100 days without food in a fight for freedom

Men dressed in military uniform hold banner

Members of Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of Palestinian resistance group Islamic Jihad, take part in a parade to support hunger strikers in Israeli jails, in Gaza City on 15 October.

Dawoud Abo Alkas APA images

Palestinians political prisoners launched an open-ended mass hunger strike against Israel’s repressive crackdown since six men escaped from its captivity in September.

Detainees affiliated with the Islamic Jihad resistance group entered their second week refusing food in response to a series of punitive and arbitrary measures by Israeli prison authorities.

The six Palestinians – whose spectacular escape via a tunnel made them into heroes across the region and around the world – have since been recaptured, but Israel’s reprisals against Palestinians persist.

They include interrogations, mass lockdowns and transfers of Palestinian prisoners between cells, sections and prisons.

Such measures isolate Palestinians belonging to certain political groups who live together.

It is an attack on one of the most significant accomplishments of the Palestinian prisoners movement – internal organization and solidarity.

Long-term hunger strikers

Already, several Palestinians have been on long-term hunger strikes for weeks or months.

Kayed Fasfous will soon reach 100 days without accepting food from Israeli authorities.

Fasfous is protesting his detention without charge or trial and is determined to continue his strike until he is unconditionally released.

The 32-year-old is in critical condition and has lost about a third of his weight.

He was transferred to Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, southern Israel, after his heart rate dropped.

He was held under high security at the hospital, with about 15 Israeli officers watching him at all times, prisoner rights group Addameer reported.

For a while, Fasfous wasn’t even allowed to go to the bathroom and he was forced to relieve himself in a flask.

Fasfous was taken out of the hospital and to the Ramle prison clinic, dubbed the “slaughterhouse” by prisoners, due to its inadequacy as a medical facility. He is now back at the hospital.

The Barzilai hospital administration has been hostile towards Fasfous’ family, his brother said, even kicking them out of the facility at one point.

While at the prison clinic, Israeli guards subjected him and fellow hunger striker Alaa al-Araj to provocations and harassment, by eating loudly in front of them and deliberately delaying responding to their needs, Addameer said.

Al-Araj has been refusing food for more than 70 days, also in protest of his administrative detention.

His health is rapidly deteriorating. Al-Araj has been experiencing dizziness, forgetfulness, and pain throughout his body, loss of bladder control and inability to sleep, according to Addameer.

He is also experiencing difficulty seeing, according to reports, an indication of a decline in his nervous system.

Still, Israel’s highest court decided not to freeze al-Araj’s administrative detention, meaning it can be indefinitely renewed despite the Israeli military court not bringing any charges against him.

Addameer said his declining health has been worsened by the actions of Israeli prison authorities.

When al-Araj launched his strike, his jailers put him in solitary confinement in a filthy cell full of cockroaches and confiscated his personal belongings including religious objects.

Miqdad Qawasmeh, who has been on hunger strike for more than 90 days, is at the risk of sudden death, his lawyer said.

Qawasmeh was transferred to an intensive care unit, the Palestinian Prisoners Club reported on Tuesday.

He is at risk of permanent brain damage, the group added.

Earlier this month, Israel’s high court put a freeze on Fasfous and Qawasmeh’s administrative detention orders.

Such freezes effectively change nothing for the prisoner. Fasfous and Qawasmeh are still not free to leave the hospital and return home.

When Israel’s high court did this in the case of Maher al-Akhras, a Palestinian who last year won his freedom with a 103-day hunger strike, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem condemned the decision.

The group called it “an interpretive solution invented by the high court in order to avoid reaching a decision on – and taking responsibility for – administrative detainees on the verge of death.”

Meanwhile, Itamar Ben-Gvir, an extreme-right Israeli lawmaker, tried to storm Qawasmeh’s hospital room on Tuesday in a blatant attempt to intimidate him and his family.

Hisham Abu Hawasheh, 39, has been refusing food for more than 60 days.

Shadi Abu Akar, 37, has been on hunger strike for more than 50 days.

Prisoner exchange

Palestinians have long used the refusal of food as a tactic to resist their Israeli jailers.

While conditions remain harsh, whatever improvements there have been have often been won through such protests.

These include providing beds for Palestinian captives to installing telephone booths in prisons.

Palestinian prisoners resort to hunger strikes to reclaim control over their bodies – the only weapon they have to resist their captors.

It also serves the practical goal of forcing Israel to negotiate changes – whether related to living conditions or political rights – as demanded by the prisoners.

Monday marked 10 years since Israeli prisoner of war Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian and Arab prisoners.

That was the last exchange deal between resistance organization Hamas and Israel, but talk of another one being just around the corner has circulated for years.

It is believed that Hamas holds four Israelis in Gaza, including the bodies of two soldiers believed to be dead.

Israel holds 4,600 Palestinians including 200 children and 10 members of the Palestinian legislative council. It also holds as bargaining chips dozens of bodies of Palestinians killed by its occupation forces, which it refuses to return to their families for burial.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.