37th Day of Hunger Strike: Strikers’ health deteriorates rapidly as Palestinians protest Trump visit

Graphic by The Palestine Project (Facebook)

On 23 May, Palestinian prisoners entered their 37th day of hunger strike. 1500 prisoners – out of a total of approximately 6500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails – launched the strike on 17 April 2017, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Throughout that time, strikers have consumed salt and water only to protect their lives and health.

Palestinian hunger strikers have faced harsh repression from Israeli occupation prison authorities. They have been denied legal and family visits, thrown in isolation and solitary confinement, abusively transferred repeatedly from prison to prison and had their personal belongings confiscated, including in many cases the salt on which they rely.

On the 37th day of hunger strike, prisoners begin to face very serious threats to their lives and health. There are many reports of fainting, serious fatigue, lowered blood pressure and heart rate and severe weight loss. Nevertheless, Palestinian prisoner Karim Younes, the longest consecutively-held prisoner jailed for 34 years, issued a statement emphasizing that despite their declining health, the strikers would continue and even escalate their strike.

One prisoner, Adnan Sari Hussein, 31, from Tulkarem, has been on hunger strike for 37 days; he is held in Shatta prison clinic and was reportedly treated with a defibrillator after his heartbeat momentarily stopped, reported Asra Voice. Hussein is reportedly still facing a very serious condition.  Meanwhile, in Eshel Prison, a number of hunger strikers are experiencing a sharp decline in weight and blood pressure, with many vomiting or urinating blood and experiencing skin diseases. 10 prisoners have been transferred to the Soroka hospital in the past two days said Palestinian lawyer Yousef Nasasreh, following his meeting with hunger striker Amjad Abu Latifa.  Hunger-striking prisoner Nasser Abu Hmeid said that Ashkelon prison has been “turned into a field hospital,” shortly before an announcement that many Palestinian prisoners would shortly be transferred to civilian hospitals.

The Prisoners’ Affairs Commission demanded on Tuesday that the International Committee of the Red Cross reveal the current situation and condition of hunger-striking imprisoned leader Marwan Barghouthi, who is held in solitary confinement in Jalameh prison and is currently being denied legal visits. The ICRC met Barghouthi briefly once before his one legal visit, but did not disclose information about his condition publicly. Numerous Palestinian activists and families of the prisoners have been sharply critical of the ICRC‘s performance during the hunger strike, particularly noting that one of the prisoners’ demands is for the restoration of the second monthly family visit cut by the ICRC due to “budget cuts” in 2016.

200 more strikers joined the strike on Sunday from prisoners held in Ramon, Eshel and Nafha prisons. The strikers’ demands focus on basic human rights: an end to the denial of family visits, proper medical care and treatment, the right to access distance higher education and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial.  Leaders of the hunger strike include Barghouthi, imprisoned PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat, longest-held Palestinian prisoners Nael Barghouthi and Karim Younes, and fellow imprisoned leaders Anas Jaradat, Abbas Sayyed, Hassan Salameh, Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh and others.

Hunger striking prisoner Ayed Dudeen joined the strike on 4 May with other prominent leaders and is held in administrative detention without charge or trial, which is indefinitely renewable. Prior to launching his strike, he had been ordered to another 4 months in administrative detention; his family reported that an additional 2 months were now added to his sentence as punishment for participating in the collective hunger strikes.

Palestinian lawyer Jawad Boulos reported on Monday, 22 May that the prison administration has created a list of 30 prisoners, and if a lawyer visits one of these 30 strikers, he will not be allowed to visit the others. Boulos met with striking prisoner Nasser Oweis, held in isolation in Ayalon Ramle with strike leaders including Haitham Hamdan, Ziad Zahran, William Khatib, Samer Ghaith, Ibrahim Hamed, Marwan Fararjeh, Louay al-Mansi, Kamil Abu Hanish, Khalil Shilo and Abdel-Rahman Abu Houli. He reported that the strikers are all experiencing severe health deterioration and that Oweis had lost 17 kg (35 pounds) so far on his hunger strike; however, Oweis told Boulous that “we are more determined than ever to continue our struggle until victory.” At the same time, Boulos was denied access to hunger-striking prisoner Samer Issawi, held in the Ramle prison clinic.

On Monday, 22 May, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine issued a joint statement warning of any attempts to circumvent or undermine the prisoners’ strike in an attempt to break the prisoners’ movement, the backbone of confrontation of the occupation and all projects that aim to undermine Palestinian rights and freedom. They particularly warned of schemes associated with the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump to the region, urging sharp confrontation of Trump and the U.S. role in Palestine.

At the same time, the Committee to Support the Dignity Strike emphasized that there have been no serious negotiations to the present time and that reports that a deal is close are “deceiving and misleading” and meant to undermine popular and official solidarity with the strike.

On Monday, 22 May, Palestinians throughout occupied Palestine engaged in a strike in support of the prisoners’ strike, closing schools, universities, shops, markets, and government institutions. At least 20 Palestinians were shot and injured by Israeli occupation forces as they attacked and violently suppressed rallies for the prisoners.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, 23 May, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza took to the streets in a protest declaring Trump not welcome in Palestine, dedicated to the prisoners on their 37th day of hunger strike. Marchers denounced Trump and the U.S. role in the region and demanded freedom for Palestinian prisoners.

International actions also continued in support of the prisoners, as students and others in the United States participated in a one-day hunger strike and action under the banner of #DignityStrike36, and the US Palestinian Community Network called for a week of action across the U.S.  Solidarity hunger strikes will continue today, and an international solidarity hunger strike is growing for Thursday, 25 May, as well as a one-day hunger strike throughout Ireland on 24 May. Events are being organized in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Houston, Cagliari, Milan, Choisy, Marseille, Paris, Lyon, Albertville, Nimes, Saint-Etienne, Montpellier, Brussels, Berlin, Victoria, Portadown, County Kildare, Dublin, Belfast, Stuttgart, London and more.

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. Take Action: 

1) Organize or join an event in support of the hunger strikers. Protest outside your local Israeli embassy, consulate or mission, or at a public square or government building. You can drop a banner or put up a table to support the prisoners and their strike. See the list of current international events here, and add your own: send your events and actions to us at samidoun@samidoun.net, on Facebook, or use the form to tell us about your actions.

2) Hunger Strike for Justice! Join the Palestinian hunger strikers to support their demands with a symbolic one-day hunger strike in your community or on your campus. Tell us about your solidarity strike at samidoun@samidoun.net, on Facebook, or use the form.

3) Call your government officials and demand action.  Call your foreign affairs officials – and members of parliament – and urge action for the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.

Call your country’s officials urgently:

  • Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop: + 61 2 6277 7500
  • Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland: +1-613-992-5234
  • European Union Commissioner Federica Mogherini: +32 (0) 2 29 53516
  • New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully: +64 4 439 8000
  • United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: +44 20 7008 1500
  • United States President Donald Trump: 1-202-456-1111

Tell your government: Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike for their basic human rights – for family visits, medical care, and freedom from imprisonment without charge or trial. Governments must pressure Israel to recognize the prisoners’ demands!

4) Take action on social media! Support the hunger strike on social media. Post a picture of yourself with a sign saying you support the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike! Include the hashtag #DignityStrike when posting your photo to Facebook or Twitter. Share and re-share information about the strike with the #DignityStrike hashtag.

5) Build the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign! Join the BDS Movement to highlight the complicity of corporations like Hewlett-Packard and the continuing involvement of G4S in Israeli policing and prisons. Build a campaign to boycott Israeli goods, impose a military embargo on Israel, or organize around the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.