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Palestinian prisoners pledge to continue hunger strike amid growing suffering

May 8, 2017 4:37 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2017 9:39 P.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) -- Nearly a quarter of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel entered the fourth week of an open-ended hunger strike on Tuesday, calling for an end to the denial of family visits, the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention -- imprisonment without charge or trial.

Head of the media committee representing the strike Abd al-Fattah Dawla said on Monday that lawyers who visited hunger-striking prisoners highlighted that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) had escalated raids and use of solitary confinement against prisoners and had banned them from accessing prison yards.

With the exception of Ashkelon prison and Ofer prison, IPS banned lawyer visitations for hunger strikers since the strike launched on April 17. On Sunday, lawyers were also permitted access to Ktziot and Nitzan prisons for the first time.

Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners' Affairs Issa Qaraqe announced Monday that the committee had also decided to suspend payments it provides for prisoners so they can purchase items from the prison commissary where hunger strikers have been getting salt to balance their healths, after IPS started to deplete hunger strikers' accounts by 200 to 500 shekels ($55-140).

"The Israel Prison Service is brutally practicing organized crime on hunger strikers and is stealing their money to punish them," Qaraqe said.

Many hunger strikers have landed in solitary confinement or been dispersed throughout Israel’s network of prisons, and have also faced assault, nightly cell raids, confiscation of personal belongings, and subhuman cell conditions.

On Sunday, lawyer Karim Ajweh of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners' Affairs visited longest-serving Palestinian prisoner Nael Barghouthi and journalist Muhammad al-Qiq in Ashkelon, after they both joined the hunger strike on Thursday.

Ajwah said that Barghouthi’s health had deteriorated "noticeably," and that the 59-year-old had lost five kilograms.

Al-Qiq, famous for undertaking a 94-day solitary hunger strike that brought him near death in 2016, told Ajweh that he lost six kilograms and was suffering from chronic dizziness and vomiting.

The media committee also reported that IPS had emptied both al-Qiq’s and Barghouthi’s cells of all of their belongings except toothpaste, toothbrushes, a couple of undergarments, and their prison uniform.

Reports from Ashkelon prison indicated that several hunger strikers there had also begun suffering from skin diseases.

Ajweh reiterated that hunger-striking prisoners have continued to refuse vitamins and were only consuming water and salt -- despite claims to the contrary by IPS, which said Sunday that it had succeeded in setting up leader of the strike, Marwan Barghouthi, to eat cookies in his prison cell bathroom.

The media committee denied the legitimacy of the footage showing Barghouthi allegedly breaking his strike, arguing that, “Israeli media launches the war of rumors and lies about the strike, in order to create confusion in the Palestinian streets and between the striking detainees, and to demoralize the escalation of the strike.”

The media committee also said that IPS planned to move hunger strikers from Ofer prison to a hospital for treatment on Monday, and accused Israeli authorities of delaying the move to pressure the prisoners to end their strike.

For the first time on Sunday, lawyers were also able to access hunger strikers at Ktziot prison, according to the media committee, which reported several prisoners there were not able to walk or stand.

IPS has refused to provide medical treatment to hunger strikers in Ktziot and extorted them to provide treatment in exchange for ending the strike, the committee said.

Detainees in Ktziot have also started drinking water from bathroom taps after IPS imposed sanctions on hungers strikers, including denying them access to the commissary, and fining them 450 shekels ($135) for not standing up during roll call.

After lawyers were able to access Nitzan prison for the first time since the strike, they reported via the media committee that hunger strikers were being held there in “desolate” cells, unfit for human life.

Since the beginning of the strike, IPS has only permitted hunger strikers there to take three breaks, the statement said, presumably referring to breaks outside in the prison yard, while “daily intrusions and searches” have been conducted in their cells “in an attempt to provoke them.”

The media committee also said that no discussions or negotiations have been conducted with the prison administration as of Monday morning towards reaching a deal to end the strike, in spite of reports to the contrary.

"After 22 days without food, the physical consequences of the strike are severe. There is no more hunger; instead, prisoners are in extreme pain, suffer from difficulty standing, severe dizziness, weakness, loss of coordination, low heart rate, and even cognitive impairment and loss of vision,” the Lajee Center of Aida refugee camp in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem said in a statement on Monday.

Ten political prisoners from Aida are taking part in the strike, who were all placed in solitary confinement, Lajee said.

Palestinian prisoners wrote in a statement on Saturday that the IPS escalation, which has also included threats of force feeding, marked a “preparation for a targeted crime against the prisoners with the intention of murder.”

“It is clear that we are in the next stage now, that of repression, abuse, and attempts to break the strike through threatening the lives of the prisoners,” the statement said.

In spite of prisoners’ suffering, the media committee affirmed Monday that “several letters from the prisons conclude that the detainees have high morale and they insist to carry on in the strike until their demands are achieved.”
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