Israel preparing for “industrial-scale” torture of Palestinian hunger strikers

Palestinian boys take part in an action supporting the hunger striking prisoners in Israeli jails outside the Red Cross offices in Gaza City.

Ashraf Amra APA images

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Mass hunger strike, sweeping arrests

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Give us an update on the situation right now; it’s been about sixty days since the mass hunger strike began. How many Palestinian prisoners are still on hunger strike in Israeli jails, and can you talk about the general medical conditions for them right now?

Gavan Kelly: Sure. Well, at the moment, we’re on the [55th] day of the hunger strike The hunger strike began on 24 April of this year, when about ninety or a hundred Palestinian administrative detainees joined the mass hunger strike in protest of their continued administrative detention. The situation inside the prisons is pretty, pretty bad in terms of their medical situation. They’re suffering from a range of different ailments, including dizziness, loss of consciousness, liver problems, internal bleeding, obviously loss of weight, etcetera. So it’s really — we’ve really reached a very critical moment on the 55th day.

NBF: Gavan, can you talk about Israel’s force-feeding bill; Netanyahu actually pointed to the US’ treatment of hunger striking detainees in Guantanamo to justify his plan to force feed prisoners in Israeli jails. What are the ethical and medical concerns Addameer has here, with this force feeding plan? Has it already started?

GK: I mean, this is probably the most worrying development of the current hunger strikes. If you look at the hunger strikes that have been going on since the last couple of years, since the second half of 2011, not one day has passed where there hasn’t been at least one Palestinian on hunger strike. And the Israelis have failed to deal with the hunger strikes, and they see — we consider that their way to deal with the hunger strikes is through introducing force-feeding.

Now, if they introduce force-feeding, and it’s quite likely that this is going to happen, and we think it might even happen as quickly as next week, if this happens it’s going to have serious implications for the health of the current hunger strikers but also future hunger strikers. Force-feeding is never medically acceptable, it’s torture. It’s considered torture by the World Medical Association as per the Malta Declaration and the Tokyo Declaration. And it’s also considered torture by the Israeli Medical Association, who have in fact instructed their members not to partake in force-feeding; but Netanyahu has turned around and basically said “we will find the physicians. So whatever the Israeli Medical Association has said, we will find the physicians.” And I have no doubt that this will happen.

So if you consider that 125 — we’ve documented 125 people on hunger strike, but in actual fact, we think the figures are a lot higher, it almost could be 250, 300 people — if you consider that this bill could be introduced into law as early as next week, Israel at this very moment I am sure is preparing for the torture of Palestinian hunger strikers via force-feeding. And this torture will take place on an industrial scale. This is one option that could happen — force-feeding. There are other options that we could discuss in a moment, but in terms of the force-feeding, we’re very very worried about what’s going to happen in the next week or two weeks.

NBF: What are those options?

GK: Well, just leading into the other options — the first option is the introduction of force-feeding. This is one possible scenario. The other scenario is that the Israelis will let the prisoners die.

We think there’s a strong possibility that this will happen, given the recent media reports and the Israeli media, where the head of the Shin Bet [secret service] has advised Prime Minister Netanyahu and said basically it was a mistake to negotiate with the hunger strikers in 2012, and advised him not to negotiate with the hunger strikers. He feels that the reaction, should a hunger striker or a number of hunger strikers die, he feels that the reaction is that they will be able to manage it. The mass protests in the West Bank and the rockets that will come from Gaza — they’re basically playing a game of Russian roulette, but they feel they’re able to deal with it.

The other option is that the hunger strikers will call off the strike. I don’t think this is going to happen, they seem very committed. And they’re protesting their continued detention without charge or trial and they feel very strongly about it. As I said, we’re on day 55, anybody can die from this moment. So we’re really at a critical stage.

NBF: Addameer has made a list of demands on behalf of the hunger strikers in Israeli jails, including demands to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the to International Committee of the Red Cross. Can you talk about those demands, and if they have been met with a response yet?

