Palestinian prisoners mark 15th day of hunger strike on International Workers’ Day

1995 Palestinian poster in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. Via Palestine Poster Project

As the world marks the first of May, International Workers’ Day, Palestinian prisoners on Israeli jails are engaged in their 15th day of hunger strike, entering their third week without food. 1500 Palestinian prisoners launched the strike on 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, to demand a series of basic rights: an end to the denial of family visits, appropriate medical care and treatment, the right to continue education, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial.

The prisoners have been met with harsh repression, including the denial of legal and family visits, isolation of strike leaders, confiscation of clothing, blankets and other personal items and frequent raids by repressive units, often late at night. Large numbers of hunger strikers have been transferred repeatedly from prison to prison. With only a few strikers in Ofer and Ashkelon prisons so far allowed legal visits, tracking developments in the strikers’ health and daily conditions is highly difficult for Palestinian organizations.

The campaign of prison transfers continues; Asra Voice reported the transfer of 45 prisoners from Ohli Kedar prison to Gilboa, Megiddo and Ofer prisons, while 10 prisoners were reportedly taken from Gilboa to the Negev desert prison and then returned to Gilboa only hours later.  The transfers, which are particularly physically exhausting to hunger strikers consuming only salt and water for 15 days, continued on Monday. Bilal Ajamieh and Haithem Hamdan were tranferred from Ashkelon to Eshel prison, while strike leaders Nasser Abu Hmeid, Anas Jaradat and Mohammed al-Khalidi were transferred from Ayalon Ramle prison to Nitzan prison. meanwhile, Mohammed Abbas was transferred from Nitzan to Gilboa prison, and Musallam Thabet and Ahmad Waridat taken from Nitzan to an unknown location.

Abdel-Fattah Dawla, the head of the media committee for the strike, said that attempts on the part of the Israel Prison Service to create back-channel negotiations that exclude strike leaders like Marwan Barghouthi, named the exclusive spokesperson for the Fateh prisoners who launched the call for the hunger strike, have failed. Dawla said in Ma’an News that the prisoners have consensus on their leadership and will not accept the creation of an alternative leadership to negotiate on their demands. Dawla also said that Karim Younes, another strike leader and the longest consecutively-held Palestinian prisoner, stated that he would not deal with the Israeli occupation authorities as a negotiator in the context of the exclusion of Barghouthi.

Following on Younes’ hearing yesterday in the Haifa district court, lawyers Yamen Zeidan and Suleiman Shaheen said that no clear response was given to their petition for a legal visit with Younes, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel who has served over 34 years in Israeli prisons. The petition was partially accepted and partially rejected, and the prison administration was given until Thursday to respond in writing regarding a visit with Younes. According to Ma’an News, the lawyers emphasized that this means only further delay and attempts to isolate Younes and his fellow strikers.

Mohammed Dalaysheh with his mother. Photo: Wattan TV

Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Dalaysheh, from Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah, on his 15th day of hunger strike, lost his mother on Sunday, 30 April. Sentenced to 24 years in Israeli prison, he has completed 12 years of his sentence. As a Palestinian prisoner and a hunger striker, he is denied visits with his family or even a telephone call to his loved ones at his time of loss. Held in isolation in Saba prison and denied legal and family visits, Dalaysheh reportedly may not be informed of his mother’s passing; he lost his father three years ago, also imprisoned and denied the comfort of his family.

Mass Palestinian support for the strikers continued, as did repression of support actions and arrests of organizers by the Israeli occupation. Sumoud Abu Khdeir, an active Palestinian youth organizer in Jerusalem, was seized by Israeli occupation forces on 1 May in Jerusalem after a group of young Palestinian men and women gathered at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, creating a cloth mural of support for the Palestinian prisoners and writing the names of the Palestinian prisoners with messages of solidarity for their hunger strike. The mural in support of the prisoners was also confiscated by Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem.  The young Palestinians were forced from the area by occupation forces.

In Sebastia, northwest of Nablus, Israeli occupation forces fired a heavy barrage of tear gas on protesters supporting the prisoners’ strike on Sunday night, 30 April; the fusillade of tear gas caused the support tent for the prisoners to catch on fire and blaze.  A number of Palestinians suffered tear gas inhalation, but none were wounded by the fire.

