Recently, I interviewed a young Palestinian woman from Israel, Sawsan Khalife’, about her political activism. Yesterday, Sawsan sent me an appeal that stated:
A group of Palestinian youth from within the Palestinian occupied territories 1948, from all factions and political groups, have declared an open-ended hunger strike and sit-ins in Haifa in solidarity with the demands of the Palestinian captive movement and with the fierce struggle against the occupation and its prisons. The aim of this step is to declare full support for the demands of the captive movement. The most important among those demands is complete freedom from captivity. In addition, we wish to raise awareness and recruit public and institutional support both for the prisoners and their suffering and to prepare the ground for a genuine popular protest against the prisons of the occupation.
It is necessary to stress that we consider all the national factions and parties as partners in this struggle, and all are requested to contribute, support, and participate in the revival of the activities and initiatives.
Contact with a hunger striker in the Haifa movement
To learn more about the motives of the Palestinian youth participating in the hunger strike in the German Colony in Haifa, I contacted the group. Lana Haskeyeh, a 26 year old Palestinian woman from Haifa, and one of the ten people on the hunger strike had this to say:
My friends are all political activists. When the Palestinian political prisoners started their hunger strike on 27 September, we talked about what we could do. What the prisoners are doing is our struggle, too! We want everyone inside the prisons to know that we support them and their demands. Their situation is getting worse. Israel is taking revenge on Palestinian political prisoners because of Gilad Shalit. We are on hunger strike because we, the Palestinian nation, are hungry for freedom.
Lana told me that there are many activities in support of the prisoners from Gaza, the West Bank and in 1948 [Israel]. She said:
We have learned that Palestinian refugees in Syria will start a hunger strike on Wednesday. With the hunger strike we are working across the walls. We did not agree with the UN bid for Palestinian statehood at a time the Palestinian nation was not united. The case of the political prisoners will take us back to our roots and unite us.
Actions spreading in prisons
Palestinian prisoners in Gilboa prison, including Ameer Makhoul, have been participating in the strike three days a week. If the demands of the prisoners are not accepted by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the prisoners are considering a total hunger strike. I received information from a prisoner that the IPS has been punishing prisoners participating in the strike in several ways, including isolation, refusing salt water to those on strike, and canceling visits by family and lawyers. This week, demonstrations will be held outside the prison.
Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association confirms that the hunger strike and civil disobedience is gaining momentum in an update of 6 October in the following bulletin:
The majority of the 400 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) members who are in prison, along with most of the prisoners held in southern Israel, have now joined the movement and are either on an open-ended hunger strike or on hunger strike 3 days a week and participating in other acts of civil disobedience.
In response, the Israeli prison authorities have been transferring hunger strikers to different prisons, and putting them in isolation. Hunger strikers have also been denied salt water, their only source of nourishment. At Ofer prison, 12 hunger strikers have been placed in 2 isolation cells that are only meant to hold 4 people in each. They have been beaten and forced to walk around the prison compound in the middle of the night in order to exhaust them. At Ashkelon prison, two cells from one of the sections housing long-term prisoners were raided and non-lethal weapons used on the hunger strikers, including Akram Mansour, who has been in prison since 1979 and is suffering from a benign brain tumor.
A lawyer from Addameer was able to visit Ahmad Sa’adat – Secretary General of the PFLP and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council - and Jamal Abu Hija. Both are being detained in Nafha prison and have been held in long term isolation since 2009 and 2004, respectively. According to the lawyer, Sa’adat and Hija reported that:
They have lost 5 kilograms since the hunger strike and are now being denied cigarettes and salt. All electronic items have also been confiscated from their cell, and all they have left are two mattresses and blankets, without pillows. The prison authorities have fined Ahmad Sa’adat 228 shekels as punishment for his hunger strike and extended the ban on visits from his family which have been forbidden ever since he was in isolation.
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In an open letter, the Palestinian Council of Human Rights organizations called on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to remind Israel of its duties towards Palestinian political prisoners. The Council clarified that the conditions under which Palestinian prisoners are being held are further deteriorating and have been ever since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced “a change in policy aimed at collectively punishing Palestinian prisoners for the continued incarceration of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.” Since then, the IPS has canceled all prisoner access to university education, newspapers and books from outside the prison. In addition, the number of TV channels available to prisoners has been limited to three Arabic-language channels. Prisoners’ hands and legs are shackled before and after all visits. In some prisons, family visits have been shortened from 45 to 30 minutes, and detained parents are no longer allowed physical contact with their children. Since June 2007, Israel has refused any family visits to prisoners from the Gaza Strip. The IPS increasingly uses the punishment of isolation for so-called “security” reasons. After Netanyahu’s speech, the number of prisoners held in isolation increased from 12 to 20. The IPS has also intensified the frequency of night raids and cell searches, including individual strip searches.
The human rights organizations emphasize in their letter that:
Tthe measures adopted by the IPS at the Israeli government’s behest constitute a clear form of collective punishment, which is prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention law. As such, we ask that you use all tools at your disposal to pressure the Israeli authorities to meet the rightful demands of the prisoners and ensure that until all Palestinian political prisoners are released, they are afforded the treatment they are entitled to under international law. Israel should be reminded that it is bound to respect the Geneva Conventions in the oPt [occupied Palestinian territories], including with regard to the treatment of prisoners and detainees.”
International support needed
When I spoke with Lana on hunger strike in Haifa, I asked her if international solidarity activists could help. She replied:
I believe it is the job of activists for human rights and equality for all human beings to support the Palestinian people who have been waiting 63 years for their rights. Human rights activists should do what they can to increase the pressure on their governments to push Israel to end their cruel and inhumane treatment of Palestinian political prisoners.
Addameer called on international activists to take action in solidarity with the hunger strikers. It included the suggestion to organize protests, silent vigils or similar public action outside the Israeli embassy and highlight the demands of the political prisoners. Activists can also call on their embassies to intervene with the Israeli authorities.