Palestinian hunger strike a ‘victory’ despite Israeli pressure

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A file picture taken on June 12, 2014 shows a girl holding a placard of her relative during a demonstration to show solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, outside the Red Cross building in east Jerusalem. (Photo: Ahmed Gharabli-AFP)

By: Sanaa Kamal

Published Thursday, June 26, 2014

Exploiting the lack of sufficient information from inside the prisons, Israel claimed the suspension of the detainees’ hunger strike as an achievement for its government. However, the failure of its campaign [to find three missing Israeli settlers] in the West Bank raises several questions.

Gaza: Direct links between the capture of three settlers in Hebron and the suspension of the prisoners' hunger strike are unlikely. However, the two coinciding events cannot be separated completely. Granted, the detainees’ 64-day hunger strike preceded the operation that started two weeks ago, but the latter stole the "limelight" from the long collective strike, impacting its course and outcomes.

The Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank led to the arrest of hundreds of Palestinians, under the "administrative detention" law being fought by the hunger strikers. The situation became even more complicated and led to fewer results. In the past, collective strikes by Palestinian detainees began collecting the fruits of their action by day 20. The length of the latest strike was completely unexpected.

Although the details of the agreement with the Israeli prisons' administration are yet to be revealed, the link between the [alleged] abduction and the suspension of the strike should be investigated to do justice to the prisoners' ordeal.

Inside Israel, the opposition blamed Benjamin Netanyahu's government for what happened. "[His] arrogance put the lives of the three young men at risk," it declared. This led to reducing pressure on the prisoners to see if they have information about the three settlers.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, said his government "followed a clear policy leading to this important result." He added that it will take "other measures to reduce the number of prisoner strikes in the future." Israel's prime minister congratulated his Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and the prison services commissioner, "for their firm performance leading to the suspension of the strike.”

“From the start of the strike, we set a clear policy based on preserving human life, on one hand, and to prevent succumbing to pressures, on the other,” maintained Aharonovich. He believed ending the strike without any accomplishments, especially related to the administrative detention policy, “is important for the stability of the Israeli state and its right to defend itself by all means, including administrative [detention] when required.”

Prison services spokesperson Sivan Weizman stressed that administrative detention will continue “as long as it is necessary,” saying the agreement with the prisoners was short-term.

In the meantime, representatives of Likud Beiteinu and Yesh Atid reached a settlement on the bill related to force-feeding security prisoners on hunger strike. According to the settlement, prisoners will be force-fed, “except in the case of grave danger to their life or causing severe disability.” Another amendment was related to doctors who objected to force-feeding, as they will not be coerced into participating “without their consent.”

On Sunday, Yesh Atid [There is a Future] succeeded in pressuring Netanyahu to block the discussion of the force-feeding law in the Knesset. The item was pushed to next week and it is likely to be passed next Monday, in its preliminary draft.

That was the official story. It is possible that the opposition was able to pressure the prison services to put an end to the strike. However, the strike continued for two more weeks after the operation. Here, there is a clear link between talks about ending or scaling back the campaign on one hand, and the agreement with the prisoners on the other.

Administrative prisoners ended their strike after agreement on several items, including a stop to unlimited extension of detention time, which should not exceed one year, and that a case must be submitted to court and not through a secret file.

For Palestinians, the strike remains a major achievement. “The occupation did not move until the prisoners went on hunger strike and brought their suffering to the world,” Palestinian author Hossam Dajani told Al-Akhbar. “In the absence of a statement by Palestinian factions adopting the Hebron operation…There is no doubt the operation had a clear impact on concluding the agreement.”

Dajani said it was likely Israel was forced to sign on the agreement partly due to its failure to sway Arab and international public opinion and objections to its proposed force-feeding law. “It is also likely Israel signed because it did not want to promote this type of struggle and strikes.”

On the prisoners’ side, time was the decisive factor in their decision to suspend the strike. On one hand, the strike was taking too long and entering its third month. On the other, Ramadan is approaching and the prisoners were keen on fasting and practicing iftar traditions.

“In the midst of current events and open aggression on our people, after several meetings with the prisons service, we decided to suspend our strike, to have mercy on our families after 63 days,” read a statement by the prisoners’ movement, shared by the Prisoners’ Club. The statement indicated that the details of the agreement will be announced after the hunger strikers, whose health deteriorated, are released from the hospital.

Political analyst Mohammed Hijazi maintained that "Israel's concessions to the demands is a victory for the prisoners." He explained that limiting the period of open administrative detention is a great achievement. "The [administrative] detention policy is systematic. After each operation, Israel detains hundreds of young men," he said, pointing to the link with the struggle. The strike could not prevent the policy completely, but it mitigated its outcomes.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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