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Palestinian women join hunger strike, lawyers declare boycott of Israeli courts

April 19, 2017 2:18 P.M. (Updated: April 19, 2017 11:40 P.M.)
A graphic for the "Freedom and Dignity" hunger strike, depicting some of Palestine's most high profile prisoners. From right to left: Marwan Barghouthi, Ahmad Saadat, Karim Yunis, Nael Barghouthi, Fouad Shubaki
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners entered the third day of the “Freedom and Dignity” hunger strike on Wednesday, with imprisoned Palestinian women launching protest measures, as lawyers representing the hunger strikers announced they were boycotting Israeli courts.

Prisoners are demanding that Israeli prison authorities grant them basic rights, such as receiving regular visits, and are also calling for an end to deliberate medical negligence, solitary confinement, administrative detention, among a long list of other demands laid out by the Fatah movement and its imprisoned leader, Marwan Barghouthi.

Some 1,500 prisoners continued the strike that began on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, April 17, according to a statement Wednesday from a joint media committee comprising of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS).

According to the statement, lawyers from institutions such as PPS and the prisoners’ committee decide to boycott Israel’s courts. As Barghouthi noted in an op-ed published by the New York Times ahead of the hunger strike, the conviction rate for Palestinians in military courts is nearly 90 percent, according to the US State Department.

The piece has sparked widespread outrage among Israeli leadership; Barghouthi could face prosecution for writing it, while some members of Israel's government have also suggested shutting down The New York Times bureau in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe called upon the United Nations secretary general to hold an emergency meeting for the UN General Assembly to discuss “the escalating and dangerous conditions” in Israeli detention centers and prisons, as the strike continues.

The committee reported on Wednesday that Palestinian women in Israel Hasharon prison, where 58 women are held, have launched protest measures in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Lawyer from the committee Hiba Masalha said that the women would refuse meals every ten days, highlighting that their measures could escalate in the coming days if Israel did not respond the demands of the hunger strikers.

Meanwhile, after seven Palestinian prisoners suffering from various illnesses held in Israel's Ashkelon prison decided to join the open-ended strike, prisoners’ committee lawyer Karim Ajweh said Wednesday that Israeli prison authorities continued to punish them.

After visiting the prisoners at Ashkelon, Ajweh said that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) confiscated their electronic devices and other possessions, leaving the sick prisoners with just three blankets, one pair of underwear, one small towel, and one toothbrush for the seven men to share.

The seven prisoners, identified as Said Musallam, Othman Abu Khurj, Ibrahim Abu Mustafa, Yasser Abu Turk, Nazih Othman, Ayman Sharabati, and Abd al-Majid Mahdi, had also been strip searched, transferred from their normal cells, and “humiliated,” Ajweh said.

The lawyer added that the ill prisoners decided to undertake the strike in protest of being medically neglected, despite the dangerous consequences the strike could have on their health. The seven men also threatened to stop taking their medication if they were force fed.

Since the hunger strike began, Israeli authorities have established field hospitals for Palestinian prisoners, Israel’s public security minister confirmed. The move has raised alarm that hunger strikers, who will likely face deteriorating health conditions in coming days, will be force fed en masse -- violating international standards of medical ethics and international law that regard the practice as inhumane or even a form of torture.

Israeli doctors in civilian hospitals have so far refused to force feed hunger strikers, despite the Israeli Supreme Court's recent decision that ruled the practice to be constitutional.

In addition to punitive measures taken against the group of sick prisoners, IPS has punished the hundreds of other hungers strikers by suspending family visitation rights, preventing lawyers from visiting some hunger strikers, and moving hunger-striking prisoners around in its detention facilities in order to separate them from Palestinian prisoners who were not participating in the hunger strike.

IPS officials have also placed a number of hunger-striking prisoners -- including Barghouthi and Karim Yunis -- in solitary confinement and banned the prisoners from watching TV, with IPS declaring “a state of emergency” in detention facilities holding Palestinian prisoners.

Thousands of Palestinians marched in solidarity with the hunger strikers on Monday, with Israeli forces notably suppressing a demonstration in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, and detaining four young Palestinians at another demonstration in the central West Bank district of Ramallah.

Israeli authorities have detained approximately one million Palestinians since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, according to a joint statement released on Saturday by Palestinian organizations.
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