Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

Palestinian Prisoners Fight Back With Hunger

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours

JERUSALEM, Mar 29 2012 (IPS) - As 29-year-old Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi enters day 43 of her open- ended hunger strike Thursday from a hospital bed in northern Israel, over two dozen other Palestinian prisoners have now followed suit, refusing food as a way to protest their arrest, detention and treatment in Israeli prisons.

“The hunger strikes are highlighting the conditions and the treatment that these prisoners face in the Israeli system, whether in the process of their detention or later in interrogation or in the courts or in the prisons,” Sahar Francis, Director of the Ramallah-based Addameer Palestinian prisoner support organisation, told IPS.

“It’s a whole system that’s built on the oppression and violation of basic rights of these detainees and prisoners,” Francis said.

Shalabi began her hunger strike Feb. 16 in protest against the degrading treatment she experienced during her arrest and interrogation, and because she is being held without charge or trial under an Israeli administrative detention order.

Processed through Israel’s military courts system in the West Bank, Palestinian prisoners can be held indefinitely for renewable, six-month periods under Israeli administrative detention, and don’t know when, or if, they will be released.

In February, Palestinian political prisoner Khader Adnan ended a 66-day hunger strike after the Israeli authorities agreed to release him in mid-April, a few weeks before his first six-month administrative detention term was scheduled to end, and agreed not to issue a new detention order.


Since that time, almost 30 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have also begun their own hunger strikes, Francis said, and the number is growing daily.

“Historically speaking, this practice of hunger strikes was used by the Palestinian prisoners in order to guarantee their rights under the Israeli prison authority. It’s not something new,” said Francis, explaining that Palestinian prisoners organised large-scale hunger strikes in Israeli prisons in 2000, 2004, and most recently in September-October 2011.

Adnan and Shalabi’s cases have also inspired Palestinian, Israeli and international civil society activists to take to the streets, demanding both an end to Israeli administrative detention and to the degrading treatment Palestinians face in Israeli prisons.

A silent vigil was held at Hebrew University in Jerusalem earlier this week, as a group of approximately 15 Palestinian women students wore masks of Shalabi’s face in an attempt to draw attention to her hunger strike, and to the treatment of Palestinian prisoners more generally.

“I think (Shalabi’s case) highlights that the Palestinian women have an active part in this struggle. It’s very important to see that also women are part of the leadership of this struggle,” said Yara Sa’di, a 23-year- old Hebrew University student who participated in the demonstration.

“Many people were surprised to find out that (Shalabi) was not tried in court, that she doesn’t know when she will be released and that 34 prisoners are also on hunger strike. It made people ask questions and hold conversations. If we wouldn’t do this activity, people wouldn’t think about this political issue, (and) we all believe that the issue should be spoken about more,” Sa’di told IPS.

Addameer found that over 4,630 Palestinians were held in Israeli jails as of Mar. 1 of this year. Of that number, at least 320 were administrative detainees, 183 were children, and five were women. The organisation also estimates that since Israel began occupying the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in 1967, approximately 750,000 Palestinians have been arrested or detained by the Israeli authorities.

This staggering figure means that virtually every Palestinian family has some experience with Israel’s prison system, Francis explained. “There is no Palestinian house that wasn’t affected at least once out of the policy of imprisonment. This is an experience that will last forever, with every family,” she said.

According to Yara Sa’di, the fact that most Palestinians have some experience with Israeli arrest or detention means that the issue can mobilise people across political, geographical and other divisions within Palestinian society.

“People should take this issue more seriously and be more active in it because at the end, I believe that almost everybody knows one member of a family that is a prisoner, or was a prisoner,” she said.

“I think that this hunger strike is a very important way for these prisoners to say to the Israeli jails that they are not willing to continue in this inhumane daily life. It makes it even more important to raise this subject in any possible way. I hope that we won’t need somebody to die until we start (widespread) demonstrations.”

 
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