Many events are taking place throughout occupied Palestine in support of the hunger strikers, including events in Ramallah and el-Bireh, Nablus, Gaza City, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Arara; events for International Workers’ Day are highlighting imprisoned Palestinian workers and their struggle for freedom.

International events in support of the prisoners continued, with wide participation in protests, festivals and demonstrations for International Workers’ Day. From within Israeli prisons, statements from Palestinian prisoners were issued directed to the international movements for justice and liberation, urging support for Palestine on International Workers’ Day.

Ahmad Sa’adat, the imprisoned General Secretary of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, issued a statement to the international left on 1 May. “Greetings to you from inside the prisons and cells of Zionism, and salutes to all those who celebrate today, who march and participate in this day, in the lighting of the flame of this immortal, human, day, the first of May, the day of workers, the people, and the struggling classes. This is the day in which we together renew our primary commitment to defend the rights and interests of the impoverished and struggling classes with a fundamental interest in progress and change, the classes that were and still are the front line of the revolution, standing against the savage forces of capitalism, occupation, colonialism and racism…One of our common tasks is to defend the rights of refugees everywhere and to defend migrants and the impoverished classes, especially those living in the midst of imperialist countries,” said Sa’adat.

Kamil Abu Hanish, a leader of the hunger strike representing PFLP prisoners, also released a statement for the First of May: “Today, we call upon you, the fighters for freedom and justice in the world, the workers’ movements, the strugglers for socialism, the movements of revolution, to escalate your support for our struggle, for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian prisoners….We urge you to intensify and build the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the occupation state and the corporations like Hewlett-Packard and G4S that profit from its imprisonment, apartheid and colonialism. The workers’ movements, the movements of the popular classes, the movements of the oppressed, can and must take part in this battle around the world, as part and parcel of the struggle against racism, imperialism and capitalism,” wrote Abu Hanish.

On Sunday, 30 April, actions and events continued in support of the Palestinian prisoners, with gatherings in Padua, Milan, Malmo, Melbourne, Beirut, Washington, DC and elsewhere. On 1 May, international May First events will include advocacy for Palestine and Palestine contingents in cities around the world, including in Athens, Liege, Brussels, Copenhagen, Charleroi, Malmo, New York, Lille, Arras, Paris, Lyon, Metz, Montpellier, Lausanne, Albertville, Beziers, Saint-Etienne, Berlin, Cologne, London, Los Angeles, Oakland, North Bergen and more. In Athens, multiple contingents, organizations, trade unions and political parties carried banners and signs saluting the Palestinian prisoners and their struggle for justice and dignity.

Photo: Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Greece

The World Federation of Trade Unions issued a strong statement of support for Palestinian prisoners, which was joined also by the International Trade Union Confederation. Palestinian trade unionists issued a call for increased boycott activism on May Day, including boycott of the Histadrut, the Israeli official labor body: “We also take this opportunity to call on trade unions yet to join the BDS movement to: implement boycotts of Israeli and international companies that are complicit with violations of Palestinian rights, divest trade union funds from companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid, and apply pressure on governments to cut military and trade relations with Israel. We reiterate our call for a boycott of Histadrut, Israel’s general trade union, for its complicity with Israel’s violations of international law and its refusal to take a clear stand in support of comprehensive human rights for Palestinians.”

In Lebanon, Palestinian and Lebanese organizations are continuing activities to support the strikers; Palestinian refugees in Shatila camp organized support tents and the posting of banners and posters in support of the prisoners; in Mar Elias refugee camp, a candlelight event saluted the prisoners’ strike. In Beirut, Saida, Kharoub and elsewhere in Lebanon, protests and gatherings called for support for the prisoners; Samah Idriss of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon urged materializing solidarity with the prisoners through intensifying the boycott campaign.

The Parliamentary Association of the Mediterranean also declared support for the prisoners, reported Ma’an News. António Pedro Roque da Visitação Oliveira, the president of PAM and a member of the Parliament of Portugal, stated that the association would take action on the issue of striking prisoners and would be meeting urgently with the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on the issue.