31 Days of Hunger Strike: Activists and prisoners’ families close the offices of the UN as strike enters second month

Graphic by The Palestine Project, based on Naji al-Ali’s Handala

Palestinian prisoners entered their second month of hunger strike on 17 May, as the 31st day of the collective hunger strike began. 1500 Palestinian prisoners – out of a total of 6300 – launched the strike on 17 April 2017 for a series of basic human rights demands, including an end to the denial of family visits, the right to access distance higher education, proper medical care and treatment and the end of solitary confinement and administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial.

Since the strike began, Palestinian prisoners have faced harsh repression upon joining the strike. They are frequently transferred from prison to prison, their personal belongings confiscated. Even the salt that the strikers rely on, with water, to preserve their life and health while on strike, has been confiscated from many prisoners. They have been denied family visits and, frequently, legal visits and leaders of the strike, including Fateh leader Marwan Barghouthi, PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat, longest-serving prisoners Nael Barghouthi and Karim Younis and dozens of others, have been thrown in isolation, all in an attempt to break the strike. Lawyers have only been able to visit 39 of the hunger striking prisoners since the strike began,  despite a decision of the Israeli Supreme Court that hunger strikers should have access to legal visits after an appeal by Palestinian lawyers.

On the 30th day of strike, prisoners’ health is declining; strikers are reporting many more cases of severe fatigue, vomiting blood, blurred vision and high weight loss of 20 kilograms and up. However, the strikers have continued to emphasize their commitment to continue until achieving their demands. Meanwhile, 76 prisoners held in Ofer prison were transferred to the so-callef “field hospital” in Hadarim. The striking prisoners have denounced these field hospitals as a false cover when no real medical care is provided and instead strikers are urged to eat food in exchange for receiving medical treatment, with the intention of keeping hunger strikers out of civilian hospitals and out of view. l One hunger striker, Hafez Qundus, was transferred to Soroka hospital with internal bleeding.

Abusive transfers of prisoners, a physically taxing process for their weakened bodies involving hours of transit shackled in hot vehicles and waiting at crossing points, continued; Issa Qaraqe of the Prisoners’ Affairs Commission reported on Tuesday evening, 16 May, that all of the hunger strikers in the Negev desert prison had been moved to Eshel and other prisons.

Karim Younes, one of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners, jailed for 34 years and a strike leader, was transferred from isolation in Ramle prison to isolation in Jalameh (Kishon).  This came only two days after he released a letter pledging that the strikers would continue “until victory or martyrdom:”

“From the cells of steadfastness, freedom and dignity in the isolation section of Ramla Prison, we salute you and appeal to you individually.

“We assure you of our steadfastness and determination to achieve victory no matter how long the battle lasts.

“We assure the masses of our people that the news of their solidarity and support reach us despite the isolation and siege, and we firmly believe in the inevitability of victory no matter how fierce the battle gets.”

Meanwhile, Marwan Barghouthi reportedly stated that if the strikers’ demands continue to be ignored and the Israeli prison administration continues to refuse to negotiate with the strikers’ leadership, he will begin a strike from drinking water.

Syrian hunger striker in Israeli prisons, Sidqi al-Maqt of Majdal Shams in the occupied Golan Heights, was sentenced to 14 years in Israeli prison on Tuesday, 16 May. Al-Maqt, who previously spent 27 years in Israeli prisons before his release in 2012, was re-arrested in 2015 by Israeli occupation forces who accused him of spying, for exposing Israeli involvement in the war in Syria by posting photos of Israeli involvement with Syrian fighters from al-Qaeda and other organizations on his Facebook page.

“According to a friend of Maqt’s, the information he posted online highlighted in detail the level of interaction between Israel and al-Nusra, an alliance Israel would not be keen on publicising,” wrote Nour Samaha in Al-Jazeera.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning, civil disobedience – as called for by Barghouthi in his meeting with his lawyer on Sunday, 14 May, and echoed in the subsequent call from the National Committee to Support the Strike – escalated. The families of prisoners and activists supporting the hunger strike closed the headquarters of the United Nations in Ramallah in protest, demanding action on the prisoners’ hunger strike and their mistreatment.

