25 days on hunger strike: Strike grows as prisoners’ health conditions deteriorate

Image: The Palestine Project

On Thursday, 11 May, Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons entered their 25th day of the Strike for Freedom and Dignity. nearly 100 Palestinian prisoners from a range of political affiliations are reportedly joining the strike today, as the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it would visit Marwan Barghouthi, a strike leader and prominent imprisoned Fateh Central Committee member, in isolation in Jalameh prison today. The Fateh movement has now officially called upon all of its members in prison to join in the strike, except for sick prisoners and child prisoners. Update as of 11 May evening: Fateh’s central committee has retracted this call.

The new strikers will join a campaign launched by 1500 Palestinian political prisoners on 17 April 2017, with a series of demands for basic human rights: an end to the denial of family visits, the provision of appropriate health care and medical treatment, the right to pursue distance higher education and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial.

Tbe strikers have faced harsh repression, including repeated and abusive transfers that are highly physically damaging to the already-weakened bodies of hunger strikers, solitary confinement and isolation, denial of access to appropriate water, confiscation of salt, frequent night-time raids involving ransacking of prisoners’ sections, confiscation of personal belongings including clothing and blankets and denial of legal and family visits. Despite an order obtained by Adalah and the Prisoners’ Affairs Commission against the Israel Prison Service’s denial of legal visits to hunger strikers, many strikers and particularly leaders continue to be denied legal visits. Imprisoned PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat, PFLP leader Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh and Marwan Barghouthi were all denied legal visit in recent days.

Barghouthi has also been denied visitation with the International Committee of the Red Cross since the strike began on 17 April. He has also been denied a visit by Knesset member Yousef Jabareen, which Adalah is contesting. However, the ICRC reported on Wednesday, 10 May that they would visit Barghouthi on 11 May inside Jalameh prison, where he is held in isolation.

At the 25th day of hunger strike, prisoners who are striking are faced with the threat of severe health deterioration, including dehydration, low blood pressure, heart disorders and inability to walk.  A number of prisoners are unable to stand, many have lost 15 to 25 kg in weight, and some have begun to vomit blood, reported the Prisoners’ Affairs Commission.

Meanwhile, Palestinian lawyer Karim Ajwa, who met with hunger striker Nasser Abu Hmaid in Nitzan Ramla prison said that the strikers are being held in filthy cells with repeated confiscation of salt. He noted that this was retaliation against the strikers, and that Abu Hmaid had been transferred seven times since the beginning of the strike on 17 April.  On Wednesday, 10 May, 13 more hunger striking prisoners were transferred from Petah Tikva to Negev and Hadarim prisons.

Israeli intelligence agency have been reportedly stepping up the psychological pressure on Palestinian striking prisoners; the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies reported that hunger strikers who were taken to military courts in the previous days were shown photos which were claimed to depict Marwan Barghouthi eating and then pressured to end the strike.  This comes in addition to ongoing threats of torturous forced feeding, including threats to import doctors from other countries to carry out the procedure against striking prisoners in so-called “field hospitals.”

The Palestinian National Committee to support the strike called for a day of anger to demand victory for the strikers, with demonstrations and actions in all areas of Palestine. Arab writers convening at the First Palestine Forum for the Arab Novel also called for action to support Palestinian prisoners.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Labour Congress at its 28th Constitutional Convention in Toronto officially adopted an emergency resolution in support of the hunger strike, calling on the Canadian government to pressure Israel over the detention and treatment of Palestinian prisoners and pledging to campaign in support of the prisoners. This followed dozens of European trade unions and declarations from the International Confederation of Trade Unions and World Federation of Trade Unions in support of the prisoners and their strike, exhibiting widespread labor solidarity for the hunger strikers.

A hunger strike continued in Paris in support of the Palestinian prisoners. On the second day of the strike, 10 May, the strikers reported that “After a night under shelter where they have continued fasting, the Paris citizens on hunger strike in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners are now back in the street, at the same place of Fontaine des Innocents, in central Paris.

Photo: EuroPalestine

Overnight, new volunteers have joined, and there are now a dozen people on hunger strike. Appointments have been prepared with various media (TV, radio, print), and we have the luck to enjoy a lovely sunny weather.”

A solidarity hunger strike is also continuing in Brussels, where students at the Universite Catholique du Louvain and the Universite Libre de Bruxelles are launching a 24-hour hunger strike to support the prisoners. Also being organized on Thursday, 11 May is an all-day hunger strike and solidarity gathering in Chicago, led by a range of Palestinian community, student and solidarity groups. Among others, Rasmea Odeh, the former Palestinian prisoner, torture survivor and community leader, took the #SaltWaterChallenge in Chicago to support the prisoners’ strike and encourage participation in the action.

Events will also take place in Anaheim, Paris, Cambridge and Maastricht in support of the strike; on Wednesday, 10 May, protests in Toulouse, Brussels, Karachi, Cape Town, London and Barcelona, among others, supported the strike. A full schedule of upcoming events is available at the Samidoun website.