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'Death is the only thing that will stop this': Prisoners enter 33rd day of hunger strike

May 19, 2017 6:05 P.M. (Updated: May 22, 2017 12:34 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) -- Palestinians have continued to be transferred between Israeli prisons and to prison field clinics as the health conditions of some 1,300 hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners have continued to deteriorate as they entered the 33rd day of the mass strike on Friday, while clashes have erupted with Israeli forces across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of the hunger strikers.

The media committee formed to support the hunger strike reported that Israel Prison Service (IPS) has continued transferring Palestinian hunger strikers between Israeli prisons, with many hunger strikers being transferred from prisons located in southern Israel to the north.

All hunger-striking prisoners in Israel’s Nafha prison, where 400 hunger strikers are being held -- the largest group of hunger strikers among the prisons, were transferred to Hadarim prison, and from Shatta to Gilboa prison, the committee said.

Earlier reports from the committee had stated that all the prisoners participating in the mass hunger strike were previously transferred to Israel’s Beersheba prison in southern Israel, Shatta prison in northern Israel, and Ramla prison in central Israel, reportedly owing to their location near prison field hospitals -- sites which many fear will be used to force feed the hunger strikers en masse.

However, an IPS spokesperson said at the time that the transfer to Beersheba from Nafha and Ktziot prison was due to the prison’s location to central Israel in case prisoners had to be transferred to an Israeli hospital.

According to the committee, tens more Palestinian hunger strikers have been transferred to the prison field clinics, joining scores of other hunger strikers whose health conditions have deteriorated. The committee confirmed that imprisoned Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader Ahmad Saadat and PFLP-affiliated journalist Muhammad al-Qiq have also been transferred to prison field clinics.

The committee stated on Thursday that Israeli doctors at the field clinics have reportedly offered medical care to the prisoners only in exchange for them ending their hunger strikes -- an offer the prisoners have continued to refuse.

A lawyer from the committee visited Israel’s Ashkelon prison where he said the health conditions of the hunger-striking prisoners were worsening “day by day,” and many have lost more than 20 kg of weight.

The lawyer also noted that many sick Palestinian prisoners have continued their hunger strikes despite their vulnerable conditions, including Othman Abi-Kharj, Yaser Abu Turki, and Ibrahim Abu Mustafa, whom are held in Ashkelon prison.

In a separate statement on Friday, the committee reported that the committee’s lawyer Mutaz Shqirat was able to visit hunger striker Mansour Shrem on Thursday evening. Shrem has been held in solitary confinement in Israel’s Petah Tikva prison.

Shqirat said that IPS officials have treated lawyers visiting the hunger strikers in a “humiliating manner,” and have imposed numerous procedures on the lawyers while only allowing them to meet with the prisoners for a short time. Shqirat confirmed that he was only able to meet with Shrem for a few minutes after going through numerous procedures before the meeting.

Shqirat said that Shrem had lost 18 kilos of his weight and has been suffering from continuous exhaustion and has had difficulty moving. Shrem also told Shqirat that Israeli doctors are rarely present at the prison field clinics, despite the serious health conditions of the hunger strikers.

Shqirat also noted that there are currently 80 Palestinians on hunger strike being held in solitary confinement in Petah Tikva prison.

The committee reiterated that “many detainees” have announced that they have stopped drinking water owing to Israel’s refusal to negotiate with the prisoners, adding that the strike has “entered a critical stage.”

According to the committee, Palestinian hunger strikers have underscored to lawyers that “death is the only thing that can stop this strike.”

On Monday, reports emerged in Israeli media that Palestinian security officials and officials of Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, were attempting to reach an agreement that would end the hunger strike.

However, hunger-striking prisoners such as Karim Yunis, the longest serving Palestinian prisoner, and Samer Issawi, who previously carried out one of the longest hunger strikes in history, have insisted that any legitimate negotiations must include leaders of the strike, particularly imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, and rejected reported attempts by Israeli intelligence as “false and futile negotiations aimed at breaking the hunger strike in exchange for empty promises.”

Meanwhile, clashes erupted with Israeli forces across the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip on Friday during demonstrations organized in support of the hunger strike, as Israeli forces detained and injured several Palestinians, some of whom were wounded with live ammunition.

The clashes came a day following a deadly shooting near the Nablus-area village of Huwwara when an Israeli settler shot a 23-year-old Palestinian in the head, killing him, during a hunger strike solidarity march.

On Thursday, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov released a statement noting that he was following the hunger strike with "great concern."

"The strike is now entering its second month and it is imperative that a resolution be found as soon as possible in line with International Humanitarian Law and Israel's human rights obligations," the statement read.

He added that an "immediate resolution to the matter" must be reached and should be in the "interest of peace and ongoing initiatives to revive a political process."

Hunger-striking 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.
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