GK: Yeah, for sure. Well, in terms of the ICRC, what we want to do is for the ICRC to play a more active role, to come out and publicly condemn Israel’s use of administrative detention, and also highlight the situation of the hunger strikers. This hasn’t happened so far, and in fact, we’re very disappointed that this hasn’t happened so far, given the fact that they came out three days after the recent disappearance of the three illegal Israeli settlers. It seems that the ICRC treats Israelis different [than] Palestinians. That seems very, very clear, and we’re very disappointed with that.

In terms of the Palestinian Authority, the hunger strikers themselves will say the Palestinian Authority has not played the role that it should, and it’s not a priority. While we have been working, to a certain degree, with the former Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees, a lot more can be done by the Palestinian Authority. At this stage, to be quite honest, when you consider that we have between 125 and 250 people on their deathbed, it should be everybody’s priority. And it’s simply not the case.

NBF: Finally, Gavan, you mentioned the disappearance of the three Israeli settlers in the West Bank earlier this week. The Israeli military has done massive sweeping arrest campaigns, they’ve arrested approximately 200 Palestinians across the West Bank in just the past few days, including eight members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. A twenty-year-old young man was shot in Jalazone refugee camp on Monday, on 16 June, Palestinians were injured at Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, including a seventeen-year-old boy. What’s Addameer’s response to the closures and sweeping arrest campaigns, including the arrest of Palestinian politicians?

GK: Absolutely, we condemn this wholeheartedly. This is a clear example of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. The disappearance of the three Israeli settlers has led to another attempt by the Israelis to crush Hamas, when you consider that we’ve had 200 arrests since Thursday, 80 percent of these are Hamas related, and they’re also taking it a lot further. Israeli officials have come out in the last 48, 24 hours and said this is basically the beginning — we’re going to crush Hamas. And they’re using it as a pretext to do exactly that. It’s very convenient that it comes so close after the reconciliation, and five or six months before the Palestinian elections, and obviously Israel doesn’t want Hamas to play a role, and this is its response.

Nobody’s surprised [by] this response, and in fact we think it’s going to be a lot worse. But yet, again, Israel will do whatever it wants, free in the knowledge that it can do so without any repercussions or response from anybody apart from the lame statements that we continuously get from the European Union, the United States of America and the United Nations. So things are going to get worse. The next week is going to be quite difficult — already, things are difficult, and they’re also talking about putting pressure on the prisoners as well, as a means to pressure Hamas. They’re also talking about placing the 200 people that have been arrested over the last four days in administrative detention.

So within a few days, if this does happen, we’re going to have the administrative detainees go from approximately 200 to 400. They’re also talking about transferring the Hamas hunger strikers at the moment, to Gaza. This is the Israeli response. And this is just the beginning. So you can imagine what the future holds.

End transcript.

Son of a hunger striker

Basil Farraj: My father, Abdul Razzaq Farraj, is the administrative and financial director of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. He is 51 years old. He is from al-Jalazone refugee camp, which is a refugee camp in Ramallah city. This refugee camp was established in 1948. My father’s family fled from Lydd during the Nakba.

My father is a very — I always describe him as a silent man, but behind that silence there’s a lot of determination, a lot of love, a lot of motivation, a lot of devotion for the cause of Palestine and for justice in its purest sense. Some would say that [it’s] because he’s my father — but I think a lot of people agree in Palestine that he is one of those people in Palestine who have devoted all of their life for Palestine. But actually one of the few ones who has remained true to his principles as things have changed.

I’m not sure how much detail I should go into here, but I think a reflection of that would be the current hunger strike that he is undertaking with the other nearly 125 other Palestinian administrative detainees. My father has entered his 48th day on the hunger strike. It’s not the first time he’s gone on a hunger strike, but this one in particular is his longest. And every message we get from him — actually, we only got one message — it’s been a message of hope and inspiration. We feel like we are the prisoners, not him. But we know at the same time that his body is very weak, that he has lost more than 12 kilograms of his weight. We know that he is in a hospital bed and probably shackled to the hospital bed, but still he manages to send us messages of hope and inspiration, even from these circumstances.

