The ongoing silence of international bodies and the Palestinian Authority has contributed to the deteriorating situation of approximately 125 Palestinians being held by Israel without charge or trial who have been on hunger strike since 24 April, the Palestinian human rights group Addameer warned yesterday.
Calling for “immediate intervention,” Addameer reports that approximately 80 hunger strikers have been transferred to civilian hospitals where they “are shackled to their hospital beds 24 hours a day.”
The rights group adds that some of the protesters “have already lost between 13 and 20 kilograms of weight and the numbers of those who are fainting is rapidly increasing. As a result of their deteriorating health some of the hunger strikers are suffering from intestinal bleeding and are also vomiting blood.”
There seems to be no impending resolution to the hunger strike, which was launched after Israel reneged on an agreement reached with prisoners after a previous mass hunger strike to restrict the jailing of Palestinians without charge or trial, a practice known as administrative detention.
As of 1 May, Israel was holding approximately 200 Palestinians without charge or trial, including eight members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. There were a total of 5,271 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails on that date, according to Addameer.
Addameer reported yesterday that “the Israel Prison Service (IPS) has informed the hunger strikers committee that it is not within their power to negotiate with the hunger strikers.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to force-feed hunger striking prisoners and vowed to push forward proposed legislation which will allow physicians to feed prisoners against their will.
Rights groups have stated that the bill is a blatant attempt to break the current hunger strike and that the government’s professed concern for the health of hunger strikers is “contradicted by a reality in which the health needs of persons imprisoned in Israel in general, and of Palestinian prisoners in particular, are ignored,” as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel noted in a petition to Israel’s attorney general.
Several Palestinian detainees have over recent years launched hunger strikes in protest of medical neglect, including Muhammad Taj, Akram Rikhawi and Dirar Abu Sisi, and the withholding of medicine has been previously used as a punishment by Israeli prison authorities to break strikes.
Force-feeding is a grave breach of the World Medical Association’s guidelines on the treatment of hunger strikers, which 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.
Adalah, a nongovernmental organization which promotes the rights of Palestinians in Israel, stated in a press release emailed to The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that the bill “would remove the last civil right that administrative detainees possessed, after they had been denied all other rights that would allow them to strike against their illegal imprisonment.”
Doctors colluding in torture
The Israel Medical Association has condemned the proposed legislation and a spokesperson said that “Force-feeding is torture, and we can’t have doctors participating in torture.”
A 2011 report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel describes the active role of medical professionals in the torture of Palestinian detainees and specifically criticizes the Israel Medical Association’s ethical guidelines which “allow the doctor to compromise the patient’s health in the face of the demands of the security apparatus.”
A year later, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel described in a report how the Israeli prison medical system was actually wielded as a weapon against prisoners during the 2012 hunger strikes:
There is a strong suspicion that by blatantly violating the rights of the striking detainees to access adequate medical care and by flagrantly ignoring medical ethical standards and professional norms, the IPS [Israel Prison Service] utilized its medical system to pressure Palestinian prisoners and detainees on hunger strike causing unnecessary and illegitimate danger to their health and lives. Indeed, through various means, hunger strikers were isolated from any contact with persons not under IPS authority. They did so by delaying and denying entry to physicians, attorneys, and prisoners’ family members, as well as by denying treating physicians’ access to their patients’ medical information.
Punishing prisoners, banning lawyers
Addameer yesterday described other punishments that the Israel Prison Service is taking out against the prisoners:
The IPS and its special units continue to take extreme punitive measures against the hunger strikers in an attempt to break their strike. These include the forbidding of any communication with the outside world; restricting access to their legal counsel; continuously transferring hunger strikers between prisons; isolation; solitary confinement of the hunger strikers leadership; denial of family visits; and fines (up to 475 NIS).
The hunger strikers are held in empty sections and cells; their clothes and basic possessions have been confiscated; and they are only allowed to keep cups to drink water. In some prisons they are forced to drink dirty water from taps or to walk 40 meters in order to get water.
The prison guards and IPS special units beat and insult the hunger strikers on a daily basis, forcing them to stand for a head count without taking their health conditions and their inability to stand up into consideration.
In addition, the doctors and nurses of the IPS continue to treat the hunger strikers inhumanly which is a violation of the professional ethics stated in both the Tokyo and Malta Declarations. These violations include giving the hunger striker salt and water in urine-sample containers and IPS special units delay taking the hunger strikers to restrooms. Many hunger strikers who have been transferred to civil hospitals, and are shackled to their hospitals beds 24 hours a day, have demanded to be brought back to prison, instead of staying at these civil hospitals. There are currently approximately 80 hunger strikers who remain in civil hospitals.
Human rights groups have also condemned the Israeli prison authorities’ prohibition on lawyers from visiting prisoners on hunger strike.
“Israeli prison authorities were using all possible justifications to prevent and obstruct lawyers’ visits to the hospitals where the hunger-striking prisoners have been transferred,” Adalah stated in a letter to the public prosecutor in preparation for a petition to Israel’s high court demanding and end to the prohibition on visits.
UN rights experts: “heed hunger strikers’ plea”
A United Nations fact-finding committee of human rights experts expressed grave concern yesterday for the worsening health of Palestinian detainees and called on Israel to “heed the demand of the hunger strikers to end the practice of arbitrary administrative detention of Palestinians.”
The committee stated following a five-day fact-finding mission to the region: “It is a desperate plea by these detainees to be afforded a very basic standard of due process: to know what they are accused of and to be able to defend themselves.”
The committee expressed alarm at the Israeli government’s push to force-feed hunger strikers and added that concerns “over the health of Palestinian prisoners extend more widely.” The group added that “this year again, we have a number of testimonies indicating that medical needs of Palestinian detainees within the Israeli prison system have been neglected, in some cases leading to deaths which might have been avoided with proper care and timely diagnosis.”
The rights experts also noted with concern Israel’s settlement expansion, excavations under the site of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the involvement of international companies in the settlements, settler violence in the occupied West Bank, and the excessive use of force by the Israeli military against Palestinian children.
The committee also described “the worrying UN projection that Gaza might not be livable in 2020 … as possibly too optimistic” as a result of Israel’s years-long blockade imposed on the territory.