Solidarity initiatives in Brussels, Belgium continued in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. On Friday, 12 May, a large crowd of supporters of Palestine and Palestinian community members gathered outside the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to demand that Belgium take a stand for the rights of Palestinian prisoners.
There are currently a total of 6300 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. 1500 launched a hunger strike on 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, for a series of demands, including an end to the denial of family visits, the right to pursue higher education, proper health care and medical treatment and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention.
The strikers, including prominent Palestinian leaders like Marwan Barghouthi, Ahmad Sa’adat, Abbas Sayyed, Karim Younes, Nael Barghouthi, Zaid Bseiso, Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh and others, have faced harsh repression. They are frequently transferred in a physically taxing process, their belongings confiscated, including the salt they consume with water to preserve their life and health, subject to repeated repressive raids, thrown in isolation and solitary confinement and denied all family visits and frequently, legal visits.
A delegation, including Hamdan al-Damiri of the Palestinian Community of Belgium and Luxembourg, Alexis Deswaef of the League of Human Rights and Pierre Galand of Association Belgo-Palestinienne and the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine, entered to meet with the foreign minister and deliver a letter signed by dozens of Belgian organizations urging action to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian human rights, including the demands of the hunger strikers in Israeli jails.
Speakers at the rally included Tahsin Zaki of the Palestinian Community of Belgium and Luxembourg, who appealed on behalf of the Palestinian prisoners for action and solidarity on their 26th day of hunger strike.
Charlotte Kates of Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network also spoke at the rally outside the Foreign Ministry, emphasizing the importance of escalating the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. She also highlighted the growing support in the international labor movement for the Palestinian prisoners’ struggle, as well as the international nature of the ongoing protests at which the voice of the prisoners is echoing around the world. She demanded that Belgium stop its participation in projects like LAW TRAIN, in which Israeli police participate in a program on “interrogation techniques,” and an end to the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
Plate-forme Charleroi-Palestine continued its campaign of collecting photographs of support for the boycott of Israel with a special sign highlighting support for the prisoners and the boycott movement.
The following day, 13 May, hundreds of people participated in the annual bicycle protest for Palestine, Via Velo Palestine 2017. Commemorating 69 years of Nakba and 50 years of the 1967 occupation, participants rode decorated bikes around Brussels, with multiple stops in locations with actions to support Palestine and the Palestinian prisoners.
Raj’een Dabkeh Troupe performed at the Bourse in downtown Brussels as the centerpiece of the closing event of Via Velo Palestine, exhibiting Palestinian traditional music and dance and a message emphasizing the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands from which they were expelled in 1948, as well as solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.
These actions followed student activities at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles and the Universite Catholique du Louvain – Alma, organized by the Comite BDS-ULB and Rise Up on 11 and 12 May. Students organized 24-hour hunger strikes on each campus, with tables and literature distribution about the prisoners and a group #SaltWaterChallenge to support the strikers.
On 10 May, meanwhile, L’Avenir Palestinien organized a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in Brussels calling for the immediate implementation of the demands of the Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails. Crowds of Palestinians and their supporters gathered on the street across from the embassy where they were blocked by police from moving further. A number of speakers, including Tahsin Zaki of the Palestinian Community of Belgium and Luxembourg and solidarity activist Mark De Quidt addressed the participants.
On Friday, 5 May, the coalition of Belgian organizations that gathered previously on 28 April came together one week later outside Brussels’ Gare Centrale train station. Speakers urged freedom for Palestinian political prisoners and the escalation of the boycott of Israel.
There were a number of Palestinian cultural performances at the rally, including a performance by Raj’een Dabkeh Troupe. The event also included an additional dabkeh performance by the Dal’ona dabkeh troupe as well as a poetry recitation by Palestinian children.
Protests and rallies for Palestinian prisoners in Brussels are continuing; the next demonstration to support the hunger strike will take place at Place de la Monnaie at 2:30 pm on Friday, 18 May.