He’s a fighter for justice, but at the same time, he has an immense love for life that is making him do this. And I think we’ve never doubted this for a second — that his love for life is why he’s doing this right now. And he and other hunger strikers are an inspiration to all of us.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Basil, as you said, this is not the first time your father has been in Israeli jail; he was jailed for six years in 1985, and was arrested five more times over twenty years from 1994 to this past February; each time he was put in administrative detention. This is also not the first time he went on hunger strike to protest his detention without charge or trial. Can you talk about his most recent arrest last February, what happened when he was arrested last February, and why he is on hunger strike again now?

BF: Yes. So he was arrested on 25 February this year. The Israelis came to our house at 2:30am, a lot of them — a lot of the military soldiers came into the house. Usually they would take longer, but this time they came to the house, they looked for my dad, and they said, “Come with us.” He asked, “Where is the officer in command? I want to see my arrest warrant,” and they said, “We don’t have one, just come with us.”

It’s usual. He knew he was going to be put under administrative detention, because that’s how he’s been arrested, as you have mentioned, for the past five times. But this arrest is different, because, as you have noted, he is on hunger strike and he’s doing this now with other hunger strikers. They are demanding an end to administrative detention. This is a policy that reaches every Palestinian. It could place me and any other Palestinian on the street under arrest for an indefinite amount of time, without charge, without trial, based on information that the Israeli commander and the Israeli judge as well, [points] to the “secret file.”

And neither the lawyer nor the prisoner can see the secret file, so they are unable to revoke or to use it to say that these accusations are not correct, because you cannot see them. So in this hunger strike, they are demanding the end to the use of this policy that defies international law. Under international law, this is only allowed under emergency situations, and only when the prisoners are allowed to see why they are being held, and only when they are subject to a definite amount of time. Clearly, Israel is in defiance of all these norms, and this is not unusual for the Israeli state; but for this policy in particular, it’s a cornerstone for the Israeli occupation. It has led to the arrest of thousands of Palestinians since 1967, and onwards. Yesterday they arrested 150 people from Hebron and Nablus, and they were put under this policy.

That’s why they are doing this hunger strike right now, and I think it’s important to know that this hunger strike is not for the prisoners themselves. They are doing it for me and for other Palestinian people, because really this policy can reach any Palestinian, at any time, in any place. This is different from the other hunger strikes in the past, because the other ones were — the prisoners would demand, for example, an extra TV channel, or they would demand having an extra book allowed per month. But this one is a political hunger strike, and that’s why we’re worried as the families of hunger strikers, because we know that the Israeli state is not showing any concern for the lives of these hunger strikers and they are continuously violating their rights.

The reports that we have had, Nora, is that the hunger strikers were shackled to the hospital beds, their right hands with their left legs to not allow movement. And some of the hunger strikers in hospitals — the numbers say that there are seventy hunger strikers in hospitals — some of them have had to drink dirty tap water, which led to a lot of bleeding in their stomachs. We have also had reports that when my father was in isolation, his cell was being raided and he was violently beaten, even though he’s on hunger strike. The lawyer told us that they are not allowed a one-hour walk outside. Usually they get a one-hour walk outside and they are being denied that. So I would assume that they are in their cell or their hospital beds 24 hours a day.

As you know, family visits are denied and were denied the first day of the hunger strike. We have not been able to see my father, or the other hunger strikers for that matter, since the beginning of the hunger strike. The Israeli state — all these measures are punitive measures that the Israeli state is using to pressure the hunger strikers to end their hunger strike. But the hunger strikers are very close to their second month. They are clearly defying these punitive measures. But on the humanitarian level, it’s in defiance of international law and international norms. Why are we not permitted to see our loved ones? They are on the verge of death.

