Palestinian activists protest in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners outside Israel’s Ramleh prison in May 2012.(Dylan Collins)
Israel is employing “punitive measures” against six Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike, according to a statement published by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), a Geneva-based human rights network.
Four of the men are being held in administrative detention, a draconian practice that allows the Israeli occupation authorities to detain Palestinians without charges on “secret evidence.” Akram Fasisi, Waheed Abu Maria and Muammar Banat have been on hunger strike since 9 January and Ameer Shammas started on 11 January.
According to Israeli Military Order 1651, Palestinians can be detained in administrative detention for up to six months without charges. In practice, however, military courts regularly rubber-stamp requests to renew the orders, effectively enabling Israel to detain Palestinians indefinitely without ever charging them.
The other two hunger strikers, who were both arrested in 2002, are long-term prisoners: Husam Omar is serving thirty years, and Musa Sufain was dealt a life-sentence. Both launched their strikes on 24 January to protest the Israel Prison Services’ excessive use of solitary confinement.
OMTC expressed concern that Israeli authorities are punishing the strikers and “urge[d] the authorities to put an end to these practices.”
Before being hospitalized, Akram Fasisi and Muammar Banat were subjected to “punitive measures,” including having “been denied recreational hours in the yard, family visits, the ability to purchase basic supplies and goods from the prison canteen.” They have both also “been subject to frequent night raids and searches,” according to a press release issued last month by Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoner advocacy group.
The group added that the two men had been held in solitary confinement since 20 September 2013, when they were placed in small cells under 24-hour surveillance.
Husam Omar and Musa Suifan have “also reported horrific treatment since the start of their strikes,” Addameer noted. Although both have been imprisoned for over a decade, they were interrogated for fifty consecutive days starting on 17 June 2013. Both were subsequently issued new charges.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is considering legislation that will allow authorities to force-feed hunger strikers. Noting that the bill was proposed by Israel’s justice ministry and endorsed by various security and intelligence agencies, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, a human rights group, declared in a July 2013 statement that it is “clearly designed to subdue prisoners.”
“This proposed bill is a reflection of the desperate situation Israel now finds itself in and it seems that force-feeding is the only way Israel can deal with the ongoing hunger strikes,” Addameer representative Gavan Kelly told The Electronic Intifada back in August 2013.
Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups regularly describe Israeli prisons as rampant with human rights abuses.
“I am appalled by the continuing human rights violations in Israeli prisons and I urge the government of Israel to respect its international human rights obligations towards all Palestinian prisoners,” Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied West Bank and Gaza, said in May 2012.
Yet in recent years Palestinian political prisoners have launched several successful individual and collective hunger strikes that resulted in their release or forced Israel to meet their demands.
In December 2013, Samer Issawi was released to his Jerusalem-area village. As part of an agreement that guaranteed his release, Issawi ended a 266-day hunger strike eight months prior.
Despite the growing resistance inside Israel’s prisons and the expansion of the Palestine solidarity movement across the globe, occupation forces continue to detain and arrest Palestinians across present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank on a daily basis.
According to Addameer’s latest statistics, there are now 5,023 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli lockup. From that total, 155 are administrative detainees, and another 154 are children. The UN estimates that some 750,000 Palestinians — including 23,000 women and 25,000 children — have been imprisoned by Israel since 1967.