Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to go on hunger strike

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are expected to embark on hunger strikes this week to draw attention to imprisonment without charge and solitary confinement. They will build on a protest that has resulted in deals to release two inmates who refused food for prolonged periods.

At least 11 prisoners are already on hunger strike, three of whom have been transferred to hospital. One began refusing fluids last week, increasing concern about the rate of deterioration of his health.

A wave of hunger strikes is planned to begin on or around Prisoners’ Day on Tuesday, held under the slogan: “We will live in dignity.” About 1 600 prisoners have agreed to take part in the protest, according to Palestinian prisons minister Issa Qaraqi. “The situation inside Israeli prisons has become very dangerous and serious,” he was quoted as saying.

There are around 4 600 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, according to the prisoners’ rights group Addameer. More than 300 are held under “administrative detention”, meaning they and their lawyers are not informed of accusations or evidence against them, no trial is held, and their term of imprisonment is determined by an Israeli military judge.

Of the 11 prisoners currently on hunger strike, two have refused food for 46 days. Bilal Diab (27) who has been held under administrative detention since last August, has also refused fluids either orally or intravenously since April 8, and has lost consciousness a number of times, according to Physicians for Human Rights.

PHR has urged the Israeli authorities to grant Diab’s request to be transferred to a civilian hospital and has cited World Medical Association advice that “the body is unable to survive without liquids for more than a few days, and in most cases a hunger striker will die during the first week”.

Thae’r Halahi (34) has been held in administrative detention for 22 months, plus for five separate previous periods of between three months and one year. His condition was described as stable but commensurate with a prolonged period without food.

Hunger strikes
Khadar Adnan, the first prisoner to begin a hunger strike in the current wave, refused food for 66 days before agreeing to a deal that should see him released this week after four months in administrative detention.

Adnan (33) was followed by a woman prisoner, Hana Shalabi, who was released and deported to Gaza after 43 days on hunger strike. Her family home is in the village of Burqin, near Jenin, in the north West Bank.

She considered herself “not deported but freed to Gaza”, where she had never been before, she told the Guardian. “It’s a victory for me.” But she acknowledged that she had come under pressure from the Israeli authorities to accept the deal and end her protest, amid fears that her life was in danger.

Hunger strikes were, she said, “a good and effective tool, and the only way prisoners can achieve something”. She is still suffering from weakness and swollen legs since ending her protest, and is under medical supervision. “Physically it was hard, but morally I was high,” she said.

Shalabi (30) had previously been held for 25 months under administrative detention, but was freed in October under the prisoner exchange deal struck by Israel to secure the release of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. She was re-arrested on February 16.

She denied being an activist with Islamic Jihad. However, the faction had rented an apartment in Gaza City for her, in which a large Islamic Jihad poster was displayed on the wall. Her brother, Samir, who was killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in 2005, had been convicted of Islamic Jihad activities.

Under the terms of the deal that ended her hunger strike, she must stay in Gaza for three years, after which she will be allowed to return to the West Bank unless she is found to have been involved with a banned organisation. “The Israelis also threatened me that if I took part in any political or military activity, then I could be targeted [for assassination],” she said.

‘Forced displacement’
Addameer described Shalabi’s deportation as a “forced displacement”. “We consider this a violation of the fourth Geneva convention,” said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer. “We’re happy she was released but not to be forced to live in Gaza. They have sent her from one prison to another big prison.”

Shalabi agreed to the deal when physically and mentally weak and without access to independent lawyers, said both Addameer and Amnesty International. “The deal may amount to a forcible deportation given her medical condition and the denial of access to independent doctors and lawyers,” said Ann Harrison of Amnesty.

Israeli government spokesperson Ofir Gendelman said Shalabi was deported to Gaza “because she cannot pose from there a clear and present danger to the safety of the Israeli public … If Shalabi was to return to the West Bank, there is no doubt that she would return to her terrorist activities with the Islamic Jihad.”

Since being released in October, she had planned attacks against Israeli citizens, he added.

Around one third of the 477 Palestinian prisoners released last October in the first stage of the Gilad Shalit deal were deported to Gaza, 17 for three years and 144 permanently. The Hamas government is now building a new neighbourhood south of Gaza City for them, and is also paying salaries to those not provided for by other factions.

Hamas has said that the only way to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners is by abducting Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips. “If the enemy has not learned, we are prepared to give them practical lessons,” Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader in exile, told a conference in Qatar this month. “The only way to free prisoners is by exchanging them for [Israeli] prisoners and leaders.”

Hamas leaders inside Gaza echoed the call for militants to step up efforts to seize Israeli soldiers. —

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