls by Sarsak’s family and others to ban Israel from international football competitions.

This week the family of Rikhawi appealed for similar support. His niece and adopted daughter, Yasmine Rikhawi, spoke at a rally organized in Gaza by the Ministry of Detainees’ and Ex-detainees’ Affairs for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on Tuesday.

“I do not know any news about my father, except that he been on hunger strike for 76 days,” she said. “Every day we hear of his deteriorating health. Who can stop the policy of repression and abuse faced by him and more than 4,700 other Palestinian detainees?”

“My message, and the message of all the detainees’ families, is that you should help the oppressed and force Israel to end its regime of torture against Palestinian prisoners, before their fate is death in the cells of the occupation,” she added. “This is our request to all the free world, that they undertake serious work in support of our detainees.”

Joe Catron

Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine, where he works with Palestinian groups and international solidarity networks, particularly in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and prisoners' movements. He co-edited The Prisoners' Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange, blogs at joecatron.wordpress.com and tweets at @jncatron.

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