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Palestinian prisoners enter 21st day of mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons

May 7, 2017 5:37 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2017 10:12 A.M.)
Some of Palestine's most high-profile prisoners. From left to right: Fouad Shubaki, Nael Barghouthi, Karim Yunis, Ahmad Saadat, Marwan Barghouthi
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A mass hunger strike underway in Israeli prisons rounded off its third week on Sunday, as Israeli authorities have maintained a severe crackdown on prisoners who are refusing meals, while the medical conditions of numerous hunger strikers continued to decline.

An increasing number of strikers have reportedly experienced loss of balance, muscle atrophy, and heavy fatigue.

Since approximately 1,500 political prisoners launched the open-ended hunger strike on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, April 17, in demand of basic rights, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) has also imposed a range of repressive measures in an attempt to quash the hunger strike.

Many hunger strikers have notably landed in solitary confinement, and scores of others have been dispersed throughout Israel’s network of prisons. Arbitrary prison transfers are a common IPS tactic aiming to suppress resistance among Palestinian prisoners.

Some prisoners have been transferred four times since the strike began, according to Palestinian prisoners' solidarity network Samidoun.

The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs reported on Sunday that 30 Palestinian prisoners were transferred from various prisons across Israel to Ashkelon prison in Israel's southern district.

Among those transferred were Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Ahmad Saadat, head of Hamas’ prisoners leadership committee Abbas al-Sayyid, prominent former hunger striker and journalist Muhammad al-Qiq, longest-held Palestinian prisoner Nael Barghouthi, and PFLP leader Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh -- who all joined the strike on its 18th day on Thursday.

Samidoun also reported that IPS planned to transfer 100 prisoners from Ohalei Kedar prison to Section 10 in Eshel prison on Sunday.

The media committee of the hunger strike meanwhile said that IPS officials in the Ramle prison had refused to send hunger-striking prisoners whose healths had seriously deteriorated to the hospital.

The committee quoted hunger-striking prisoners Ammar Mardi and Ratib Hreibat, whom a PPS lawyer was able to in Ramle for the first time on Sunday, as saying that IPS kept the hunger strikers in “prison cells that lack the simplest conditions for human life."

The two prisoners told their lawyer that IPS forces stormed their cells every day in an attempt to "exhaust them, provoke them, and coerce them into ending their hunger strike."

The prisoners added that they had only been allowed to access the prison courtyard three times since the beginning of the strike three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military prosecution accused Palestinian lawyers on Sunday of serving as “communication channels” between imprisoned leaders of the hunger strike to coordinate the mass movement, Hebrew-language news site NRG reported.

In addition to transfers and being placed in solitary confinement, hunger strikers have also faced assault, nightly raids in their cells, confiscation of personal belongings including salt -- as hungers strikers have only been consuming salt and water -- subhuman cell conditions, and lawyer and family visitation bans.

Meanwhile, Samer Issawi, a representative for hunger strikers affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), said he would not take part in negotiations with IPS -- though it remained unclear whether or not Israeli authorities had actually attempted to engage him in negotiations.

Nonetheless, Issawi affirmed in a statement conveyed by the DFLP that the only party authorized to conduct the negotiations was the leadership of the hunger strike, most prominently imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi.

Issawi confirmed his commitment to the unity of the hunger strike behind its leadership, while Ibrahim Mansour, the head of the DFLP’s prisoners’ committee affirmed that the prisoners would continue their hunger strike until their demands were achieved.

Issawi had previously announced that DFLP-affiliated prisoners would begin refusing water Sunday if IPS continued to ignore the demands of the mass hunger strike, but it remained unclear as of Sunday afternoon if the DFLP prisoners had begun to do so.

Meanwhile, the European Union heads of mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah said Saturday that it was “following with concern the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, held in protest against the conditions of their detention.”

The EU heads of mission called for the full respect of international humanitarian law and human rights obligations towards all prisoners, noting that the detention of Palestinians contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners outside of occupied territory, which can result in family members being denied access to their detained relative.

The statement also reiterated the the EU’s “long-standing concern about the extensive use by Israel of administrative detention without formal charge" -- one of the main policies targeted by the ongoing hunger strike. “Detainees have the right to be informed about the charges underlying any detention, must be granted access to legal assistance, and be subject to a fair trial, be given a fair trial within a reasonable time, or be released,” the heads of mission insisted.

The hunger strikers are also denouncing the torture, ill treatment, and medical neglect of Palestinian prisoners at the hands of Israeli authorities.

On Sunday, the National Committee to Support Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike called on the Palestinian Authority to suspend municipal elections scheduled for May 13, and to halt its contested security coordination with Israel, which has been accused of funneling Palestinians into Israeli prisons.

The committee also called on Palestinians to continue showing their support for the hunger strikers, as well as to boycott all Israeli products, to stop working in Israel and in Israeli settlements, and to participate in a commercial strike scheduled for Thursday.

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 Palestinian organizations.

According to prisoners' rights organization Addameer, some 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of April.
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