Day 19 of mass Palestinian hunger strike: Leaders isolated as struggle continues for dignity and freedom

Image by Mahmoud Rtail

On Palestinian prisoners’ 19th day of hunger strike, the Strike for Freedom and Dignity continued one day after a group of prominent leaders in Israeli jails joined the strike. Launched on 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, by 1500 Palestinian prisoners, the strike demands basic human rights, including an end to the denial of family visits, appropriate health care and medical treatment, the right to access higher education and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial.

A number of the prominent Palestinian imprisoned leaders who joined the strike on Thursday were transferred almost immediately to isolation. Ahmad Sa’adat, the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was moved to isolation in Ramon prison; fellow PFLP leader Ahed Abu Ghoulmeh and the leader of Hamas prisoners, Abbas al-Sayyed, both of whom joined the strike alongside Sa’adat yesterday, were also isolated.  Said Tubasi, 34, from Jenin refugee camp, was transferred from Ohli Kedar prison to isolation in Ramon prison.  Among the leaders who joined the strike on Thursday were Ibrahim Hamed, Ghassan Zawahreh, Hasan Salameh, Zaid Bseiso, Nael Barghouthi and Mohammed al-Qeeq. The prison branch of the PFLP issued a statement, saying that the strike is “the most effective weapon in the hands of the prisoners’ movement to protect the culture and path of resistance…the leaders jining the strike is a step to close ranks and cut off all attempts by the occupation administration to circumvent or undermine the strike.”

More broad swathes of Palestinian prisoners continued to participating in the strike; 1000 prisoners held in the Negev desert prison announced they were returning meals for three days as part of a series of protest steps and in support of the strike.

Striking prisoners have faced ongoing repression at the hands of Israeli occupation forces, including frequent and violent night raids, arduous and difficult transfers from prison to prison, denial of family visits, denial of legal visits, and even confiscation of salt, which prisoners depend on alongside water to sustain their lives and health. Following an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday, 3 May, legal visits are finally beginning to hunger strikers; however, the Israeli Prison Service is attempting to pick and choose which lawyers will be able to visit hunger strikers, rejecting some lawyers’ visits, and continuing to interfere with and prevent legal visits.

Palestinian prisoners are threatened with force-feeding. Following the passage of a law to force feed hunger strikers, the Israeli Medical Association has so far refused to engage in nasogastric forced feeding, although Palestinian hunger strikers have been forcibly treated in violation of international medical ethics. Quds News reported that Israeli Channel Two stated that doctors may be brought from abroad to forcibly feed Palestinian prisoners in the “field hospital” being set up in the Negev desert prison.

Throughout Palestine, large protests continued to support the strikers; on Friday, 5 May, numerous marches are planned following Friday prayers to support tents, public squares, and Israeli checkpoints. Among other villages, cities and refugee camps, events are taking place in Bethlehem, Ramallah and el-Bireh, Nablus (Huwarra), al-Khalil, Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Jericho, Salfit, Tubas and Jenin, in all governorates of the West Bank.  These protests have been met with repression; dozens have been injured by Israeli tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and other weapons fired by occupation forces. Palestinian activist Yassin Sbeih from occupied Jerusalem remains jailed following his arrest while protesting for the prisoners; his detention has been extended until Monday, 8 May.

International protests are scheduled around the world for Friday, 5 May to support the strikers. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network will come together with American Muslims for Palestine-NJ to rally in New York City at 5:30 pm outside the Best Buy in Union Square; further protests will take place in Brussels, Rotterdam, Dublin, Manchester, Waterford, Edinburgh, Toronto and Fort Lauderdale. Protests will continue throughout the weekend, in Istanbul, London, Birmingham, Whitstable, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Uppsala, Stuttgart, Dublin, Newry, Berlin, Cologne, Paris, Limerick, Auckland, Bristol, Sydney, Amsterdam, Quito and Fremantle, among other places. Follow events and add yours at Samidoun’s global events schedule.