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Israeli authorities continue attempts to break mass hunger strike on 24th day

May 10, 2017 1:24 P.M. (Updated: May 13, 2017 10:32 P.M.)
Some of Palestine's most high-profile prisoners. From left to right: Fouad Shubaki, Nael Barghouthi, Karim Yunis, Ahmad Saadat, Marwan Barghouthi
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- As some 1,600 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons entered their 24th day on hunger strike on Wednesday, the prisoners have reported severe health deterioration -- including several hunger strikers coughing up blood -- and continued repressive measures imposed on the prisoners by the Israel Prison Service (IPS).

Israeli authorities have also escalated their delegitimization campaign against Marwan Barghouthi, an imprisoned Fatah figure and the main leader of the strike.

Palestinian prisoners are 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 -- among other demands for basic rights.

Israeli violations amid weakening health conditions of hunger strikers

For the first 20 days of the strike, lawyers were only given access to Ofer and Askhelon prison, until the Israel Prison Service (IPS) was compelled by the Israeli Supreme Court to lift the ban on lawyer visits. In the days since, more troubling reports have been conveyed by lawyers of the abuse and mistreatment to which the hunger strikers' are being subjected.

A lawyer for the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Yousif Nasasra was permitted to visit hunger-striking prisoners Muhammad Nour Abu al-Rub from Jenin and Rashid Khalil Hamayil from Nablus at Israel’s Nafha prison in the Negev region on Tuesday.

The prisoners told Nasasra that IPS has used police dogs to carry out search raids against hunger-striking prisoners, and added that “pressures and punitive procedures” continue to be carried out against Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in order to “break their will” and coerce them into ending the strike.

Abu al-Rub added that he was assaulted by an Israeli prison official, who spilled water on his face. The committee had released another statement on Tuesday affirming that IPS has carried out “inspection raids every day using police dogs, and they spill water on prisoners instead of giving them water to drink."

Hamayil told Nasasra that IPS has provided one bottle of water for every six prisoners and has refused to provide them salt; the hunger-striking prisoners are relying on the consumption of water and salt to stabilize their faltering conditions. Earlier reports stated that IPS was also raiding the cells of hunger strikers in order to confiscate salt used by the prisoners.

IPS’ refusal to provide sufficient water has forced many hunger strikers to drink from the prison’s warm tap, which has become more difficult as their health conditions weaken each day, with some losing their ability to stand up.

Several Palestinians across Israeli prisons have also stopped drinking water for hours, as the journey to the toilet has become too difficult in the hunger strikers’ weak state.

Hamayil emphasized the deteriorating health conditions of several of the hunger strikers in Nafha, some of whom have begun vomiting blood, according to Hamayil. A statement by the committee earlier on Tuesday said that the prisoners have started to fall due to waves of dizziness, severe pains, and weight loss.

Abu al-Rub and Hamayil both added that they were being held in “dirty cells” and have been forced to wear the same pair of clothes since the start of the hunger strike.

Abu al-Rub and Hamayil went on to praise Palestinians for supporting the hunger-striking prisoners.

IPS has also reportedly transferred dozens of hunger-striking prisoners from Israel’s al-Ramla prison to a field hospital established specifically for the hunger strikers. On Tuesday, there were also reports of a group of hunger strikers from Israel’s Nafha prison also being transferred to an Israeli field hospital.

Meanwhile, the head of the prisoners' committee Issa Qaraqe said in a statement that IPS has transferred 13 hunger strikers from Israel's Petah Tikva prison to the Negev and Hadarim prisons on Wednesday. Transferring prisoners between Israeli prisons while placing others in solitary confinement has been a common tactic used by IPS to attempt to isolate hunger-striking prisoners from each other and break the strike.

A statement released by prisoners’ rights group Addameer noted that one of the group’s lawyers, Farah Bayadsi, was able to visit hunger striker Ghassan Zawahra in Israel’s Ofer prison, who echoed the experiences of hundreds of Palestinians across Israeli prisons.

According to Zawahra, Israeli special unit forces have routinely raided the cells of hunger strikers and confiscated their personal belongings, while only one blanket and one pair of clothing -- in addition to the prison uniform -- has been provided by IPS since the start of the strike.

IPS has also prohibited the hunger strikers from washing their clothes or undergarments, which prompted the hunger-striking prisoners to boycott medical examinations, according to Addameer’s statement.

Zawahra added that at least four prisoners in Ofer prison have been transferred to hospitals owing to their failing health. Addameer pointed out that these transfers between Israeli prisons or from prisons to hospitals have exacerbated the weak health conditions of the hunger strikers, as the transfer process is a taxing and lengthy journey.

Ending arbitrary prison transfers is also a focus of one of the demands of the hunger strikers -- who experienced difficulties during transfers even without being on hunger strike.

Later on Wednesday, the media committee of the hunger strike reported that IPS had prevented hunger-striking prisoners held in solitary confinement in Nitzan from being exposed to sunlight, banning them from accessing the prison yard and covering up windows in their cells.

