Twelve Palestinian and Jordanian detainees are staging a hunger strike in Israeli prisons. The strikers are all that remains of a larger group that included at least 23 prisoners in early July.
Administrative detainee Ayman Hamdan, who has gone the longest without food, has refused food for over three months in protest of his detention without trial or charge.
The remaining 11 prisoners’ respective strikes ranged between 30 and 90 days.
The five Jordanian prisoners must be “first to be released from Israeli prisons so that they can serve their sentences in Jordanian prisons according to the Wadi Araba agreement between Jordan and Israel,” lawyer Faris Ziyad told Mondoweiss earlier this month.
Israeli Prison Services is regularly accused by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups of inhumane treatment of prisoners.
In response to the hunger strikes, Israel has sought to punish the detainees, according a recent press release by Addameer Prisoner Support Network.
Gavan Kelly, a representative of Addameer, told Mint Press News that “Israel uses many tactics in an attempt to break the strikes.”
According to human rights groups, these tactics include using excessive solitary confinement, withholding medication, blocking prisoners’ access to lawyers, limiting family visits, and physically assaulting them while they are handcuffed to their beds, to name a few. In addition to this list, Kelly said, soldiers cook and eat in front of fasting prisoners.
One of the hunger strikers, Alaa Hamad, told Addameer that he was “threatened [by IPS] to be force-fed if he does not end his strike.”
Hamza Othman, another detainee, has reportedly lost about 57 pounds throughout the course of his strike, which recently passed the 80-day mark. As punishment, he alleges that “he was banned from using the restroom for 12 hours” and placed in “inhumane conditions in … various isolation cells.”
Munir Mar’ee, who is nearing 90 days without food, reports that he has been “held in small isolation cells and denied basic necessities for hygiene,” as well as being “verbally abused by [a prison clinic] physician.”
According to Addameer, Mohammed Tabeesh, whose fast has lasted just under 70 days, was “assaulted and treated violently by IPS upon announcing his hunger strike.”
Israel is pressuring the detainees to end their strikes in exchange for release and transfer to the Gaza Strip, Kelly told Mint Press News. This practice has been used with prisoners in the past.
“It is a forcible transfer and therefore illegal under international law. Basically they are being sent from one to prison to another, Gaza,” Kelly said, referring to the air-tight blockade on the coastal enclave.
“The most worrying recent development is a proposed bill [in the Israeli parliament] that will allow Israel to reintroduce force-feeding of Palestinian political prisoners,” Kelly said, adding that this “will have serious consequences for the prisoners [and] amounts to torture.”
Force-feeding has been roundly condemned by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
In response to criticism from groups like Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, IPS said that such groups do not “have the resources to conduct an objective assessment of medical practices in prisons and added that the medical treatment given to prisoners is both professional and responsible,” Times of Israel reported in April.
Turning ‘the exception into the norm’
There are currently 4,979 Palestinians in Israeli lockup. A total of 238 are children, 44 of whom are under 16 years old. Another 156 are administrative detainees held on “secret evidence” without charge or trial.
Four of the present strikers are administrative detainees, and an additional four are serving a life sentence or greater.
Abdullah al-Barghouthi, a dual Palestinian-Jordanian citizen, is serving 67 life terms, Addameer told Mint Press News. After being arrested by Israel’s Shin Bet in 2003, he was accused of being a Hamas engineer and convicted for the murder of 66 Israelis. His sentence is the longest Israel has ever given.
The Israeli military defends its use of administrative detention as a necessary security measure for allegedly dangerous “security prisoners.”
Though administrative detention is permissible under the fourth article of the Geneva Conventions, it is intended to be used scarcely and only in extreme situations.
“Israel’s regular use of administrative detention, at the least, inverts international law and turns the exception into the norm, at the cost of the fundamental right to due process,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said in a February statement.
In violation of the Geneva Conventions, which forbids an occupying power from removing detainees from the occupied territory, Israel frequently imprisons Palestinians from the West Bank inside Israel. In practice, this means that the families and lawyers of these detainees are rarely, if ever, are able to visit them.
All 12 of the current strikers are being held inside Israel, requiring their relatives to apply for entrance permits—scarcely granted—in order to visit them.
Prisoners ‘forced into a corner’
For many prisoners, hunger striking is the only chance to get the Israeli government to ease the harsh conditions of confinement or, in some cases, to release them.
“They see hunger strikes as an effective way to … place pressure on Israel in the international theater,” Ehab el-Shafie, a 21-year-old resident of al-Am’ari refugee camp near Ramallah, told Mint Press News.
He said this happens “contrary to the fruitless negotiations that make Israel seem peaceful and willing to take good initiatives. The Palestinian Authority seems uninterested in these [prisoners].”
Echoing el-Shafie, Addameer’s Kelly said the strikers’ “sacrifices are the sole reason the issue of prisoners has been so high on the agenda.”
By gaining international attention, hunger striking has helped cultivate global solidarity. When Khader Adnan pushed himself to the brink of death by refusing food for 66 days in early 2012, international organizations and activists across the globe pressured Israel until the former administrative detainee was released to his village in the occupied West Bank.
Inspired by Adnan and other successful strikers, including 44-day striker Hana Shalabi, a number of mass hunger strikes ensued. In April 2012, over 2,000 prisoners launched a mass strike that forced Israel to concede to several specific demands to improve detainees’ living conditions.
Samer Issawi, a prisoner who was re-arrested after being released in the October 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap, went over 270 days without food before Israel finally agreed to release him to his hometown of Jerusalem.
Addameer’s Kelly said that Israel has reneged on four of five the elements it agreed to in exchange for an end the mass strike in 2012. However, he added, “it is very unlikely Israel will meet the prisoners’ demands.”
“By reneging on its agreements, Israel continues to force the prisoners into a corner, and they therefore have no choice but to escalate their strikes,” Kelly concluded. “One thing is for sure: the hunger strikes will continue.”