Palestinian anger grows at Red Cross silence on hunger strikers, killings and arrests

Palestinian children deliver messages to the ICRC in Gaza City, calling for intervention on behalf of hunger strikers, 18 June.

Ashraf Amra APA images

There is growing anger among Palestinians about the failure of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to take action on behalf of Palestinians held without charge or trial by Israel, especially those who have been on hunger strike for almost two months and whose health is in grave danger.

Yesterday The Electronic Intifada reported that the ICRC is refusing to call for the release of Palestinian children, many subjected to solitary confinement and other forms of torture.

The ICRC has called for the immediate and “unconditional release” of three Israeli settlers who disappeared in the occupied West Bank on 12 June. Israel says the settlers, two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old, were abducted by Hamas, but has provided no evidence whatsoever to support its claims.

Palestinian prisoners rights group Addameer said in a statement this week that it is “extremely concerned” by the ICRC’s “lack of intervention on behalf of over 125 Palestinian administrative detainees currently on their 55th day of open hunger strike in Israeli prisons.”

Women rally outside ICRC offices in Gaza City in support of 125 Palestinians in Israeli jails on the fifty-fifth day of hunger strike, 16 June.  Mohammed Asad APA images

“The families of the hunger strikers have also accused the ICRC of failing in its responsibilities towards the hunger strikers through the lack of ICRC visits, including visits from ICRC doctors,” Addameer added, noting that there are currently only two ICRC doctors for the more than 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails.

“Since the beginning of the hunger strike there have been calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross to publicly condemn Israel’s use of administrative detention and highlight the situation of the Palestinian hunger strikers,” Addameer said.

“Even on their 55th day of hunger strike and as their health continues to deteriorate rapidly these calls have not been heeded and the ICRC continues to remain silent.”

“Neutrality” questioned

Addameer contrasted the ICRC’s silence with its swift response to the alleged kidnapping of the settlers: “After only three days of the disappearance of three illegal Israeli settlers the ICRC issued a public statement calling for the ‘release of abducted teenagers,’ without any proof whatsoever that they have indeed been abducted. This same ICRC statement completely ignores the wave of arrests and attacks by [Israeli occupation forces] that are currently underway across the West Bank.”

“The complete and unquestioned acceptance of the Israeli narrative and its almost immediate intervention on behalf of three illegal Israeli settlers, is in stark contrast to its complete public silence on behalf of the Palestinian hunger strikers, and calls into serious question the ‘independence’ and ‘neutrality’ of the ICRC,” Addameer added.

Addameer also slammed the ICRC’s silence on a wave of recent killings of Palestinian children and youths by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank, including the 15 May killings of teens Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir in Beitunia and the 15 June killing of 20-year-old Ahmad Sabarin in Jalazone refugee camp.

“Hypocrisy of the highest order”

Veteran journalist Jonathan Cook says in a commentary on his website today that “the ICRC has proved itself to be serially gutless in remaining silent over decades about Israel’s belligerent occupation.”

Cook says that hiding behind “neutrality” has been a way for the organization to avoid having to criticize Israel publicly for its gross violations of international law. This is, he says, “hypocrisy of the highest order.”

In an apparent response to the growing anger, the ICRC’s “Israel and the Occupied Territories” office began tweeting defensively about its activities in support of the hunger strikers:

For the families of Palestinian prisoners these tweets will look like nothing more than an attempt to cover up the ICRC’s embarrassment at its lack of action.

Palestinian prisoners and their loved ones urgently need to see more than just a few tweets.