Photo: Cecile Harnie

Demonstrators in Brussels, Belgium gathered outside city’s central train station on Friday, 28 April to stand in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners on open hunger strike for dignity and freedom. Participants carried Palestinian flags – including several massive flags – as well as signs and banners urging justice and freedom for the prisoners.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

1500 Palestinian prisoners launched their strike in Israeli jails on 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. The hunger strikers have a series of demands, including an end to the denial of family visits, increased communication with loved ones, appropriate medical care and treatment and the end of solitary confinement and administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial. Protesters at the event also highlighted the case of Lebanese struggler for Palestine Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, imprisoned in France for nearly 33 years, who recently conducted a three-day hunger strike to support Palestinian prisoners.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

Following up on the Brussels protest held on 19 April to support the Palestinian prisoners and their hunger strike, protesters from a number of organizations including the Palestinian Community of Belgium and Luxembourg, Association Belgo-Palestinienne, Palestina Solidariteit, Plate-forme Charleroi-Palestine, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and others came together to call for the immediate implementation of the hunger strikers’ demands. Hamdan al-Damiri and Tahsin Zaki of the Palestinian community opened and emceed the event with calls for justice for Palestinian prisoners.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

Speakers at the protest included Nadia El Yousfi, Belgian senator from the Parti Socialiste (PS), who was one of seven Belgian parliamentarians to nominate Marwan Barghouthi, an imprisoned Palestinian political leader and a leader of this hunger strike, for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. Alexis DeSwaef, president of the League for Human Rights in Belgium and a prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, also spoke at the event, on the human rights situation and just demands of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. DeSwaef was one of the participants in a Belgian human rights delegation to Palestine that reviewed and denounced Belgian participation in LAW-TRAIN, an EU-funded collaborative training program with the Israeli police on interrogation techniques.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

Dirk DeBlock, a councillor with the Workers Party of Belgium in Molenbeek and several community activists from Molenbeek also spoke at the protest. Molenbeek, one of the 19 communes that makes up the city and region of Brussels, celebrated a major victory for Palestinian human rights on Wednesday, 26 April when the commune adopted a legally-binding policy prohibiting contracting with businesses and corporations involved with human rights violations, including the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the first Belgian city or town to adopt such a binding initiative.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

The adoption of the procurement policy followed a resolution passed on 25 June 2015 that directed the creation of such a policy, which was found to be legally consistent and binding by the municipality at the April meeting. The campaign for Molenbeek’s contracting to be free of apartheid profiteers was launched by DeBlock when G4S was found to be contracted for cash security and transport by the municipality, despite the global campaign against the corporation for its involvement in human rights abuses in Palestine. This included G4S’ involvement with the Israeli Prison Service as well as its role in checkpoints and other structures of Israeli apartheid.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

The adoption of the policy was celebrated by a large group of Palestinian community members, Palestine solidarity activists and other social justice and human rights advocates who were part of the Molenbeek Free of Apartheid campaign.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

The event included a moving and powerful performance by Raj’een Palestinian Dabkeh Troupe, who performed a modern dabkeh piece illustrating the struggle of Palestinian prisoners as well as a classic dabkeh performance. The strong dancing and Palestinian music drew the attention of many passers-by in the central area of the city. The dabkeh troupe, organized by Palestinian youth in Belgium, performs at cultural and community events across Europe.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

Charlotte Kates of Samidoun spoke at the event, emphasizing the international nature of the campaign to support Palestinian prisoners and that Israeli attempts to isolate and silence the prisoners have failed. This is reflected on a daily basis as the streets of Palestine, the Arab world and international cities have protests, demonstrations and actions to support the hunger strikers and their struggle. She noted the hunger strikers’ basic demands for human rights and justice, and called for the freedom of all Palestinian prisoners, the imprisoned leadership of the Palestinian struggle against racism, colonialism, apartheid and occupation. She also demanded an end to Belgian and European complicity with Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, calling for an end to LAW-TRAIN and the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

Participants also collectively participated in the #SaltWaterChallenge, drinking cups of salt and water as many people have done in viral social media videos, publicizing the hunger strikers’ reliance on salt and water to maintain their lives and health. A Palestinian Belgian student spoke about the struggles of Palestinian youth prisoners and the importance of standing beside the prisoners in their struggle for justice and liberation.

Photo: Cecile Harnie

The event included significant representation from the Palestinian and Arab communities as well as activists from a number of political parties, including the Workers’ Party of Belgium and the Green Party, trade unions and other social and community organizations. Dozens of Belgian organizations are also issuing a letter to the Belgian government to call for a changed policy on Palestine and defense of the rights of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. On Saturday, 6 May, another rally will come together in Brussels at the Place de la Monnaie at 4 pm in support of the Palestinian prisoners and their hunger strike.

Photo: Cecile Harnie