Mass hunger strike grows despite Israel’s best efforts to repress it

Boy stands in front of poster featuring faces of hunger-striking prisoners

An estimated 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners are currently on open-ended hunger strike.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

The Palestinian human rights and prisoner advocacy group Addameer announced today that the mass, open-ended hunger strike in Israeli prisons which began on 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, has now grown to an estimated 2,000 participants. Addameer renews its calls for action in support of the hunger striking prisoners.

Palestinian prisoners are protesting Israel’s practice of administrative detention — imprisonment without charge or trial — as well as solitary confinement, the denial of family visits and access to education, and other punitive measures of Israel’s system of arrest and detention which is designed to break the Palestinian struggle for freedom and liberation.

Israel trikes to break strikers’ will

The growth of the open-ended hunger strike is despite the Israeli authorities’ punishment of hunger strikers. According to Addameer, “Methods of punishment currently being employed against hunger striking prisoners include attacks on prisoners’ sections; confiscation of personal belongings; transfers from one prison to another; placement in solitary confinement; fines; and denial of family and lawyer visits.” The Israeli authorities are also reported to be confiscating salts for hunger strikers’ water — the only nourishment they are consuming.

Addameer reports today that hunger strikers include the 19 prisoners who have already been held in solitary confinement, including PFLP leader Ahmad Saadat, who has been held under lockdown for more than three years. According to Addameer, Saadat has already lost 6kg, or approximately 13 pounds.

Eight prisoners remain on extended hunger strikes begun before 17 April. These include Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, whose appeals against their administrative detention orders were dismissed by a military judge on Monday despite their rapidly deteriorating condition. Seven of these men have been transferred to Ramleh prison medical center.

Halahleh and Diab are now into their 57th day of hunger strike. Halahleh has previously been held under administrative detention four times, and his 22-month-old daughter was born while he was behind bars, and he has never had a chance to meet or hold her. Meanwhile, Diab’s brother Azzam, also in Israeli prison, has embarked on a solidarity hunger strike.

According to Addameer, the remaining Palestinian women prisoners in HaSharon prison who are not on strike have announced that they will join the hunger strike beginning 1 May. Addameer’s full release is below.

Solidarity with Bahraini hunger striker

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja enters his 77th day of hunger strike. Al-Khawaja was jailed along with others for leading the pro-democracy uprising in the Gulf country.

Palestinian political prisoner Ameer Makhoul has issued a letter of solidarity to al-Khawaja and to the people of Bahrain. Makhoul stated from Gilboa prison: “When the will is free and the cause is just, and you embody both, the human is capable of making miracles happen, and no oppressive, tyrannical, murderous regime can harm it, not the Bahraini regime, subject to US colonial imperialism, or the Israeli colonial system in Palestine. It is the system of colonialism and its puppet regimes that have lost all legitimacy, while the people are legitimacy and its source.”

Here’s Makhoul’s full statement, rougly translated from Arabic.

Personalizing hunger strikers

The Electronic Intifada will continue to profile Palestinian political prisoners currently on hunger strike. Last week we published Rami Almeghari’s feature on Mahmoud Sarsak, a member of the Palestinian national football squad who was hospitalized after being on hunger strike for a month.

Meanwhile, Shahd Abusalama published on her blog today a translation of an Arabic-language diary published on Facebook by Loai Odeh, who participated in a 22-day hunger strike last September shortly before his release from Israeli prison. Odeh’s entries describe his experience on each consecutive day of hunger strike, so that others have a better idea of what hunger striking prisoners are going through.

Addameer’s full statement on Palestinian hunger strikers:

Ramallah, 25 April 2012 On 17 April 2012, Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons launched a mass hunger strike demanding an end to administrative detention, isolation and other punitive measures taken against Palestinian prisoners including the denial of family visits and access to university education.

Approximately 1,200 Palestinian prisoners from all factions began an open hunger strike on 17 April, with the campaign gaining further momentum over this past week and additional prisoners joining daily. Addameer estimates that the current number of prisoners engaged in open hunger strike is around 2,000. This number includes the 19 prisoners currently held in isolation for “security reasons.” Ahmad Sa’adat, the imprisoned Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who has been held in isolation for over three years, reported on 23 April that since the beginning of his hunger strike on 17 April, he had already lost 6 kg.

As during hunger strikes in the past, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has escalated its punishments of hunger striking prisoners in an effort to undermine the campaign. Methods of punishment currently being employed against hunger striking prisoners include attacks on prisoners’ sections; confiscation of personal belongings; transfers from one prison to another; placement in solitary confinement; fines; and denial of family and lawyer visits. Addameer lawyers have been denied access to all hunger striking prisoners.

Forty prisoners who began their hunger strike today in Ofer prison were informed that they will be transferred to another section of the prison and will not be permitted to bring with them any personal belongings except clothes. In Ashkelon prison, the 150 hunger strikers are experiencing daily raids and attacks on their rooms by Israeli special forces. In addition to all personal belongings being confiscated, the IPS also confiscated the hunger-striking prisoners’ only nourishment: salt for their water. Hunger striking prisoners in Nafha prison have also had their salt confiscated, raising serious health concerns for the prisoners engaged in hunger strike. Of the approximately 400 prisoners on hunger strike in Nafha, at least 40 were transferred out of their sections. Hunger strikers in Nafha have also been subjected to fines and electricity was cut in their rooms. On 23 April, six prisoners joined in the hunger strike in Naqab prison and were all immediately placed in solitary confinement. Female prisoner Lina Jarbouni also declared an open hunger strike on 19 April and was taken to solitary confinement on the same day. These aforementioned measures are only a few examples of the widespread punishments, particularly the use of transfers and solitary confinement, currently facing the hunger striking prisoners, as an attempt by the IPS to further isolate them from the outside world and from other prisoners involved in the campaign.

Meanwhile, eight prisoners, including five administrative detainees, remain on extended hunger strikes launched prior to 17 April. Seven of these prisoners have been transferred to Ramleh prison medical center. Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab are on their 57th day of hunger strike today. Despite their rapidly deteriorating medical condition, both of their appeals against their administrative detention orders were rejected by an Israeli military judge on 23 April. Yesterday, 24 April, Hassan Safadi’s petition to the Israeli High Court against his administrative detention was rejected. He is on his 52nd day of hunger strike. Administrative detainees Omar Abu Shalal and Jaafar Azzedine are on their 50th and 35th days of hunger strike respectively. Also now in Ramleh prison medical center are Mohammad Taj, on his 39th day of hunger strike demanding to be treated as a prison of war, and Mahmoud Sarsak, on his 34th day of hunger strike in protest of being held under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law. Lastly, Abdullah Barghouti, held in isolation in Rimon prison, is on his 14th day of hunger strike. Addameer reiterates its grave concern that these hunger strikers are not receiving adequate healthcare in the IPS medical center and that independent doctors are still being denied visits to them.

Despite the punitive measures being taken against hunger striking prisoners, the campaign of hunger strikes continues to grow. The six female prisoners in Hasharon who are not already on hunger strike have announced that they will begin an open hunger strike on 1 May. Additional prisoners are also expected to gradually join the campaign, including 120 in Ofer prison, who will start their hunger strike on 29 April. As the mass hunger strike picks up even more momentum, it will become that much more crucial for hunger striking prisoners to have unrestricted access to their lawyers and independent doctors.

In light of these developments, an upsurge of action at the international level is necessary to bring attention to the legitimate demands of Palestinian prisoners. Addameer therefore renews its call on all political parties, institutions, organizations and solidarity groups working in the field of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory and abroad to support the prisoners in their campaign of hunger strikes.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.