4,200 Palestinians on Hunger Strike

1 August, 2003 — Over 4,000 Palestinian political prisoners have just begun a hunger strike in Israeli jails including Shutah, Askalan, Majido, Ofer, and Nefah. A man being held without charge called yesterday from Nefah saying, “The Israeli Administration is treating us very badly.” He details human rights abuses, and adds quietly, “And sometimes they aren’t letting us go to the bathroom.”

Yesterday Israeli soldiers and police attacked Palestinians in Askalan Prison with tear gas and concussion grenades. Basim Sbeih of the Palestinian Prisoners Society tells us, “Over 100 are injured from the gas and from being beaten. The hunger strike is because of this, to improve the conditions.” The capacity in Israeli prisons for Palestinians is 1,100. Estimates of the number of Palestinians currently in Israeli prisons range from 8,000 to 10,000.

Al-Jazeera estimates 10,000, but reports that exact statistics remain unavailable from Israeli sources because the number changes everyday. More are taken everyday in midnight raids or round-ups. At least 6,000 of the Palestinian political prisoners are being held without charges, others imprisoned after trials which relied on “secret” evidence and pre-ordained guilty verdicts. Two-hundred of the prisoners are kids.

PM Abbas (Abu Mazen) is reportedly in a difficult position as he sold the idea of a cease in Palestinian military activity to Hamas and Jihad with Sharon’s promises of prisoner release. History proves Sharon is not a man of his word, and many view Israeli attacks on prisoners, and continued attacks on Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as an attempt to force Palestinians to denounce the cease-fire. As of yet, Israel has not honored Road Map points, as it did not honor the Oslo Accords. Before Oslo the Palestinian prisoner population was 450, the release of whom was negotiated. Some remain in prison to this day.

The hunger strike also comes after continued IOF attacks on Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Several Palestinian journalists have been advised that Israeli Defense Minister Moufaz has put the Israeli army on alert. He is reportedly telling them to be ready for one of the biggest IOF attacks on Palestinians yet, as he predicts the Palestinian end of the cease-fire will not last through the month of September. He is seemingly unconcerned that the Israeli end of the cease-fire has failed to begin.

An 11 year-old girl remains hospitalized after Israeli soldiers shot her in the Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank, after the much advertised removal of a few checkpoints, the IOF has replaced them with several new checkpoints and movable jeep roadblocks which serve the same purpose of disallowing Palestinian freedom of movement within the West Bank. The major checkpoint between Ramallah and Birzeit village has been reinstalled as of yesterday.

Israeli soldiers tortured a 31 year-old Palestinian man after taking him from Qalandiya checkpoint leaving Ramallah. He remains in the hospital covered in bruised and suffering from broken bones and cigarette burns. This treatment is similar to IOF torture of Palestinian men taken from Jenin Camp last April to the Salem military base where they were generally held for three days, tortured, and released in their underwear near the towns of Taibe and Romani.

The IOF took four journalists from the Al-Ayya newspaper in Ramallah, and also detained Al-Jazeera’s Ali Samoudi outside of Jenin. Israeli press cards, required for all foreign press, are being denied to any journalist working for an outlet, according to the Israeli Government Press Office that, “does not fit our criteria.” Not even the BBC fits their criteria.

Settlement building is going on unobstructed, as it construction of the apartheid wall, arrests and midnight raids. Just last night, the IOF took 25 people from their homes in two villages outside of Bethlehem. These two villages are in the path of Israel’s construction of this section of the apartheid wall.

Kristen Ess is an independent journalist in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Nada Khair is a journalist in the West Bank.