39 Days of Hunger Strike: Dozens of strikers hospitalized as supporters fast around the world

Graphic by The Palestine Project (Facebook)

Palestinian prisoners are entering their 39th day of hunger strike on 25 May 2017. 1500 Palestinian prisoners – out of a total of nearly 6500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails – launched their hunger 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 an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial.

Throughout the strike – labeled the Strike of Freedom and Dignity – prisoners have faced harsh repression by Israeli occupation prison authorities. They have been repeatedly and abusively transferred from prison to prison, denied all family visits and most legal visits, thrown in isolation and solitary confinement, fined and had their belongings confiscated, including the salt they rely on with water to preserve their lives and health. As the strike has gone on over time, the health of the strikers has faced serious deterioration, with numerous strikers fainting, vomiting or urinating blood, experiencing severe fatigue and weight loss of over 20 kilograms (40 pounds).

Leaders of the strike include Fateh leader Marwan Barghouthi, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat, Hamas leader Abbas Sayyed and longest-held Palestinian prisoners Karim Younes and Nael Barghouthi. Abusive transfers of strike leaders continued, as Kamil Abu Hanish, leader of the PFLP’s prison branch, was transferred from isolation in Gilboa prison to isolation in Ayalon prison.  Despite the severe weakness of hunger strikers after 39 days without food, these transfers continue to take place via “Bosta” (the infamous prison transit vehicle) while prisoners taken from prison to prison are shackled hand and foot.

On Wednesday, 24 May, dozens of hunger-striking prisoners were suddenly transferred to civilian hospitals after weeks of denial of access and the creation of so-called “field hospitals” where, strikers reported, they were only pressured to consume food and break the strike. 20 prisoners from Hadarim prison were transferred and 60 from Ohli Kedar prison.  Israeli media also stated that Marwan Barghouthi was transferred to hospital with 120 fellow prisoners as were former long-term hunger striker Samer Issawi and PFLP leader Hamdi Qur’an. Barghouthi was later returned to isolation in Jalameh prison. Palestinian lawyer Hanan Khatib reported that the Israeli prison authorities have imposed an information blackout on the strikers’ health status. Following her visit with striking prisoner Yousef Zaaqiq, she reported that ambulances are constantly at the prison gate. She also reported ongoing confiscation of salt by prison guards and daily inspection raids in the strikers’ areas.

The following video was released of the transfer of prisoners to hospitals:

Raafat Hamdouna of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies warned that if occupation officials continue to refuse to respond to the prisoners’ demands, the prisoners could decide to dissolve their organizations, forcing the occupation to negotiate with each prisoner individually and deal with thousands of cases rather than the unified, recognized leadership.  He warned of the severe dangers to the strikers’ health especially as dozens continue to be treated in so-called “field hospitals” where they are threatened with force feeding and deprived of access to civilian health workers and doctors.

One hunger striker, Saad Dweikat, 19, from Beita near Nablus, was released from Israeli occupation prisons on Wednesday evening, 24 May; he has been on hunger strike for 38 days and was transferred immediately to the hospital in Ramallah due to his deteriorating health as a result of the strike.

Three former Palestinian prisoners from the village of Jaba south of Jenin in occupied Palestine declared an open hunger strike in support of the strikers. Ma’amun Salameh, Azzam Abu Aoun and Maen Hamamreh launched their strike in the solidarity tent in Ramallah to support the strikers.  On Thursday, 25 May, popular conferences are being convened throughout Palestine by the National Committee to Support the Strike.

As the strike continues inside the prisons, Israeli occupation forces continue to engage in mass arrests and repression directed at the entire Palestinian population; 36 Palestinians were seized by occupation forces in overnight raids.  A print shop in Ramallah was forcibly shut down by occupation forces and accused of printing “incitement material.”

The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights expressed concern about the ongoing hunger strike, especially the punitive actions of the Israeli jails against the strikers, including the denial of access to lawyere. He also emphasized the importance of the issue of administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial, under which approximately 600 Palestinians are held.  Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) released a full legal analysis of the prisoners’ strike, emphasizing that the demands of the strike are in fact legal obligations of the occupying power.

International activists and organizations are holding one-day hunger strikes in numerous cities and towns in support of the strikers today, 25 May. Hunger strike actions are taking place in Paris, Albertville, Lyon, Marseille, Nimes, Saint-Etienne, Montpellier, Donostia/San Sebastian, Berlin, Bremen, London, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Madrid, Tripoli, Gothenburg Victoria, Toronto, Calgary and actions across Canada and New Zealand. More solidarity with prisoners’ strike today in Cagliari, Portadown, Houston, Chicago, Stanford, Toronto, Halifax and more.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) urged actions around the world on Friday, 26 May to support the prisoners’ strike. “BNC calls for immediate international action towards implementing a comprehensive military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed against apartheid South Africa in the past. International bodies — including banks, private military corporations, research centers, universities and governments — must stop enabling Israel’s military and security apparatus, and stop facilitating the development of Israeli military technology. As long as military ties continue, the international community is effectively sending Israel a clear message of approval to continue its severe violations of international law, including its violations of basic prisoners’ rights.”  Samidoun in New York City will be protesting as part of the campaign on Friday, as will supporters of justice in Palestine in Gothenburg, Maynooth, Toronto, Montreal, Lima, Modena and elsewhere.

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.