Palestinian Hunger Strike Gathers Momentum

Palestinians stand in front of a big banner showing portraits of Palestinians held in Israeli jails during a demonstration calling for their release and in support of inmates in hunger strike, on 6 October 2011 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian prisoners went on a hunger strike over a week ago to protest the worsening of their prison conditions. (Photo: AFP - Said Khatib)

By: Fadi Abu Saada

Published Friday, October 7, 2011

Thousands of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are unfazed as their action demanding human and dignified treatment enters its tenth day

Friday marks the tenth day of a hunger strike by thousands of Palestinians in Israeli occupation prisons. These prisoners prefer empty stomachs to daily indignity and humiliation at the hands of the Israeli prison administration.

Doaa al-Jayyousi, from Tulkarm, is serving three life sentences in prison. Her sentence is the longest among 38 female prisoners in Israeli occupation prisons. When Doaa’s mother, Umm Jamil, went to visit her in Damon Prison before the hunger strike, she collapsed after seeing her daughter in chains. Umm Jamil was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Umm Jamil explains that no mother can handle seeing her daughter in chains. “This is an intolerable insult and humiliation. [Israeli authorities] treat us as if we are slaves, with no dignity,” she says. Umm Jamil calls for an end to the unprecedented mistreatment of female prisoners.

Al-Akhbar managed to smuggle a mobile phone into an Israeli prison, offering the prisoners a chance to voice their condition. After 10 days on strike, prisoners are now exhausted from hunger and thirst. They fear punitive measures if the Israeli prison administration discovers the mobile phone.

Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) members at the Naqab Desert Prison spoke to Al-Akhbar about the hunger strike and the deteriorating conditions of prisoners. They reaffirmed that the strike will continue. For this reason, they insisted on returning their meals to the prison administration on Thursday, as a sign of solidarity with the strikes taking place across Israeli occupation prisons.

In response to the hunger strike, Israeli prison administrations have started punishing Palestinian prisoners. They have suspending the serving of salt to striking prisoners — which might lead to fatigue, vomiting, and cramps — as a means of pressure. The prison authorities have also banned electrical devices in an attempt to isolate them from the outside world.

Israeli prison administrations have also resorted to collectively isolating 53 prisoners on strike in a special section in Shatta Prison. In the criminal section at the same prison, Mansour Shreim and Ibrahim Habisha, who are on strike, were also isolated. Furthermore, Israeli authorities have barred visits by lawyers to prisoners on strike. The administration conducted provocative raids and inspections of cells and sections where prisoners on strike are kept, as happened in Ashkelon Prison. Israeli prison administrations have even fired gas bombs at prisoners in Askhelon and Nafha prisons, causing a number of injuries. The injured prisoners were rushed to prison clinics.

Palestinian women shout slogans during a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and in support of inmates in hunger strike in Gaza City. (photo: AFP - Mohammed Abed)

Israeli daily Maariv reported that Israeli Prison Service (IPS) is implementing a plan of imposing restrictions on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. This plan includes preventing prisoners from enrolling in academic institutes and foundations or taking general secondary school examinations. It also includes narrowing down the list of food items served to prisoners. According to Maariv, in the last few months, IPS has conducted nightly inspection raids on prisoners and their belongings.

Palestinian Authority Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Karaki told Al-Akhbar that one of the main reasons for organizing the strike, that began on September 27, was the prison administration’s policy of chaining prisoners during family visits. He said that these visits became a means of punishing prisoners, as well as their families, who are also subjected to humiliation during inspection. During visits, family members are separated from their imprisoned relatives by a plastic barrier.

Karaki explained that in the past few months, Israeli occupation authorities have imposed a number of oppressive measures in the prison. The striking prisoners demand an end to the chaining practice during family visits and also demand they be able to meet with their lawyers.

Karaki noted that a wide solidarity campaign with the prisoners has been launched. According to Karaki, the Palestinian leadership is quite concerned and is attempting to end what he described as aggression and excessive punishments against the striking prisoners protesting their harsh conditions in detention.

The Palestinian community has broadly taken on the cause. Palestinians have organized demonstrations in several cities and sit-ins in front of prisons as a show of solidarity with the prisoners. The last of these demonstrations took place on Wednesday in front of Ofer Prison near Ramallah. Israeli occupation forces utilized a variety of weapons to disperse the Palestinian protesters, leading to a number of injuries among the crowd. Solidarity campaigns have reached new social media forums in an effort to circulate information about the prisoners’ cause to a wider audience.

Palestinians in Israeli prisons have previously held hunger strikes. The first instance was in 1969 in Ramla Prison and lasted for 11 days. The most famous strike came in 1976 in Ashkelon Prison for 45 days.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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