Israel subjects Bilal Diab to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on 77th day of hunger strike

Palestinian protesters outside the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during a protest in Gaza City, to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners, May 13, 2012. APA images

Palestinian prisoner Bilal Diab is suffering frequent loss of consciousness and is close to death on his 77th day of hunger strike against his imprisonment without charge or trial by Israel.

Despite this, Israel continues to subject him to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, blackmail and other unethical medical practices and to deny him proper care, according to his own account provided in statement from Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer.

Diab is one of several long-term hunger strikers who are at immediate risk of death according to Addameer. Diab, along with Thaer Halahleh, are the longest strikers. Addameer’s lawyer was permitted to visit Diab, and prisoners Hassan Safadi and Omar Abu Shalal at Ramle Prison today.

About 2,000 Palestinian prisoners are estimated to have begun hunger strikes for basic rights on 17 April.

Shackled despite dire medical situation

According to Addameer:

Bilal is currently experiencing frequent loss of consciousness and very low oxygen, hemoglobin and blood sugar levels. He is also suffering from hair loss, pain in his joints, and blood in his stool. After losing consciousness yesterday, Bilal was transferred to Assaf Harofeh hospital. However, during his transfer and while in the hospital, Bilal reported being shackled by all of his limbs and subjected to additional ill-treatment. He considered this a breach of medical ethics and therefore refused any treatment at the hospital. He requested to be transferred to a different hospital under humane conditions and was then sent back to Ramleh prison.

Grave breaches of medical ethics

Diab told Addameer’s lawyer that Israel was blackmailing him with family contact in order to compel him to take glucose and a vitamin pill, a direct breach of World Medical Association (WMA) guidelines on the treatment of hunger strikers. Addameer said:

In an attempt to further exert pressure upon Bilal, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) yesterday used communication with his family as a bargaining chip to compel him to accept treatment. After agreeing to take glucose yesterday and today, in addition to one vitamin pill today, the IPS allowed him to make a phone call to his family last night, for seven minutes only. He has been denied all family visits up to this point in his hunger strike.

The WMA Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers states that:

Physicians or other health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on the hunger striker to suspend the strike. Treatment or care of the hunger striker must not be conditional upon suspension of the hunger strike.

Such pressure includes access to family, lawyers or care. Yet according to consistent reports, Israel and its prison medical personnel routinely breach this basic ethical code.

Reports of “deal” must be treated with caution

Numerous press reports have reported a “deal” in the making by Israel and mediated by Egypt to end the hunger strike.

For example, Reuters reported on such “negotiations” today:

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian prisoners considered an Egyptian-brokered deal on Monday aimed at ending a mass hunger strike that is challenging Israel’s policy of detention without trial.

Some 1,600 prisoners, a third of the 4,800 Palestinians in Israeli jails, began refusing food on April 17 in a protest that also included demands for more family visits and an end to solitary confinement.

Yet the “Palestinian officials” routinely cited in such reports include Azzam al-Ahmad, and other figures closely associated with the West Bank Palestinian Authority regime of Mahmoud Abbas which, The New York Times reported, is pleading with Israel to arm it to help suppress any possible uprising by Palestinians.

These reports present no evidence that these PA “officials” have any mandate to negotiate on behalf of all the prisoners or can enforce such a deal.

The Electronic Intifada reported in April that the Palestinian Authority has been trying its best to undermine the hunger strikes. Having been unable to do so, it may be trying to co-opt them and claim to be the prisoners’ champion instead.

In March, Hana al-Shalabi was apparently coerced under murky circumstances to accept banishment to Gaza in exchange for being released from detention, after a 43-day hunger strike.

Full Addameer statement

Urgent: Addameer Visits Bilal Diab, Hassan Safadi and Omar Abu Shalal in Ramleh Prison Medical Clinic Today   Ramallah, 14 May 2012 - Bilal Diab’s health continues to deteriorate dramatically, according to Addameer lawyer Mona Neddaf, who visited him and two other long-term hunger strikers in Ramleh prison medical clinic today. Along with fellow administrative detainee Thaer Halahleh, Bilal Diab is on his 77th day of hunger strike today. Both Bilal and Thaer have yet to be hospitalized in a public hospital, despite being at immediate risk of death.

Bilal is currently experiencing frequent loss of consciousness and very low oxygen, hemoglobin and blood sugar levels. He is also suffering from hair loss, pain in his joints, and blood in his stool. After losing consciousness yesterday, Bilal was transferred to Assaf Harofeh hospital. However, during his transfer and while in the hospital, Bilal reported being shackled by all of his limbs and subjected to additional ill-treatment. He considered this a breach of medical ethics and therefore refused any treatment at the hospital. He requested to be transferred to a different hospital under humane conditions and was then sent back to Ramleh prison. A similar incident also occurred last Friday, 11 May, when he was transferred to Assaf Harofeh and refused to accept treatment there due to his mistrust in the doctors as a result of how he has been treated throughout his hunger strike.

In an attempt to further exert pressure upon Bilal, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) yesterday used communication with his family as a bargaining chip to compel him to accept treatment. After agreeing to take glucose yesterday and today, in addition to one vitamin pill today, the IPS allowed him to make a phone call to his family last night, for seven minutes only. He has been denied all family visits up to this point in his hunger strike. Bilal further reported to Ms. Neddaf that he had refused to meet with the IPS medical ethics committee last week when they attempted to pressure him to take vitamins and other minerals.

Ms. Neddaf was also able to visit Hassan Safadi, currently on his 71st day of hunger strike, and Omar Abu Shalal, currently on his 69th day of hunger strike, in Ramleh prison today. According to Ms. Neddaf, both are in critical condition. Hassan has very low blood sugar and received medication today for infections in his body. He is also taking vitamins to support his heart muscle. Omar also agreed to start taking minerals and salt two days ago. Both of them continue to demand their immediate release from administrative detention.

Nine additional prisoners on hunger strike have also been newly transferred to Ramleh prison medical clinic. Today is the 28th day of Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike.

Addameer renews its demand for the immediate transfer to independent hospitals for all hunger striking prisoners whose medical conditions are deteriorating. Addameer holds the Occupation responsible for the lives of all prisoners on hunger strike and urges the international community to continue exerting pressure on Israel in the strongest manner possible to save their lives.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.