Deal reached for most Palestinian hunger strikers
Published Monday, May 14, 2012
Updated 6.50pm: Over 2,000 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike have agreed to a deal with Israel to end their fast in exchange for an easing of their conditions, Palestinian and Israeli officials said on Monday.
"All of the factions signed an agreement to end the strike," Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club said after several hours of negotiations between prison officials and the senior detainees at Asqalon jail.
A spokeswoman for the Israel Prisons Service confirmed an agreement had been reached, saying it applied to most, but not all of the prisoners, referring to those who had been refusing food "for 28 days."
It is unclear if any deal has been made with the hunger strikers in the most critical conditions, including Bilal Thiab and Thaer Halahleh, who have been refusing food for 77 days.
Sahar Francis, head of the Palestinian prisoners' charity Addameer, said she was still seeking confirmation whether Thiab and Halahleh were included.
"I cannot confirm 100% if they are specifically included or not, but the information was saying the representatives of the prisoners committees are about to inform them (of the deal)...Hopefully that will include all of them," she said.
Francis added that the hunger strike had been "very significant" in raising public awareness of the plight of Palestinian prisoners.
"I think it is a very significant hunger strike, it is not the first hunger strike and historically the Palestinians were involved in strikes...but this time is came in a different atmosphere when there is more activism in the past couple of years," she told a radio channel.
"This time I think the issue of the prisoners was taken more seriously than in the past."
Palestinian officials said Egypt had drafted the agreement in Cairo with representatives of the Palestinian prisoners.
They said Israel had agreed under the deal to renew family visits for prisoners from the Gaza Strip and end the solitary confinement of 19 inmates.
The prisoners are seeking a restoration of their rights under international humanitarian law, including renewed family visits, an end to solitary confinement, and most importantly, an end to administrative detention.
While Israel had signaled it was prepared to offer concessions on prison conditions, it has showed no willingness to end so-called administrative detention, where prisoners can be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
The policy dates back to the British mandate era of historic Palestine and is a violation of international humanitarian law, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Bilal and Halahleh are on the verge of death as their health situation worsens.
Amnesty issued an urgent paper last week highlighting Israel's ill-treatment of the prisoners, slamming the shackling seriously sick detainees to their beds as "cruel, inhuman and degrading."
The UK-based rights group also noted that hunger strikers Hasan al-Safadi, Omar Abu Shalal, Ja’afar Izz al-Din, and Mahmoud al-Sarsak had not been allowed to see independent doctors, despite their sharply deteriorating health.
The Thiab family expressed extreme concern for the health of Bilal, whose body, they said, is riddled with diseases.
"We are very worried about Bilal's life especially after the Red Cross told us that death is threatening his life in the coming hours. Yesterday, he called us around 7pm and it was the first time the jail allows such a call. He told us that his health is deteriorating and he has many diseases," his brother Bassam said.
Bassam said Bilal had lost more than 27kg since beginning the hunger strike, and he was entering short comas on a regular basis.
"He is in very bad health. According to the medical report, he is suffering from low blood pressure, constant migraines, loss of consciousness and is vomiting blood. His heart beats are weaker by the day...His hair is falling out and he is fainting. Last night, he fainted for more than 3 hours and this has been the most severe since the strike started," he said.
Bilal, 26, was first detained at the age of 18, and has spent most of the past eight years behind Israeli bars without charge or trial.
The Israeli occupation, his mother Umm Hisham said, "stole any meaning of life from him."
But despite the threat of imminent death, Bassam said his brother remains determined to see out the hunger strike in a bid to restore his freedom.
"He is clinging to the strike until freedom or martyrdom. He also sent several messages to salute the Palestinian people who stood by him and by the detainees," he said.