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Palestinians hold rally in Bethlehem in support of hunger-striking prisoners

May 6, 2017 5:24 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2017 7:20 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Dozens of Palestinians rallied in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Saturday in support of Palestinian prisoners who have entered the 20th day of a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons.

The supporters marched from the Cinema area in the center of Bethlehem to Manger Square, adjacent to the Nativity Church, as they chanted slogans applauding the hunger strikers and urging the international community and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to exert pressure on the Israeli government to “stop the collective punishment” of Palestinians by Israeli authorities, and the Israel Prison Service (IPS) in particular.

The protesters also urged all Palestinians to organize as many activities as possible to support the hunger strikers.

Spokesman of the Bethlehem office of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) Abdullah Zghari delivered a speech at Manger Square warning of the threats facing the lives of the hunger strikers. He added that Israeli authorities continued to ban lawyer visits to hunger-striking prisoners.

“There is no longer a way to contact prisoners and follow up on their health conditions," he said, highlighting that the majority of hunger strikers were elderly, serving long sentences, or suffering from illness.

Mother of hunger striker Muhammad Zawahira, who is serving a life sentence, addressed demonstrators and made an appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and leaders of different Palestinian factions, urging them to exert pressure on Israel. All mothers of hunger strikers are worried about the lives of the prisoners, she said.

On the 20th day of the mass hunger strike, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs released a statement saying that Israeli authorities had continued to violate the rights of the prisoners, including placing hunger strikers in solitary confinement, transferring them between different prisons, raiding the cells, and confiscating salt used by the prisoners to stabilize their health.

Israeli authorities have also been exploring the option of bringing foreign doctors to Israel to force feed the prisoners, as Israeli doctors have aligned themselves with international medical ethics and have refused. In response, Palestinian leaders announced a “week of rage” across the occupied West Bank, Israel, and in the diaspora.

Initially called for by Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi and other Fatah-affiliated prisoners, Palestinian prisoners from across the political spectrum have since joined the strike.

The hunger strikers have denounced the torture, ill treatment, and medical neglect of Palestinian 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.
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