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One week in, Palestinian prisoners continue to join mass hunger strike

April 23, 2017 2:49 P.M. (Updated: May 2, 2017 8:25 P.M.)
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) -- As a mass hunger strike underway in Israeli prisons entered its seventh day on Sunday, dozens more Palestinian prisoners have declared their participation, while Israeli prison authorities continued to punish those forgoing food by placing them in solitary confinement cells.

The media committee established to support what has come to be known as the “Freedom and Dignity" strike, announced Sunday that six Palestinian prisoners held in Megiddo prison in northern Israel began refusing meals on Thursday and were immediately placed in isolation.

On Sunday morning, 34 additional Palestinian prisoners in Megiddo joined the some 1,500 Palestinians who launched the hunger strike one week ago, in protest of the torture, ill treatment, and medical neglect of prisoners at the hands of Israeli authorities, as well as Israel’s widespread use of administrative detention -- internment without trial or charges -- which is only permitted under international law in extremely limited circumstances.

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) prevented lawyers from the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs from visiting the hunger strikers in Megiddo, despite a decision made Wednesday by the Israeli Ministry of Justice saying that it was illegal to ban prisoners from accessing their lawyers.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society has filed a complaint on behalf of lawyers who have been prevented from visiting hunger strikers.

As of Thursday, lawyers representing hunger strikers in Ashkelon, Gilboa, Eshel, and Nafha prison were either still being banned from visiting their clients, denied permits, or were told that visits were postponed. Only three hunger-striking prisoners in Ofer prison have been allowed to receive legal visits since the beginning of the strike, according prisoners’ solidarity network Samidoun. the media committee of the Freedom and Dignity strike later confirmed that only three prisoners in Ofer had been able to see their lawyers.

Imprisoned Palestinians have also reported that IPS officials have continued to deny them family visits.

Meanwhile, IPS transferred two hunger strikers, Abd al-Rahman Khalil Muhammad Mahmoud and Bilal Ajarma, from Gilboa prison to solitary confinement cells Ashkelon prison, local sources said Sunday.

Mahmoud, 36, is from the al-Issawiya neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem and has served 15 years of a 17-year prison sentence. Ajarma, from the town of Silwad in the central occupied West Bank, was sentenced to two life terms and an additional 20-year sentence, and is considered a leader in the Palestinian prisoners’ movement.
Bilal Ajarma
Abd al-Rahman Khalil Muhammad Mahmoud

Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe also said Sunday that no prisoners had ended their hunger strike, rejecting reports in Israeli media that claimed 88 prisoners had ended their strike since it began last week.

Just a day prior, a group of Palestinian prisoners in Ramon prison joined the hundreds of hunger strikers, while leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Kamil Abu Huneish, Nader Sadaqa, and Munther Mifleh, in addition to Wajdi Jawdat, a strike leader from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were transferred to solitary confinement.

The four joined Kamil Abu Hanish, Marwan Barghouthi, Karim Yunis, and several other strike leaders in solitary confinement. Scores of others have also been isolated or dispersed throughout Israel’s network of prisons to separate hunger strikers from each other.

The IPS crackdown on the hunger strike has also seen prison sections searched raided with police dogs, Qurans seized from prisoners, while IPS officers have also prevented hunger strikers from praying and taking breaks in prison yards.

IPS authorities have also confiscated personal belongings from hunger-striking prisoners, including bedding, books, clothing, and electronic devices.

Initially called for by Fatah-affiliated prisoners under the leadership of Marwan Barghouthi, Palestinian prisoners from across the political spectrum have since pledged their commitment to undertake the strike.

Usama al-Saadi, member of the Join List coalition presenting Palestinian citizens of Israel in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, said Sunday that the Joint List considered the prisoners’ cause to be a “top priority,” and that the coalition had demanded that a Knesset session be held to discuss the hunger strike.

Al-Saadi said in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio station that Join List members will take advantage of the Knesset sessions scheduled on Monday and Wednesday to present the prisoners’ case and urge Israeli authorities to respond to their demands.

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 last week by Palestinian organizations. According to prisoners' rights organization Addameer, some 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of March.
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