A lot of them — we have got reports that they are on their hospital beds, they are bleeding, they are nauseous, some of them might face full-body paralysis, and so we’re very concerned about this. And the Israeli state, again, even with their force-feeding bill, they are showing no sign of listening to the hunger strikers and no intention to negotiate with them. And it’s very worrying for us, as families of hunger strikers.

NBF: Basil, what kind of impact has the repeated arrest and administrative detention and now this hunger strike [of your father] had on you and your family?

BF: This policy in particular, it’s very cruel. Again, it’s nothing unusual from the Israeli occupation, but in particular, this policy has put us in a continuous state of waiting. We do not know when my father is going to be released, we do not know when we are going to be able to see him again in the house. Our moments of joy have been stolen away from us, because my father has been stolen away from us — during my graduation, my brother’s graduation, my cousin’s first son, my cousin’s wedding — it goes on and on.

Again, this is the daily life of a lot of Palestinians, but this policy in particular — because it’s very cruel, it intentionally leaves us in this state. The Israeli state could easily try these prisoners or release them. But they intend to put us in this state, because this policy does not only target the prisoners, but it also targets the families. And it’s also very important — my family has suffered immensely from this. Because as you have noted, since 1994, my father has been arrested five times, and all of them under this policy.

I remember in 2002, when his second arrest came through, he was arrested for four and a half years under this policy. And I remember clearly waiting next to the phone, all my family would gather. My uncles, my cousins, my brother, all of us — we would gather an hour before his release date, and then we’d get a phone call, sometimes one minute before, from my father saying that “I’m sorry, I have got six more months.” I could sense the sadness in his voice. He wanted to tell us, “I’m going to be with you really soon.” But then he gets the detention renewal warrant, sometimes seconds before his arrest is over.

I think it has a lot of psychological impact on the family and on the prisoner as well, and the Israelis well intend to do so. It’s part of their systematic violations of Palestinians’ rights. And I think that’s why the hunger strikers are doing this now, because they’re fed up with it, and most importantly, as they have told us in their messages, they are doing this for us, for the Palestinian people. Because it is a cornerstone of the Israeli occupation, and it has to end. They are putting their lives on the frontlines for this, and they should be praised — they are a cause of inspiration for all of us. All of us should at least give five minutes of our time to understand why they are doing this. Because they are really showing us the true meaning of life, and the true meaning of sacrifice — not for themselves, but for someone else.

This reminds me of the Northern Irish hunger strike, the famous Bobby Sands. He said “our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” And we don’t want our loved ones to come back dead. We want our father to come back walking the same way he left and the same way he always leaves the house. He leaves the house as confident as an olive tree in Palestine, but we also believe 100 percent in their determination. It’s very worrying that they might come back dead. We don’t want to carry them on our shoulders. We want to hug them, we want to kiss them. We want to live whatever moments are left with them. And I imagine Bobby Sands because it’s a very similar hunger strike to the one that’s happening now — it was a political hunger strike. It is a cause of worry — because Margaret Thatcher’s government did the same thing — they gave no concern to the lives of the hunger strikers. That makes us very worried.

But I think an uplifting message from my father was — in his earlier arrest in 2012, he sent us a message when he was on hunger strike — he said, “my determination reaches the furthest point of the sky.” And we believe that the determination in all of them is even higher than the furthest point in the sky, we have no doubt in that. It’s very hard for all of the families of the hunger strikers at this stage, especially when there’s not a lot of attention. And that’s why I want to thank you guys for doing this. But I would urge the listeners to — there’s not much we can do from afar, but one of the things we could do is to keep in mind that what these people are doing is a very inspirational thing that could help us at least find our own ways of fighting.

I would actually go farther and say they’re doing this for humanity — because they are teaching us what life really means. The Palestinian prisoners in general are teachers, in that sense. They love life so much that they have given so much of it away just for me and for other Palestinians to live their life. That is the true meaning of justice and love.

End transcript.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).