Podcast: Hundreds protest outside Israeli jail in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners

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Palestinian protesters in Issawiya, East Jerusalem, hold flags and posters of Samer Issawi, who has been on partial hunger strike for nearly 200 days in an Israeli jail, 15 February. 

(Mahfouz Abu Turk / APA images)

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Rush transcript - Mourad Jadallah of Addameer

The Electronic Intifada: Let’s talk about the demonstrations in the West Bank on Friday — people are demanding the immediate release of hunger strikers Samer Issawi, Tareq Qaadan and Jaafar Azzidine. Tell us what happened at the demonstrations, and the attacks by the Israeli army on journalists and activists who were taking part.

Mourad Jadallah: At 10 o’clock this morning, today, more than 1,000 Palestinian students from Birzeit University and other youth movements participated in a big demonstration in front of Ofer prison to ask for the freedom of the prisoners who are doing the hunger strike: Samer Issawi, Ayman Sharawna, Tareq Qaadan and Jaafar Azzidine.

These demonstrations came after the call by Khader Adnan, the ex-prisoner who did a hunger strike for more than 66 [days] to challenge his administrative detention order. Khader Adnan is doing a hunger strike since 3 days in the building of the ICRC in Ramallah. And from there, he started to say that we should go to make a protest and to demonstrate in front of Ofer and to make it in front of the prison, and this is from where the idea came to do this big demonstration.

At the same time as this demonstration, other Palestinians did the same thing in al-Issawiya, which is a usual thing to protest and to demonstrate against the Israeli soldiers, to call for the freedom of Samer Issawi, who has been doing his hunger strike since the 20th of August, 2012. Samer Issawi is coming from this village, al-Issawiya, and on a daily basis there are demonstrations and protests to support his hunger strike.

The same thing in al-Jalameh [prison], where Jaafar Azzidine and Tareq Qaadan — they come from the north of the West Bank, and the first checkpoint for the people there is al-Jalameh prison and al-Jalameh checkpoint. And the Israeli soldiers, they shot the protesters and demonstrators with tear gas, water, and they injured more than 150 Palestinians, some of them with bullets — with real bullets …

EI: Live ammunition?

MJ: Yes. Some of them.

EI: What other weapons were the soldiers using against the protesters today?

MJ: The tear gas, and …

EI: Sound bombs? Sound grenades?

MJ: Yes, sound bombs, for sure. When they use tear gas, they use sound bombs.

EI: Mourad, what can you tell us about the health situation for Samer Issawi, who as you said has been refusing food for nearly 200 days, and also the situation for Tareq Qaadan, Jaafar Azzadine, and Ayman Sharawna, who are also refusing food in Israeli jails?

MJ: First off all, we have to remind the people that the four Palestinian prisoners who are doing the hunger strike, Samer Issawi and Ayman Sharawna, they had been released from Israeli jails during the exchange between the Palestinian factions and the State of Israel in October 2012. And according to this agreement, Israel has no right to arrest them again.

But what happened with Samer Issawi happened also to [other] Palestinian prisoners, based on the military order 1651, and to be more specific, based on the Article 186. This Article gives the Israeli authorities and the Israeli soldiers the right to re-arrest the Palestinian prisoners who were released during the exchange.

Samer Issawi got arrested in May, while Ayman Sharawna got arrested in January, 2012. So they started their hunger strike immediately after they got arrested, Samer Issawi started to refuse his meals in August, and since the 20th of August 2012 he refused to eat. And now he’s doing his hunger strike since more than 6 months.

We succeeded to visit him three days ago, now he’s 46 kilos, and today they took him to Assaf Harofeh hospital, which is a private hospital, a civilian hospital, and his situation is very critical. He could have at any moment a heart attack, or, to be more direct, he could pass away at any moment.

The same for Jaafar Azzedine and Tareq Qaadan. Ayman Sharawna, who started his hunger strike on the 1st of July, 2012, he did 140 days, and after that they told him they would look at his case and they would take him to the court, and it wasn’t true — so he stopped his hunger strike, and when he discovered that they were not telling the truth, and it was the election day in Israel, he restarted his hunger strike in the middle of January.

And Jaafar Azzedine and Tareq Qaadan, they are under administrative detention, and this is not the first time they were arrested [and put under] administrative detention — Jaafar himself did a hunger strike in 2012. His health, before getting arrested the last time, wasn’t so good, and now he’s been on hunger strike for more than 80 days. He took some [minerals] and some salts after 60 days from his hunger strike, but we have a big concern about his life. He’s weak, he can’t speak very well, they keep taking them from prison to prison, and sometimes they get assaulted and beaten by special forces. Even in the hospital of al-Ramleh prison.

EI: And Mourad, just to be clear, you mentioned that Khader Adnan, who was one of the first and longest-lasting hunger strikers during the mass hunger strike last year, you mentioned he was on hunger strike for 66 days. You said he has resumed his hunger strike inside the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC]?

MJ: Exactly. Khader Adnan was in prison under administrative detention, he did a hunger strike for 66 days last year, and 3 days ago he started a hunger strike inside the building of the ICRC in Ramallah. And two days after some activists and human rights defenders joined him, and our colleague Mohammed al-Azza who’s working with Addameer, he also joined the hunger strike, and another Palestinian lawyer Yasser Salah started a hunger strike, and the mother of Hassan Karajah, another human rights defender who was arrested recently by Israeli forces.

The idea behind this hunger strike inside the ICRC is to bring attention to the international community about this situation of the Palestinian prisoners. In reaction, the ICRC decided at a very high level, maybe from Geneva, they made a decision to close the office of the ICRC in Ramallah, which could be seen as a collective punishment for the families of the Palestinian prisoners, and to create some problems between the families of the prisoners and Khader Adnan and the other people who are doing the hunger strike.

Some [activists with a] youth movement released a press statement saying that this is not correct for the ICRC to close the office, because it is the first time that the ICRC has closed its office in Ramallah, while last year when Khader Adnan was on hunger strike, some ex-prisoners had done a hunger strike and they had been inside the office of the ICRC and no one asked them to leave the office, and the ICRC continued to do their work without any problem.

And we know also the story of the Palestinian PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] members who had been inside the ICRC building in Jerusalem and they were arrested by Israeli forces from the court of the ICRC. So this is not the first time that people have gone to the ICRC to do a hunger strike, to bring attention to the Palestinian prisoners and the way that they are threatened by the Israelis, and to support the hunger strike, but it [was a] surprise by the ICRC to close the office, the first time since 1967.