Saturday, December 05, 2020

In Israeli jails, Palestinian hunger strikers remain steadfast

By Beth Staton - May 22, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Behind Bars]
Tags: [Hunger Strike] [Israeli Prison Service] [Addameer] [Administrative detention]

Protest in Ramallah in support of the hunger striking prisoners. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.
Every Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jail is going hungry today, in a mass gesture of support for the ongoing hunger strike of 125 inmates. In a day-long protest, over 5,000 prisoners are refusing food, highlighting the plight of administrative detainees, held without charge or trial, who have been striking since April 24. 
The mass action is a strong demonstration of solidarity against administrative detention. But nearly one month into their protest, the situation of the striking prisoners is becoming increasingly intolerable. On Tuesday, one imprisoned striker, Rami Barghouti, was released to hospital in a serious condition; by the 29th day of a hunger strike, protesters are likely to have lost some 18% of their body weight and will experience feelings of cold, lightheadedness, and extreme difficulty standing up and moving around. 
Despite the prisoners’ deteriorating health, however, the Israeli prison authorities persist in subjecting them to harsh, degrading and often harmful treatment – much of which could be in serious violation of international law. According to a statement from Addameer, the Palestinian prisoner rights association, salt and water was withheld entirely for the first 15 days of the strike in a denial that put the lives of the prisoners in real danger. Among other abuses, Addameer has also reported denials of family visits for up to six months, no access to the yard and the confiscation of books and newspapers. Mass transfers from one prison to another, violent beatings and solitary confinement are among some of the more brutal tactics reportedly used to encourage the detainees to break their strike. 
“The guards put the prisoners in a very difficult situation,” Walid Wahdan, of the Palestinian Prisoner Club, told Palestine Monitor. “They are trying to  intimidate the prisoners to put them under stress. But I believe they will not break their strike before they reach their goal.”
Violence and impunity
Lawyers have also experienced difficulties accessing their clients since the strike began.  When visits have not been outright refused they have reportedly been interrupted by fire alarms and evacuations, depriving the prisoners of access to legal counsel and adequate communication with the outside world. The tactic is a familiar one: during the last major prisoners’ strike, Addameer lawyers Anan Odeh and Samer Sima’an were banned from visiting their clients for a full six months. 
“The lawyers of the prisoners have been very restricted in their visits to the prisoners,” Wadhan said. “This makes their situation even more difficult, as most of the information we have from the strikers is passed through other prisoners who are not striking, and who are able to communicate with the lawyers.”
The abuses that have been reported to the lawyers, however, suggest serious violations are taking place. Detainees say they are searched individually on a daily basis, and report being held in an overcrowded cage while handcuffed,  beaten, punched and kicked, and kept in two-man cells of just 2x3 metres – conditions that violates the Israeli Prison Service’s own specifications. In Ayala Prison, two leaders of the strike, Fadi Hammad and Soufian Wahadeen, are being held in solitary confinement. 
Despite the challenging conditions, the message from the hunger strikers remains steadfast. In a statement released last week, they called for the “activation of solidarity campaigns, activities and demonstrations across Palestine to support the hunger strikers in their battle against the policy of administrative detention."
Indefinitely detained
It’s this practice – a miscarriage of justice that’s common in the Israeli prison system – that is at the heart of the inmates protest. Today, some 186 prisoners are “administrative detainees,” meaning they have been incarcerated without indictment or trial. Over the years, Israeli authorities have held thousands in administrative detention without stating the charges, charges that are based on 'secret’ evidence. Government policy allows for the standard six-month sentence for administrative detainees to be renewed indefinitely. The hunger strikers, the vast majority of whom are administrative detainees, are demanding an end to the practice.
“Basically, administrative detention is detention without trial, on military order,” Sarit Michaeli, the spokesperson for B’Tselem, explained. “Detainees might have a general idea about the charges against them, but nothing specific, nothing that can be confronted in the courts.”
Under some circumstances, the use of administrative detention is allowed under international law. “But the law places very severe restrictions on state’s ability to use it,” Michaeli continues. “The Israeli authorities are removing freedom and due process using these administrative measures, and according to our analysis this violates international law because it is very sweeping. The state must release administrative detainees, or prosecute. them.”

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