Curtesy of Al Arabya News

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian politician, claims the hunger strike is the largest Palestinian prisoners have ever launched. It is certainly one of many attempts.

In 2008, Rory McCarthy, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, estimated that around one-fifth of the Palestinian population has at one time been imprisoned since 1967. This was almost one decade ago – the situation remains dire.

In 2007, the number of Palestinian under administrative detention averaged about 830 prisoners per month. This statistic includes minors under the age of 18.

In response to criticism of the mistreatment in Israeli prisons, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry Emannuel Nahshon said “the Palestinian prisoners are not political prisoners…they are convicted terrorists and murderers. They are brought to justice and are treated properly under international law”.

The prisoners he is referring to include civilian children. In July 2003, the International Federation for Human Rights reported that “Israel does not recognize Palestinian prisoners as having the status of prisoners of war” despite the context in which some are arrested. The prisoners are treated as politically motivated criminals or terrorists and are often administratively detained without charge. Israel has argued that detention without trial can be a necessary security measure that can be used to prevent confidential information from being exposed in trials.

The hunger strike is the largest Palestinian prisoners have ever launched

A few days ago, on Monday the 17th of April, more than a thousand Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails began a hunger strike. Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian politician, claims the hunger strike is the largest Palestinian prisoners have ever launched. It is certainly one of many attempts. Their demands are not unreasonable: better living conditions and medical amenities. They also protest visitation rights.

Although Israeli Prison Service regulations state that all prisoners are entitled to family visits once every two weeks, this is part of a wider system of occupation where mobility is a problem for many Palestinians. Palestinians from the occupied territories are required to apply for permits to enter Israel in the first place and require specific ID cards to enter through certain checkpoints. Permits are often denied.

The security minister of Israel, Gilad Erdan, issued a statement in which he accused Barghoudi of using the hunger strike for “internal Palestinian politics” which therefore led to “unreasonable demands [by the strikers] concerning the conditions in the prisons”. A report issued by Amnesty International mentioned a 32-year-old from Hebron held in administrative detention in Ketziot prison who had only one family visit whilst imprisoned between 2005 and 2017. He has decided to join the hunger strike for this reason.

His father died while he was in prison.

Other demands include an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, to which Palestinian prisoners can be subjected without trial. The psychological effects of solitary confinement and its heavy connotations with torture have been heavily emphasized. Well-known anthropologist Talal Asad, who teaches at City University, has written about the ways in human rights laws relating to torture are in theory violated through such techniques.

The strike began in commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. So far, prisoners have declared their hunger strikes in eight Israeli prisons.

The “Freedom and Dignity” strike was called for by Marwan Barghouti, a well-known Palestinian prisoner whose sentence followed his call for a renewed resistance against Israel’s occupation policies. He said Israel’s military courts in the West Bank are an “accomplice in the occupation’s crimes”. In a letter considered by Israeli Prisons authority representative Sivan Weizman to be incitement against Israel, Barghouti had written that “it must be understood that there is no partner for peace in Israel when the settlements have doubled”. He has been placed in solitary confinement numerous times as punishment for leaking public statements from prison. Barghouti is serving multiple life sentences after being convicted in 2004 of five counts of murder.

In the past, civilian hospitals have refused to force-feed strikers, although an Israeli law passed in July 2015 made it legal to force-feed prisoners.

Hunger strikes are violent on the body – but for now, they remain, in the words of Barghoudi, “the most peaceful form of resistance available”. Hunger strikes have been used as part of resistance struggles the world over. The hunger is endured and repressed but not satisfied.

It seems a much deeper hunger remains at the core of any struggle for self-determination: hunger for freedom.

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Mona Elkateb

Mona Elkateb is a Foreign Policy expert with a regional specialty in the Middle East. She is currently pursuing MSc degree in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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