Palestinians launch mass hunger strike against prison repression

Protesters hold banners and Palestinian flags.

Palestinians take part in a protest in solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on 10 April.

Ayat Arqawy APA images

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners entered day five of their mass hunger strike in several Israeli prisons on Friday.

On 8 April, 400 Palestinians launched an open-ended mass hunger strike with a long list of demands, including improved medical care and conditions, more family visits and access to a public telephone, among others.

Prisoners are also calling for an end to repressive measures imposed by a newly formed committee headed by Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan to worsen conditions for detained Palestinians and reduce their standard of living to “the minimum required,” including imposing water rations.

The strike, taking place in the Israeli prisons of Ofer, Gilboa, Megiddo, Eshel, Ketziot, Rimon and Nafha, was announced weeks ago by the Hamas prison leadership, to begin two days before Israeli elections on 9 April.

Negotiations

The hunger strike began a day later than originally planned due to negotiations between the Israeli prison authorities and prisoner leadership going in a “positive direction,” according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.

The Israel Prison Service allegedly agreed to remove devices it had installed in March that block phone reception in wings housing security prisoners to prevent Palestinians from communicating with the outside world, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

The newspaper cited an unnamed senior prisoner leader who said a Hamas prisoner was able to speak to his family as “proof” the jamming devices were not operating.

This was contradicted by Erdan, who tweeted earlier this week denying reports that the Israel Prison Service had agreed to the prisoners demands to remove the devices.

The hunger strike was launched despite reports of its delay or cancellation.

Egypt is mediating indirect negotiations to end the hunger strike.

Two prisoners from Rimon who are refusing water in addition to food have been hospitalized at the Ramle prison clinic.

Why are prisoners on strike?

Israeli prison authorities began implementing the Erdan committee’s plan to worsen conditions in September when they turned on surveillance cameras in the HaSharon women’s prison yard after a visit by Erdan.

For weeks, Palestinian women refused to go out to the yard, the only outdoor area they are permitted to use, in protest.

Living conditions at HaSharon are very difficult, with prisoners having to spend long hours inside cramped, humid rooms, which is bad for their physical and psychological health.

As a punitive measure, women were then transferred from HaSharon prison to Damon prison, which is “characterized by its old, inadequate infrastructure, lack of proper sanitary services, of privacy and of basic hygiene needs,” according to prisoners rights group Addameer.

The Israel Prison Service then installed devices in March in Rimon prison that block phone reception to prevent detained Palestinians from communicating with the outside world, according to Haaretz, with the intention to expand the system to other prisons.

Palestinians at Rimon protested the measure by burning mattresses in their cells. Prison authorities then imposed fines totalling $70,000 on the prisoners, to be confiscated from the accounts in which families transfer funds for their detained loved ones to spend at the canteen.

Israeli forces conducted several violent raids on Palestinian prisoners, causing numerous injuries.

“The prison administration also confiscated books, personal belongings, and reduced the quantity and quality of meals,” according to Addameer.

Stabbing

The raids came after Israel claimed that two prison guards were stabbed at the Ketziot prison in the southern Naqab region last month.

Israel indicted Palestinian prisoner Islam Wishahi for “attempted murder” for allegedly stabbing two prison guards.

Wishahi, from the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, was serving the last two years of his 19-year sentence. He had been sentenced by Israeli military courts that lack basic due process rights.

“Prisoners are also demanding the cancellation of punishments against inmates involved in recent riots,” according to Haaretz, including punishments for the alleged stabbing.

Palestinian activists dressed as prisoners sit in a mock prison during a protest in solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in Gaza City on 9 April. 

Mahmoud Nasser APA images

Solidarity

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus held a protest in solidarity with hunger strikers on Thursday:

As did Palestinians in the occupied cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah:

Social media users are expressing solidarity using the hashtag “Battle of Dignity 2” in Arabic.

The first Battle of Dignity was the mass hunger strike in 2017 when 1,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons refused food for about 40 days.

As the current protest gets underway, the Israel Prison Service is denying imprisoned Fatah official Marwan Barghouti, a leading figure in the 2017 mass hunger strike, family and lawyer visits.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.