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Israel cracks down on PFLP prisoners amid ongoing mass hunger strike

June 25, 2016 8:51 P.M. (Updated: July 7, 2016 7:53 P.M.)
Graffiti in support of Bilal Kayid (Photo: PFLP)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israel Prison Service (IPS) authorities have stepped up punitive measures against Palestinian prisoners affiliated with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) amid ongoing hunger strikes in protest of the administrative detention of Bilal Kayid.

IPS authorities transferred 17 hunger-striking prisoners from Megiddo prison to Jalameh prison and other Israeli prisons in the south, while placing PFLP leaders Wael Jaghoub and Salah Ali in isolation “in an attempt to repress their growing protest steps and to neutralize the role of leaders and isolate them from the rest of the prisoners,” a statement by the PFLP said on Friday.

Ten other prisoners in Megiddo were reportedly placed in solitary confinement for their participation in the strike.

IPS authorities have also conducted daily raids of PFLP prison sections, deprived PFLP-members of family visits until further notice, and confiscated their electronic devices.

The statement also announced that all PFLP-affiliated prisoners engaged in a two-day hunger strike Thursday and Friday, and were developing further “methods of confrontation,” to be announced in coming days.

Since Israeli authorities sentenced PFLP-member Bilal Kayid to six months in administrative detention on June 13, the day he was scheduled to be released after serving a 14-and-a-half year sentence, the PFLP announced an “open struggle” in protest of the decision, declaring a “state of emergency” for all its members in Israeli prisons.

Rally held for Bilal Kayid (Photo: PFLP)

The PFLP Prisoner Branch called the Israeli decision a “serious threat to all Palestinian prisoners that we must confront early before it becomes a systematic policy of the occupation,” in a statement published last week.

The statement said that the movement's prison branch was initiating protest measures to continue throughout June and early July, to culminate in an open hunger strike by all PFLP-affiliated prisoners being held by Israel on July 7.

Kayid began his own hunger strike on June 15, with reports emerging on Thursday that he had begun suffering from exhaustion, fatigue, insomnia, and kidney pain.

He has been held in solitary confinement in Israel’s Ramon prison. Ramon has been raided and searched on a daily basis since he began his strike, with Israeli prison officers carrying out punitive measures against PFLP-affiliated prisoners there such as confiscating electronic devices and shutting down water and cooling systems.

IPS spokesperson Assaf Librati told Ma’an in response to the raids that, "following protest measures taken by Ramon inmates, some of their privileges, such as electronic devices, were revoked."

The raids in Ramon prison came a day after 60 prisoners affiliated to the PFLP in Israel’s Megiddo prison and five in Gilboa prison started an open hunger strike. Israeli forces also reportedly raided Eshel prison, assaulting prisoners who had announced their intent to strike.

In the face of mounting threats and pressures from IPS authorities, the PFLP announced on Tuesday a further escalation in protest measures to demand Kayid’s release, while also slamming the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for exacerbating the struggle of Palestinian prisoners rather than alleviating it.

“The ICRC is increasing the burden upon (prisoners) with policies and procedures, including the cuts to family visits, which represent a clear decline of its role in accordance and even collusion with the systematic policy of the occupation,” the PFLP statement said.

Meanwhile, an international solidarity movement demanding Kayid’s release has been organized, with demonstrations reportedly being held in the Hague, Athens, Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin, Edinburgh, Milan, Torino, and New York City.

Demonstration in New York City held for Bilal Kayid (Photo: Samidoun)

Demonstration in Torino held for Bilal Kayid (Photo: Samidoun)

Kayid was originally detained in 2001 for involvement in the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades -- the armed wing of the PFLP.

On June 22, Kayid refused to attend a hearing at Israel’s Ofer military court to confirm his detention, stating that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the administrative detention order or the military court. The hearing was postponed, scheduled for July 6.

According to the PFLP, Kayid has participated in all of the collective hunger strikes during his time in prison, as well as strikes in solidarity with administrative detainees. He spent the final year of his prison sentence in solitary confinement.

Rights groups have claimed that Israel's administrative detention policy -- internment without trial or charge on the basis of undisclosed evidence -- has been used as an attempt to disrupt Palestinian political processes, notably targeting Palestinian politicians, activists, and journalists.

Although Israeli authorities claim the withholding of evidence during administrative detention is essential for state security concerns, rights groups have instead claimed the policy allows Israeli authorities to hold Palestinians for an indefinite period of time without showing any evidence that could justify their detentions.

Israel considers the majority of Palestinian political parties to be “terrorist organizations." As a result, most Palestinians who participate in the political arena in the occupied Palestinian territory risk being imprisoned by Israeli authorities.

According to the prisoner’s rights group Addameer, there are currently 7,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, 715 of whom are held under administrative detention.
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