Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Ofer protest breaks into violence again

Juicebox Gallery

By Felix Black - February 21, 2013
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES]
Tags: [Ofer prison] [protests] [Popular struggle committee] [prisoners] [Hunger Strike] [Samer Issawi ]

 Photos by Andrew Beale and Lazar Simeonov.

Over one thousand people demonstrated outside Ofer prison on Thursday, near the town of Beitunia in support of Palestinian prisoners imprisoned in Israeli jails. It is the third demonstration at Ofer this past week.

The demonstration was met with countless volleys of tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition from Israeli soldiers positioned at the entrance to the prison. Soldiers also invaded the town’s buildings to shoot from the roofs overlooking the demonstrators. 

Over 70 people were injured, including 30 from rubber-coated steel bullets and one from a round of live ammunition. 

“It was chaos, crazy— so many people got injured. I got shot in the chest with a tear gas canister,” said Tareq, an activist from Ramallah.

The action attempts to draw attention to Israel’s malformed justice system. Out of the several thousand Palestinians kept in Israeli prisons, close to two hundred are under 'administrative detention’, which allows their indefinite custody without trial or charge. An even larger protest was held outside the prison last Friday, with a smaller one on Wednesday, amidst a developing movement inside Palestine to highlight the plight of Palestinian prisoners. 

The demonstration also forms part of the solidarity efforts for imprisoned hunger striker Samer Issawi, who has surpassed 213 days without food in defiance of his prison guards and the Israeli prison system writ large. 

“We are campaigning for the release of Sameer Issawi, Jaafar [Ezzedine], Ayman [Sharawneh] and Tareq [Qaadan]. On Tuesday the Israeli court issued a statement that it was not releasing Sameer, despite his hunger strike and plea for bail,” explained Reem, a demonstrator carrying a large poster with the hunger strikers’ faces on. 

At the same time as the protest, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court sentenced Sameer Issawi to eight months imprisonment, backdating from July 2012. Although this indicates he may be released in March, he still faces trial by the Israeli military court. According to the Free Sameer Issawi Campaign, the military court charges could re-convict him of his original sentence, which has a remainder of 20 years in prison.

Several activists and the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) stated that the protests at Ofer would continue every Friday, Tuesday and Thursday until the prisoners, like Sameer, are released. Friday’s protest was partially organised by members of the PSCC, and was the culmination of a march through the streets of Ramallah a few hours earlier. In total, the demonstration lasted six hours. 

Midway through the protest a huge volley of tear gas was released, engulfing half the town and splitting the demonstrators. Israeli soldiers promptly stormed the large group of Palestinians trapped between the prison gates and the cloud of gas. During this incident, Abir Kopty, the media coordinator for the PSCC, was hit on the top of her head by a tear gas canister. She was quickly carried to a nearby ambulance and taken to hospital where she was treated with three stitches. 

After this, the military began firing rounds of live ammunition, striking one demonstrator in the thigh. He is also currently undergoing treatment at Ramallah hospital. 

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