Palestinian hunger strike ends with prisoners declaring victory – but Israel claims nothing happened

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Saturday, after 41 days, the Palestinian prisoner hunger strike came to what seemed to be an end – or rather a ‘suspension’.

At first, details of concessions to Palestinian prisoner demands beyond the reinstatement of a second monthly family visit were not yet available, and Israel was apparently using this vacuum to downplay the whole thing.

Marwan Barghouti vs. Benjamin Netanyahu (Image: Carlos Latuff)

Israeli Public Security and Hasbara (propaganda) Minister Gilad Erdan countered claims that certain demands were met, saying that “there is absolutely no pledge to grant” any of the other prisoner demands, and summated that it “appears that this strike failed”. The Prisons Service simply said there was no negotiation, and that none of the prisoners’ demands were met apart from the visitations. 

But yesterday, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoners Solidarity Network, provided a detailed list of achieved demands, quoting Issa Qaraqe, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission, who declared that “80 percent of the demands” of the prisoners were achieved in the strike, calling it “an important achievement to build on in the future on the basis of the protection of the prisoners’ rights and dignity.”

Here is the full list of 19 items:

1. Expanding access to public telephones in order to communicate with family members, in accordance with agreed-upon mechanisms, with continuation of dialogue on this issue as a priority for prisoners in all prisons. 

2. Agreement was reached on a range of issues relating to family visits; first, lifting the security ban on hundreds of family members of Palestinian prisoners, ending the practice of returning visitors holding permits and refusing their visits at checkpoints, and lifting an unjustified ban imposed on more than 140 children who had been banned by the prison administration from visiting their parents. 

3. Giving an initial commitment to shorten the time between visits for Palestinian prisoners from Gaza, for a period of up to one month instead of two months or more between visits. 

4. Agreement was also reached on a number of issues related to the conditions of family visitation, including allowing the introduction of clothing and bags, and allowing prisoners to provide and share sweets with children and others. 

5. Introducing new standards for visitation for relatives of the “second degree,” such as allowing the introduction of nephews and nieces during nursery school age and providing that prisoners whose fathers and mothers have died may add one or two additional more distant family members to their visitation list. 

6. Providing formal approval for the return of the second monthly family visit according to the mechanism agreed upon between the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Authority. 

7. Reaching an agreement on the Ramle prison clinic, to return the ill prisoners to the larger “old” section of the prison, which has been renovated. 

8. Agreement was reached on issues related to the conditions of women prisoners, including the inclusion of all prisoners in HaSharon prison, adjustments to the visit process with family members, husbands and children, the introduction of handicraft materials, improvement of conditions of confinement, and establishment of a special transportation system, rather than the “bosta,” for transfer to and from the courts. 

9. On the issue of child prisoners, a number of issues were agreed upon to improve their conditions of confinement, access to education and related issues. 

10. Agreement was reached on most issues related to the difficult conditions of life in Nafha prison. 

11. On the issue of the sick prisoner patients held in the Ramle prison clinic, as noted above, to return the prisoners to the re-opened section with improved humanitarian conditions, as well as introducing a new system for the movement of these prisoners with private transportation, directly to and from the courts, rather than transiting through lengthy crossing points on the “Bosta.” 

12. Distributing meals to prisoners in transit in the “Bosta” during transfers and allowing them access to use the toilet during this time. 

13. Approving the establishment in every prison department of Palestinian “security prisoners” of a kitchen area for the preparation of food and the introduction of cooking equipment, rather than being in the same rooms with the prisoners. 

14. Allowing photographs with parents once annually, or with a prisoner’s spouse. In the event of the prisoner’s father or mother’s death, the photograph could be taken with a brother or sister. 

15. Introducing improvements to the “canteen” (prison store), with higher-quality goods availables, including fruits and vegetables, including molokhiyeh, and spices. 

16. Introducing modern sports and recreation equipment in the recreation yards. 

17. Solving the problem of overcrowding in the prison sections and resolving the problem of high temperatures through a system of ventilation and cooling. 

18. Adding an ambulance to be equipped for use to transfer prisoners in urgent health emergencies, to be stationed at the Negev, Ramon and Nafha prisons, due to the fact that these prisons are far from hospitals. 

19. Transferring prisoners to prisons closer to their families’ places of residence.

 Samidoun also notes, that

“in addition to these points, there will be a mechanism for further negotiations on additional issues. The prisoners’ committee will include Karim Younis, Nasser Abu Hmeid, Hafez Sharaya, Nasser Oweis, Ammar Merhi, and Ahmed Barghouthi. All prisoners who have been transferred since the beginning of the strike are to be returned to their original locations and the sanctions imposed on hunger-striking prisoners lifted. It should be noted that the imprisonment of Palestinians from the West Bank within Palestine ’48 is entirely illegitimate under the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

So what are we to make of this glaring discrepancy between the two versions? The Israelis are basically saying that nothing happened, and the Palestinians are noting that most demands were met.

This should be a major source of concern, since it is the Israelis who are the jailer. If they are claiming this essentially did not happen, then there could be a real chance that they would ignore the reported agreements.

Let it be added as well, that beyond Samidoun’s note concerning the illegitimacy (and illegality) of at all transferring occupied prisoners to jails in Israel, there’s also the issues of administrative detention (without trial) and solitary confinement. This means that even if the other demands are ostensibly met, Israel has a backdoor by which to ‘compensate for’ and even cancel out such concessions, under the ‘security’ pretext.

We will have to watch this as it folds out. Israel obviously wants this to be a ‘non-event’ and to have ‘peace and quiet’, but it is far from certain that we have heard the last of this. In fact, it’s rather certain we haven’t.

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The Israelis surely blinked, realising that allowing any of the hunger-strikers actually to die would send out a shockwave similar to that when Mrs Thatcher allowed Irish hunger-strikers to die.

Sadly, actually sticking to an agreement would be a first for Israel, so I have no great hopes that the ameliorations to Palestinian prisoners’ conditions will be put into effect, once the strikers are no longer in danger of immediate starvation.

Great cartoon, and great article. If only, in another universe, we didn’t have such human rights violations normalized…

When has the GOI ever stuck to an agreement? Gaza fishermen can tell a bitter tale about that.

The backdoor (administrative detention with no rights) remains the front door. Israel will do whatever it needs to, to avoid bad PR if prisoners die while in captivity.

The surprise to me is that the movement is surprised at all at what transpired, This is Israel’s MO, and has been as long as I can remember , i.e. do what you need to do to defuse a crisis for the Jewish state then, as attention wanes – or is drawn away by a manufactured crisis (keep on the lookout for this) – go back to business as usual. In this case, Israel had… Read more »