Today, I received a message from Palestinian political prisoners held in Gilboa jail in Israel, calling for action in support of the hunger strike undertaken by their fellow detainee Maher Younis.
Younis has spent 31 years in Israeli jails. With his hunger strike, he is sending a message to the Palestinian leadership that he was neglected for many years. He remains in prison because he has been excluded from all prisoner exchange deals since 1985, under the pretext that he was a Palestinian from inside Israel, Fuad al-Khafsh, director of the prisoner studies group Ahrar, has told the website Palestine Information Center. Al-Khafsh said that prisoners in Gilboa were conducting protests against an escalation in Israel’s repressive measures.
Call for action
The prisoners in Gilboa have sent me the following statement:
Maher Younis is a Palestinian political prisoner (PPP). On 25 February 2013, he began an open hunger strike. Maher Younis submitted a letter of announcement to the Gilboa prison authorities. He declared that he took a free decision to begin an individual hunger strike in order to protect his human dignity and basic rights of freedom.
Maher also alerted [the prison authorities] that he suffers from permanent blood pressure and that any health complications would be the absolute responsibility of the prison authorities. Maher decided to reject getting medical treatment from the prison clinic, which he doesn’t trust. Maher claimed that the medical staff of prisons are part of the oppression system. He also blamed the state of Israel’s political, legal and security systems for playing a complementary role of oppression, humilitation [and denial] of basic rights, and PPPs’ human dignity. The Israeli legal system is race-oriented. It is an aggressive, colonial and racist system, he said.
Maher Younis demands his immediate release. PPPs in Gilboa jail, and [Palestinian prisoners] in general, as well as the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], the ministry of prisoners affairs of the Palestinian Authority and the high follow-up committee of the Palestinian community in Israel, are all supporting Maher Younis’ strike, sharing responsibility and the struggle for freedom with him as well as with PPPs.
Maher’s message to Palestinian [Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas is to take advantage of Obama’s forthcoming coming visit (20-22 March) and to highlight the priority of freedom for PPPs and to ensure their release as a precondition to any talks with Israel.
Maher Younis requests that the PPP cause be considered a unified cause. He also asks that priority be given to the release of the most veteran PPPs (106 PPPs), who were imprisoned before the Oslo accords (1993), including PPPs who are Palestinian citizens of Israel. “We are not an internal Israeli matter,’’ he declared.
On the morning of 25 February, Younis was ordered by the prison authorities to leave department five of Gilboa. He was taken to an isolation cell and continues to be held in solitary confinement.
The prisoners held in Gilboa have provided this information about Younis’ background:
- Maher Younis is 55 years old. He is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. He has already spent thirty years in jail, out of a life sentence, issued by a military court.
- In 1982, as a young Palestinian from Aara village, Maher joined the Palestinian national liberation movement (Fatah) in order to take part in the struggle for justice and for Palestinian rights, to confront injustice, occupation and racism. In several Israeli-Palestinian “prisoners exchange’’ deals, Israel has mostly refused to release political prisoners who are citizens of Israel (from Palestine ‘48 and Jerusalem). Israel falsely claims that they are an internal Israeli matter.
- Israel has committed itself to both Palestinian Authority President Abbas, as well as to Hamas — through the 2011 prisoners exchange deal — to release the most veteran Palestinian political prisoners. In 2012 Israel “mitigated” Maher’s life sentence to 45 years. This was the oppressors’ way to avoid honoring the aforementioned commitment.
What you can do, as requested by prisoners at Gilboa:
- Help to expose Maher Younis’ case as a part of awareness-building campaign.
- Send letters to the Israeli prime minister, minister of internal security, with a copy to the Palestinian Authority presidency and request the immediate release of Maher Younis and his fellow political prisoners
- Send letters of protest to the Israeli embassy in your country
- Send letters to UNCHR (the UN’s refugee agency) and demand that fact-finding missions be sent to examine the Palestinian political prisoners’ cause
- Join solidarity and BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns and acts of solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners.
Letters of support for Maher should be sent through his brother Nader:
Nader Abed-Elatif Younis
Aara village 30026
After I published my post, Maher Younis announced he has ended his hunger strike following appeals by the Palestinian Authority ministry of prisoners’ affairs and the Palestinian prisoners’ society. The ministry promised that the Palestinian leadership would prioritize the issue of oldest serving prisoners. Younis called of his hunger strike after he was sure that his message reached all levels concerned with the issue of prisoners, according to a report by Palestine Information Center.
Meanwhile, it is important to act upon the call of the Palestinian prisoners until all Palestinian political prisoners are released.
Transfer as act of repression
Recently, I also received a message about how Israel is using the transfer of prisoners — either from one jail to another or from one wing of a prison to another — as a means of inflicting cruelty. On 10 February, a prisoner wrote me about his forceful transfer from department two to department five in Gilboa. This prisoner has already been behind bars for ten years. He stated:
The transfer was accompanied by a lot of searching in our bodies. We faced a big mess and it took us more than a week to rearrange ourselves.
The prison authority carries out several transfers between prisons to disturb their [the prisoners’] stability and to put them under continuous pressure.
There are many prisons but the injustice is the same, moving a prisoner from one jail to another involves making him spending 12 hours sitting on an iron chair, with cuffs around his hands and feet. Sometimes it lasts for 38 hours.