Fasting for freedom in Palestine

August 15, 2013

Patrick O. Strickland reports on the defiance of hunger strikers in Israel's prisons.

AS ISRAELI Prison Services amp up their systematic assault on prisoners, 12 Palestinian and Jordanian detainees continue hunger strikes. Their respective strikes range between 30 and 100 days. "All 12 are in serious danger of death," Gavan Kelly of Addameer Prisoner Support Network said in an interview.

IPS is routinely accused of wide-reaching human rights violations against Palestinian prisoners, who are often arrested and detained for lengthy periods on grounds as arbitrary as stone-throwing.

The Knesset, Israel's parliament, will soon consider a bill that will enable authorities to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners, allegedly for the protection of their own health, reports the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Five of the present hunger strikers are Jordanian citizens being held in Israeli prisons barely accessible for family visits. Relatives of Palestinian strikers from the occupied West Bank must apply for travel permits to visit, which are seldom granted to those related to political prisoners.

Protests in Nablus following the death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh in an Israeli prison
Protests in Nablus following the death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh in an Israeli prison

Four are serving at least one life sentence, and another four are administrative detainees, which means they are being held on "secret evidence" for easily renewable six-month terms. Administrative detainees also have no right to a trial or to respond to charges against them.

According to a recent Addameer press release, the hunger strikers are being held in "harsh and difficult conditions" and, "as [Israel's] punishment increases, are beginning to be denied lawyer visits" on the grounds that lawyers are allegedly "transferring information between the hunger strikers."

"This policy of continuously banning lawyers who visit the hunger strikers restricts the work of human rights organizations and further isolates the prisoners from the outside world in an attempt to break their strike[s]," the release added. "Prisoners have reported that IPS has tried many tactics to break their hunger strike[s], including putting them in cells with criminal prisoners, cooking and eating near their cells, and 'roughing them up' while they are handcuffed to their hospital beds."

SYSTEMATIC VIOLENCE against political prisoners is not limited to those on hunger strike, either. In January, Israeli occupation forces arrested Palestinian activist and human rights defender Hassan Karajah for his work with Stop the Wall, a grassroots organization that exposes the ongoing theft of Palestinian land by the infamous apartheid wall.

Karajah, who was also well known for his solidarity work with prisoners, was arrested when dozens of soldiers raided his home near Ramallah in the dead of night. His organization, Stop the Wall, also has a reputation as a strong proponent of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid.

Sundros Mahsiri, his fiancé, reported that he has lost significant weight and has clearly been denied proper nutrition and medical treatment as he awaits his sentencing in detention. Karajah was reportedly denied his medicine at the beginning, and once IPS agreed to give it to him, he was only allowed one-third of his prescribed dosage.

In April, Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a prisoner serving a life sentence, died of terminal cancer, for which IPS was reportedly providing him with over-the-counter painkillers as treatment. Outrage ensued and demonstrations sprang up across Palestine.

There are currently 5,071 Palestinians in Israeli lockup. A total of 193 are children, 41 of whom are under 16 years old. Another 136 are administrative detainees, and 531 are serving life sentences.

Three of the current hunger strikers have begun to refuse vitamins, Addameer reported on August 7. In response, one of the prisoners, Mohammed Rimawi, "had his hands and legs shackled and was then thrown on the ground and savagely beaten by five Israeli soldiers."

The other two, Abdullah al-Barghouthi and Ala' Hammad, who Addameer lawyers say are in critical condition, have been threatened with force-feeding. It was added that al-Barghouthi has lost the ability to walk on his own.

As Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet in Washington, D.C., for peace negotiations that few believe can deliver genuine peace, more and more prisoners held unjustly are turning to hunger strikes as a form of resistance, from Palestine to Guantánamo Bay and Pelican Bay.

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