Palestinians aim to “break wall of silence” with hunger strike

Palestinians rally in solidarity with prisoners held in Israeli jails, in front of the Red Cross office in Gaza City, 27 March.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Two Palestinians being held in extreme isolation by Israel are undertaking hunger strikes to draw attention to their cases.

Kifah Quzmar, 27, announced his hunger strike on 26 March after spending 19 days under interrogation without access to a lawyer. He has been jailed repeatedly in the past by the Palestinian Authority.

Mahmoud Saada, 41, launched his hunger strike on 12 March after being interrogated since his arrest in mid-February.

Neither of them has been sentenced or placed under administrative detention, Israel’s practice of holding Palestinians indefinitely without charge or trial based on secret evidence.

Severe health concerns

“They’re clearly being subject to this extended interrogation in an attempt to compel coerced confessions,” Charlotte Kates of Samidoun, a Palestinian prisoners support network, told The Electronic Intifada.

“One reason why they have launched these hunger strikes is to attempt to break the wall of silence around Israeli interrogation tactics,” Kates added.

Saada was arrested on 16 February at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank. Samidoun reports he has mostly been denied access to a lawyer while being subjected to prolonged interrogation.

In his third week without food, Saada faces serious health risks. His family, who have not been able to visit him, are particularly concerned because Saada has a kidney and colon condition for which he had two surgeries in 2015.

But his family knows little of his condition or what kind of care he is receiving because Saada has only been granted one legal visit since his arrest and has been denied all family visits.

On 26 March, after two weeks on hunger strike, Saada, a father of four children all under 10 years old, was taken to a hospital in the Jalameh detention center in the northern West Bank.

The next day, an Israeli military court extended his interrogation for nine more days. Saada’s lawyer was not allowed to attend his hearing.

Dozens of students in prison

Kifah Quzmar

Israeli forces arrested Birzeit University student Kifah Quzmar on 7 March while he was returning to the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan.

For the first four days of his arrest the Israeli authorities denied they had detained Quzmar, who Samidoun describes as a “popular, well-known student.” The authorities refused him access to a lawyer for the first 19 days of his interrogation.

Quzmar has been arrested multiple times by the Palestinian Authority for criticizing the regime on social media.

Last year, Palestinian Authority undercover police arrested Quzmar at a cafe in downtown Ramallah, seizing him in the bathroom and dragging him outside. Quzmar was reportedly arrested for calling the PA “rotten” on Facebook, but was released on bail and never charged.

Within the first three weeks of his detention, Israeli forces transferred Quzmar to four different prisons and interrogation centers. He is currently being held at Ashkelon prison in the south of present-day Israel, according to Samidoun.

When he announced his hunger strike on 26 March, Quzmar demanded he be charged or released. On the same day, an Israeli military court extended his interrogation for eight more days. Quzmar’s lawyer, Anan Odeh, says that he is enduring “severe and continuous pressure” during his interrogation.

According to Samidoun, there are 60 Birzeit students in Israeli jails.

Palestinians subjected to lengthy interrogation like Saada and Quzmar often endure abuse, ill-treatment and torture.

Earlier this month, an Israeli military court ordered Palestinian activist Salah Khawaja, accused of contact with an “agent of an enemy state,” to 12 months in prison.

Khawaja is a prominent activist in the West Bank and a member of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee and a leader of the Anti-Apartheid Wall campaign, also known as the Stop The Wall campaign.

Before being sentenced, Khawaja was subjected to torture during a lengthy interrogation period, during which he was denied access to lawyer.

Jamal Juma’ of Stop the Wall reported this week that Khawaja has been transferred for medical treatment because he is suffering from severe back pain following his interrogation.


Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.