JERUSALEM (IPS) - With more than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners weeks into an open-ended hunger strike in protest against worsening conditions in Israeli jails, including two that have gone without food for 77 days, human rights groups say many lives are in danger and are calling for urgent intervention.
“At this stage of a hunger strike, death can happen abruptly. Something can happen to the heart and this is the fear now,” said Hadas Ziv, public outreach coordinator at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I).
“If the political authorities will decide not to do anything and not to release them on grounds of medical condition,” she added, “eventually death may occur, if nothing happens in the really, really near future.”
Ziv said that the Israeli Prison Service has placed every possible obstacle in the way of PHR-I doctors who are trying to examine the hunger strikers. The organization has now been forced to appeal to Israeli courts in order to gain access to the prisoners.
On 7 May, the Israeli high court rejected an appeal by Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, Palestinian prisoners who are now on day 77 of their hunger strike. The two men were challenging the fact that they are being held under Israeli administrative detention orders without charge or trial.
With no intervention by Israel’s highest court, Diab and Halahleh’s conditions are only worsening by the day, Ziv said.
“So many of [the prisoners’] rights are being violated out of the wrong perception that if Israel isolates them, it can win the struggle and it can break the hunger strike,” she explained. “I think that this is such a short-sighted and horrendous policy and I think that if independent doctors, lawyers and family visits would have been enabled, one would have seen a resolution that could have saved lives.”
It is estimated that Israel has arrested and detained over 750,000 Palestinians since it began occupying the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem in 1967.
According to PHR-I, between 1,500-2,000 Palestinian prisoners are currently participating in the hunger strike, which was launched on 17 April. It is the latest in a string of large-scale hunger strikes that began in late 2011 to draw attention to worsening conditions in Israeli prisons, including the widespread use of solitary confinement, the denial of family visits, and Israel’s use of administrative detention.
“Administrative detention actually is arresting someone without any charges and without fair trial procedures. It’s based on secret information that is not offered to the detainee and his lawyer and the detainee definitely doesn’t know the reasons behind his arrest,” explained Sahar Francis, director of Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner support organization.
“The other problem with administrative detention is that it is not limited in time, which means that they can renew the order, and means that people can spend years upon years in administrative detention.”
Recently, Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan spent 66 days on hunger strike in protest against his imprisonment under an Israeli administrative detention order before being released in April. Another prisoner, Hana al-Shalabi, also spent weeks on hunger strike before being released and forcibly transferred to the Gaza Strip.
“The way Israel is using administrative detention is very arbitrary. It’s used against a very wide group. It can include any Palestinian and it’s not limited in time and this is why it’s a very harsh tool and this is why it makes it a very draconian way of arrest,” Francis added.
Demonstrations have been organized throughout Palestine, and in cities around the world, in solidarity with the hunger strikers, and many more are expected as the prisoners’ protest continues.
On 8 May, for example, a group of 50 mainly Palestinian students protested in front of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“The oppression has different forms and political arrest and detention is one of them. It’s an integral part [of the Palestinian struggle] for everyone here. We feel that it’s our duty to at least demonstrate,” Hadeel Badarni, a law student who participated in the protest in Jerusalem, said.
Badarni explained that the students — many of whom were tied together with makeshift handcuffs, and held photos of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian flags — were trying to raise both public awareness and media attention to the plight of the hunger strikers.
“On a personal level we’re all worried about Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh and the rest of the prisoners that are on hunger strike. Behind each number and file, there are features, there is a face, there is a person that is in pain and has gone through a lot to get to this point where he is prepared to put his life on the line and die for this cause,” Badarni said.
“I’m ashamed, as a human being, that this can go and pass by with no real attention. If this can pass by, how low can we really get?”
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