Families of the prisoners issued a statement on the United Nations’ role and lack of involvement in protecting the prisoners of the occupation:

We Will Not Accept Our Prisoners as Martyrs

Closure of United Nations Building

Today, the United Nations building in Ramallah is closed due to its refusal to uphold its responsibility towards Palestinians as they remain silent on the Palestinian Prisoners on hunger strike.

For the past 31 days, instead of fulfilling its role in Palestine as the protector of prisoners’ rights and exposing the Zionist crimes, we have only witnessed failure and silence from the United Nations,

Therefore, we hold the United Nations accountable with  full legal responsibility in its role as the organization promoting state accountability in human rights law.

As such, we hold the United Nations responsible based on principles of international humanitarian and human rights law.

We demand:

  • An immediate and urgent intervention to protect the prisoners and detainees that have been on hunger strike for 31 days.
  • To launch an international investigation of the occupation’s crimes against the hunger strikers in their attempts to break the strike through systematic means of torture and the threat of force feeding.
  • To work according to its mission and duties as place it as the protector of human rights agreements.
  • Hold the Zionist entity accountable for its violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, forcing them to comply with the third and fourth Geneva Conventions regarding Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
  • To call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take a clear position on administrative detention as a war crime and crime against humanity because of its widespread and arbitrary nature, as well as for torture of prisoners.
  • Demand that the United Nations’ human rights organizations force the occupation to allow an international investigations committee to enter the prisons and investigate the situation of the hunger strikers.

We as families of Palestinian Prisoners, express our deep concern about the lives of our sons, fathers, daughters, brothers and sisters who are fighting their battle of empty stomachs for our collective freedom as a dispossessed and displaced nation.

We consider this the first of an escalating series of direct actions against those who continue to be complicit in the Zionist entity’s war crimes until the recognition of the prisoners’ rights and demands.

We salute the hunger strikers that refuse a life of humiliation.

Occupied Palestine

17, May, 2017

As protests escalate, Palestinian Authority police have attacked and dispersed demonstrations for the prisoners on multiple occasions in prior days, especially as civil disobedience, including road blockages, have escalated as Palestinians demand action for the prisoners. On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority police beat protesters, including students, when they marched to the Beit El checkpoint in solidarity with the prisoners for a civil disobedience action.  Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has refused to end security coordination with the Israeli occupation despite the demand of the prisoners and the National Committee to Support the Strike. Several high-ranking PA security officials, including Majid Faraj, reportedly held meetings with Israeli officials to discuss an end to the strike; the prisoners have emphasized that their designated leadership are the only body that should be negotiating with Israeli forces on behalf of the strikers.

Such actions come as Israeli occupation forces continue to attack prisoner support protests and arrest and injure participants. Dozens of Palestinians have been seriously injured – and Saba Obeid, 22, killed – by Israeli occupation forces as they have protested for freedom and dignity for hunger-striking prisoners.

Global actions are continuing to mobilize for Palestinian prisoners; on Tuesday, 16 May, in Rome, Dakar, Granada and Ankara, supporters of justice saluted the Palestinian prisoners. On Wednesday, 17 May, events will take place in Hellemmes, Evry, Chicago, Milan, Glasgow, Belfast, Buenos Aires, Granada, Sevilla, Malaga and more to support the struggle of the prisoners. A full list of global events is available at the Samidoun website.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network urges all supporters of Palestine to continue to mobilize, demonstrate and organize in public squares, government offices and outside Israeli embassies, as the prisoners have urged. We also urge participation in the urgent call to action to pressure the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to take a real stand and end its complicity in the violation of Palestinian prisoners’ rights. We emphasize the importance of escalating the global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and the corporations like HP that profit from the imprisonment of Palestinians. We join the families of the prisoners to emphasize that we will not accept that the striking prisoners become martyrs.