Palestinians shut down UN building in Ramallah to protest inaction over hunger strikers

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Prisoners’ family members block the main entrance

(Asa Winstanley / Electronic Intifada)

At 7.30 this morning a small group of Palestinian prisoner solidarity activists in Ramallah swooped down on the United Nations compound in Ramallah.

They blocked the main gate and doorway, preventing entrance to the UN building. UN employees have been turned away, sent home for the day.

I went along a fews hours later. The protest was still in full swing and in fact growing. Activists told me they intend to stay until the end of the working day at 5pm. Family members of prisoners took part in with the action, with more joining as the day went on.

They are protesting against the UN’s lack of action for the 2000+ Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike in Israeli jails. The prisoners are demanding improved conditions, including a resumption of family visits and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention (internment without trial).

Palestinian Authority police were brought to the area, but at the time this blog entry was posted, they had not been able to prevent the shutdown of the building.

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Protesters sat down to block the main gate

(Asa Winstanley / Electronic Intifada)

Protester (and fellow Electronic Intifada writer) Linah al-Saafin told me it was “A message to the UN to take immediate action” for the prisoners on hunger strike.

“The UN as an international human rights body has not said one word for the hunger strikers whose lives are in very very critical danger… it should have spoken up… against the Israeli policy of administrative detention”.

Linah criticized UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon for his inaction over the hunger strikers in comparison to the Israeli soldier who was captured by Palestinian fighters in Gaza in 2006: “you see where the bias is very clear, because Ban Ki Moon visited Gilad Shalit’s parents on more than one occasion, and during his last visit to Gaza he refused to meet with the families of the prisoners there.”

“This just puts into light that the UN is complicit in the crimes that Israel is committing against the Palestinian people on a daily basis.”

The protesters also sent a letter to Ban Ki Moon, calling on him to take immediate action, which you can read on Ahmed Nimer’s blog.

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A message to the UN

(Asa Winstanley / Electronic Intifada)

Linah said that they surprised the PA, who did not expect the protest to be as big as it was. While there was “some pushing and shoving” and some threats at first, the activists sat down in front of the main gate, blocking the entrance.

“We had a mother of a prisoner with us who started yelling at the police and against the PA,” said Linah. “She said she wants her son back, in effect that kind of tied [the police’s] hands behind their backs”.

The action is part of a growing Palestinian movement in solidarity with the prisoners and their hunger strike. Here in Ramallah, there seems to be a new demonstration for the prisoners every day, and solidarity tents have been set up in several locations in Ramallah alone.

There were reports on twitter that similar actions had taken place in Jordan and Geneva:

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https://twitter.com/#!/LinahAlsaafin/status/200147505084768256

In addition, Anonymous, the loose hacker activist collective claimed it had taken down the main UN website, un.org (although it seems to be back up soon after):

Embedded rich on Twitter

Some 2000-2500 of Israel’s 4,600 Palestinian political prisoners are currently on hunger strike, according to an estimate by Addameer, the respected Palestinian prisoners’ organization. The majority have been on hunger strike since 17 April (Palestinian Prisoners’ Day), with a hard core refusing all food for much longer.

The lives of prisoners Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh are in serious danger as they have been on hunger strike for 71 days. Several other prisoners have also been on hunger strike for weeks and have been transferred to a prison hospital, in Ramleh, in Palestine ‘48.

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“Take action now”

(Asa Winstanley / Electronic Intifada)

Chanting for the prisoners outside the closed UN building in Ramallah