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Pressure mounts on Israel, PA, and ICRC over mass prison hunger strike

May 8, 2017 6:00 P.M. (Updated: May 11, 2017 6:59 P.M.)
Protest marking Palestinian Prisoners' Day in Bethlehem on April 17, 2017. (MaanImages/ Chloe Benoist)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The National Committee to Support Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike has called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to suspend municipal elections scheduled to be held Saturday and to halt its contested security coordination with Israel as some 1,600 Palestinians entered their 22nd day on hunger strike in Israeli prisons on Monday.

While the elections process has continued to move forward, a number of Palestinian political factions had already boycotted the elections, including the Hamas movement, Islamic Jihad, and the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), amid growing anger against the PA.

The hunger strike committee also called on Palestinians to continue showing their support for the hunger strikers through civil disobedience, boycotting all Israeli products, ceasing to work in Israel and in Israeli settlements, participating in a commercial strike scheduled for Thursday, and organizing demonstrations in front of the headquarters for the Red Cross and the United Nations.

Daily protests across the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel, and abroad raged on in solidarity with prisoners who are calling for an end to solitary confinement, medical negligence, the denial of family and lawyer visitations, and internment without charge or trial under administrative detention.

The committee reiterated its calls to the Palestinian people on Monday to take to the streets and participate in sit-in tents established across the West Bank and Gaza, highlighting that hunger strikers entered a life-threatening stage and many had been evacuated to the Ramla prison hospital.
Palestinians demonstrate in front of the Nablus office of the ICRC on Monday

In one such demonstration on Monday, dozens of relatives of hunger-striking prisoners demonstrated outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nablus city in the northern occupied West Bank.

The ICRC faced anger last year when it reduced the number of monthly visits it facilitates for relatives of Palestinian prisoners, and has been the target of sustained frustration for its perceived inability to improve incarceration conditions in Israeli prisons, as it prioritizes maintaining its role as an “impartial humanitarian mediator.”

Demonstrators shouted phrases urging the ICRC to "do its duty" and save the hunger strikers -- many of whom are now unable to walk or stand, or suffering from skin conditions and chronic vomiting as a result of their strike.

Mothers of hunger strikers told Ma'an they wanted the ICRC to exert more effort to expose "the oppressive practices inside Israeli jails."

Despite its claims of political neutrality, the ICRC enraged Palestinians after head of the ICRC delegation to Israel and the PA Jacques De Maio denied that Israel fits the label of an apartheid state and denied that Israel implemented a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinians -- contradicting numerous international bodies and human rights organizations, in a recent interview with Israeli news site Ynet.

“No, there is no apartheid here, no regime of superiority of race, of denial of basic human rights to a group of people because of their alleged racial inferiority,” De Maio declared, also saying that the ICRC “came to the unequivocal conclusion that there are no shoot to kill orders of suspects by IDF (Israeli army), as some political elements tried to convince us.”

Demonstrators in Nablus demanded that the ICRC clarify its official position vis-a-vis the interview.

Meanwhile, newly elected head of Hamas’ politburo Ismail Haniyeh said on Monday at a sit-in tent in Gaza that “our hero prisoners” would remain “the top priority of Hamas leadership and Palestinian leadership at all levels and under every name.”

“Securing your freedom is a national duty and your dignity is the dignity of our entire people, which is inviolable.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority said Monday that it had continued with diplomatic efforts through international organizations and human rights groups to put pressure on Israel to comply with the prisoners' demands.
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