Palestinian Prisoner's Society (PPS) lawyer Arwa Ikhlayyil also passed on testimonies from prisoners Hussam Shahin and Abd al-Basit Shawabka, who said that IPS forces in Nitzan were providing hunger-strikers with salt when they were taken to the clinics, but confiscated it once they were back in their cells.

Shahin and Shawabka added that after numerous demands, IPS had provided one lone nail clipper to be used by 70 prisoners.

Israel's continued refusal to permit lawyer visits

While lawyers this week were able to visit hunger-striking prisoners in Ktziot, Nafha, and Nitzan prison for the first time since the strike's beginning, according to Addameer, most lawyer visits for Palestinian hunger strikers have continued to be denied, particularly for prominent hunger strikers like Ahmad Saadat, Ahed Abu Ghalma, and Marwan Barghouthi.

However, Israeli outlet Ynet reported on Wednesday that IPS had responded to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)'s request to visit Barghouthi, who has been held in solitary confinement since the start of the strike, and that ICRC representatives would schedule a visitation time in the coming days.

Ynet added that IPS had said that it had no reason to prevent the ICRC from visiting Barghouthi in order to check up on his condition while being held in solitary in Israel's Kishon prison.

Later on Wednesday, the media committee of the hunger strike told Faris Qaddura from PPS that the ICRC had confirmed a visit with Barghouthi on Thursday, which would mark the first time any outsiders have been permitted to visit the imprisoned leader since the start of the strike more than three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Handala Center for Prisoners and Former Prisoners confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that imprisoned Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Ahmad Saadat, who is also being held in solitary confinement in Israel's Ashkelon prison, was still banned from receiving visits.

Sources told the center that Israel has been postponing its response to several lawyer requests to visit the prominent hunger striker since last Thursday and denied a request by Bayadsi, the Addameer lawyer, to visit both Saadat and Abu Ghalma.

The center underscored that banning visitations for Saadat was meant to hide the conditions of his detention in solitary, while Israeli authorities can more easily ignore his health condition during the strike. The center added that the decision to deny visitations to Saadat and other hunger strikers was an attempt to exert pressure on the leadership of the hunger strike, and isolate them from the movement.

Israel's campaign against Marwan Barghouthi

Meanwhile, Israel’s concerted attempt to turn Palestinian hunger strikers against the movement's leader Marwan Barghouthi has continued to escalate.

The Palestine Prisoners’ Center for Studies was told by Palestinian prisoners in Negev prisons that several hunger-strikers were shown fabricated pictures of Barghouthi eating during their court proceedings during the previous two days.

According to the center, the prisoners were told by Israeli Shin Bet officers “Marwan lets you starve while he eats.”

On Sunday, IPS released a video purportedly showing Marwan Barghouthi eating in his cell during the hunger strike. However, a committee formed to support the Palestinian hunger strikers quickly denounced the footage, calling the video’s release part of an Israeli “war of lies” to discredit the prisoner movement.

After the footage was published, one Facebook commentator, Naela Khalil, quoted a passage from Barghouti’s online book about life in solitary confinement. Barghouti wrote that back in 2004, Israel also disseminated a photo of him eating during a hunger strike, in an attempt to show other prisoners that “the leader of the strike is eating, and you are starving.” The photos, he argued, were taken by surveillance cameras before the strike had begun.

Researcher and spokesperson for the Palestine Prisoners’ Center for Studies, Riyad al-Ashqar, said Wednesday that Israel was using all means to end the strike or at least weaken it in order to affect the demands of the prisoners.

Karim Yunis, the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner and a leader in the strike, issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the video of Barghouthi, according to Palestinian prisoner solidarity network Samidoun.

“We assure you that we continue the strike of freedom and dignity until victory. Either victory or martyrdom. There is no life without dignity,” the letter reportedly read.

Meanwhile, the international franchise Pizza Hut has been the focus of condemnation since posting a video on their page on Monday that used the Israeli footage of Barghouthi to sell their pizza.

The video showed images from the released footage and wrote in Hebrew: “Barghouthi, if you break the hunger strike, why not pizza?”

The company has since officially apologized for the video and has taken it down from their page, while Palestinians across the world vowed to boycott Pizza Hut in support of the hunger strikers.

Despite numerous attempts to break the will of the hunger strikers and discredit Barghouthi, Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel, and throughout the diaspora have continued to organize solidarity events in support of the hunger strikers, with this week being declared a “Week of Rage” by leaders of the strike.

The week-long action was called after reports emerged that Israeli authorities were exploring the idea of bringing foreign doctors into Israel to force feed the prisoners, as Israeli doctors have refused to take part in any force feeding owing to international medical ethics.

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, 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been detained by Israeli authorities at some point in their lives. Rights groups have long accused Israel of using routine imprisonment as a tool to erode family and political life in the Palestinian territory.

Addameer has reported that some 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of April.
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