The detainees announced that their intention was to refrain from consuming all solid food but that they would continue to drink liquids. The Israeli Minister of the Interior declared they would confront the strike and stated that “they can strike for one day, one month or even until they die but we will not concede to their demands.”
The Israeli prison service started to impose harsh measures on the prisoners from the moment the detainees declared their intention to strike:
They transferred 120 of the Prison leaders from Nafha Prison, in the Negev desert, placing them in isolation cells in other prisons. They replaced them with common law Israeli prisoners; They transferred dozens of leaders from general sections in the central prisons into solitary confinement; They have prohibited all visits by families and lawyers to the prisoners since the 15th of August, for an indefinite period; They have confiscated all liquids except for water, including cigarettes and even salt, from the cells of the hunger strikers.
The prisoners deal are confined under extraordinarily difficult conditions during their internment. A systematic policy of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment is applied by the occupation authorities. The conditions are violations of universally accepted human rights principles, particularly the Declaration against torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading treatment and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Prisoners believed that a hunger strike was the only option remaining to them, having exhausted all other means of dialogue and negotiation regarding the deteriorating conditions of imprisonment.
The Israeli Prison Service has engaged in a long term programme of imposing tight restrictions on the prisoners, depriving them of basic rights and of rights achieved during previous hunger strikes.
All of the demands made by the hunger strikers are basic humanitarian demands relevant to their daily life and conditions of confinement: an end to prohibitions of and restrictions on family visits, particularly to allow contact visits with children and other family members which is prevented by the presence of a glass screen between the prisoner and visitor; an end to frequent spontaneous raids and searches of prison cells which can occur at any time; an end to the policy of solitary confinement; an increase in the quantity and nutritional quality of food served in the prison meals; allowing them to receive stationary, clothes, books and other supplies from family members; as prisoners clean their own confinement areas they request that the Prison authoeirites supply them with enough cleaning materials, including detergent and equipment, to permit acceptable levels of hygiene and sanitation; stopping the humiliating searches for visitors; an end to the continuous transfer between prisons which imposes instability on their lives and on their families lives; allowing them to make periodic contact with their families through phone calls, which can be made in line with Israeli security regulations, particularly during times when family visits are prohibited; to allow them to participate in courses run by the Open university and complete or enhance their education; to improve the medical care facilities in accordance with international standards and to introduce periodic health check-ups; to stop the policy of collective punishment and the policy of imposing fines on prisoners (these fines are implemented by limiting prisoners spending money in the prison canteen and so limiting the food they eat); to improve the conditions of minors and women who have been arrested and separating them from Israeli common law criminals and allowing the minors to be taken care of by older Palestinian prisoners.
The decision by the Israeli authorities to deny the prisoners their basic rights relates to its denial of the recognition of the prisoners as prisoners of war. They are classified as such according to the first Annex Protocol to the Fourth Geneva Convention, article 44.1, which states that “any combatant who falls into the power of an adverse party shall be subject to prisoner of war status.” Those prisoners who are detained by the Israeli authorities even though they are not combatants are entitled to “be given protections equivalent in all respects to those accorded to prisoners of war by the Third Convention and by this protocol.” (article 44.4)
PCHR, through its legal unit, represents a large number of detainees and is following the circumstances of the prisoners as much as is possible given the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities. PCHR continues to lobby and advocate for the implementation of internal human rights law and humanitarian law and for the UN International Minimum Standards to be applied to the prisoners. In the context of the deteriorating conditions PCHR requests that the international community, including the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, and all relevant NGOs immediately intervene to pressurize the Israeli occupation authorities to comply with its international obligations towards the prisoners.