UPDATE: As of 5 pm Pacific time on Thursday, 21 October, the leadership body of the Islamic Jihad prisoners announced that their collective hunger strike was suspended after reaching an agreement to end the punitive measures against them.
Mahmoud al-Ardah, the leader of the Freedom Tunnel operation in which six Palestinian prisoners liberated themselves from Gilboa prison, launched an open hunger strike on 21 October in the Ayalon prison in Ramleh where he is held. He launched his strike to reject the arbitrary penalties and deprivation of rights imposed upon him and his fellow Palestinian prisoners. His mother also launched a solidarity strike to support her son despite her own difficult health conditions, Bassima al-Ardah, Mahmoud’s sister, told Palestinian TV station Palestine Today.
Al-Ardah launched his hunger strike after a hefty fine of 3,500 NIS ($1090 USD) was imposed upon him, allegedly to “repay damage” to the prison from their escape; all of his appliances are confiscated along with most of his clothes. Like his fellow Freedom Tunnel escapees, he is being held in isolation after they were subjected to torture and severe “military interrogation” at the hands of Israeli military forces. He has been ordered to 6 months in solitary confinement, barred from family visits and accessing the “canteen,” or prison store, and his cell is invaded multiple times daily for intrusive “inspections.” He is prohibited from accessing recreation or leaving his narrow, small cell.
All of the six Freedom Tunnel prisoners have experienced similar harsh conditions and penalties imposed upon them. They have been provided one set of clothing that is too large and are allowed to wash them only once weekly. Yaqoub Qadri is under constant surveillance from cameras and has been able to sleep only two hours at a time tude to the constant “security” checks. Ayham Kamamji has been denied medical treatment for the injuries caused by Israeli soldiers assaulting and beating him when he was arrested following his self-liberation.
The Freedom Tunnel escapees: Mahmoud al-Ardah, Mohammed al-Ardah, Yaqoub Qadri, Munadil Nafa’t, Zakaria Zubaidi and Ayham Kamamji, liberated themselves from Gilboa prison on 10 September 2021, exposing the facade of Israeli impenetrability and high security. From the town of Arraba near Jenin, al-Ardah, a leader in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, has repeatedly attempted to liberate himself and fellow detainees from Israeli prisons. He was held in solitary confinement for over a year beginning in 2014, when he attempted to dig a tunnel under Shata prison. He is known in the Palestinian prisoners’ movement for his good relations with prisoners from all political movements and factions.
Al-Ardah joined the collective strike, now on its ninth day, of 250 Islamic Jihad movement prisoners in Israeli occupation prisons. They are protesting the abusive measures of the occupation imposed upon them after the self-liberation of the Freedom Tunnel prisoners. They have been repeatedly transferred, isolated and placed in cells lacking the necessary conditions for human life, while leaders of the movement have been repeatedly taken for harsh interrogations.
In response, they launched this collective hunger strike, now with hundreds of participants, with the support of all Palestinian political parties and organizations inside the prisons. There is a collective program of struggle with fellow prisoners from various movements planning to join the strike in successive escalations if the prisoners’ demands are not met.
Three Palestinian women prisoners have joined this collective strike: Mona Qa’adan, Amal Taqatqa and Shatila Abu Ayada. Qa’adan is a well-known leader of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement who was rearrested by Israeli occupation forces earlier this year; she previously served nearly four years in Israeli prison and was denied family visits for two years during that time. Abu Ayada is serving one of the longest sentences among Palestinian women prisoners, sentenced to 16 years in Israeli occupation prisons.
Five prisoners held in the isolation cells in the Negev desert prison, Abdullah al-Ardah, Abdel Obeid, Muhannad al-Sheikh, Tamim Salem and Mohammed Darbei, told Addameer lawyers athat they had joined the collective hunger strike on 14 October, one day after the launch of the general strike of the Islamic Jihad priosners. Because they are held in isolation, the strike is more difficult; they have all been held in isolation since the Freedom Tunnel liberation effort. They have begun to vomit and have difficulty breathing and constant pain; whenever they are taken to the showers, their hands are cuffed behind their backs.
This collective action comes as six more Palestinian prisoners continue their hunger strikes against administrative detention: Kayed Fasfous, Miqdad Qawasmeh, Alaa Al-Araj, Hisham Abu Hawash, Shadi Abu Aker, and Ayad Hreimi. Kayed Fasfous has een on hunger strike for 99 days, while Miqdad Qawasmeh has been on hunger strike for 92; their health condition is in severe danger. Khader Adnan, former long-term hunger striker who won his freedom from administrative detention through multiple strikes, said that this strike of administrative detainees of various political orientations serves to boost the collective strike and vice versa, building support for all who confront the jailer.
He emphasized that “We as Palestinians must uphold our responsibility at all popular and official levels to confront what our prisoners face inside occupation prisons.”
Tamer al-Zaanin of the Muhjat al-Quds Foundation said that he expects all prisoners associated with the Islamic Jihad movement, including the sick and elderly, to enter the strike in the coming days. He emphasized that the prisoners will confront any attempts to break or undermine their strike by the occupation forces, and that the prisoners continue to hold firm despite severe prisoners. “The prisoners’ message to the Palestinian resistance leadership is that we are now living in dungeons inside the prisons, but we will not surrender and you must liberate us,” he said.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network emphasizes and amplifies the call of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement to stand with the Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people today to demand justice and liberation for Palestine, from the river to the sea.
Palestinian prisoners are struggling, with their bodies and lives on the line, to confront colonialism, Zionism, occupation and apartheid. Their valiant confrontation of the jailer places them on the front lines of the struggle for Palestine.
Western imperialist governments are part and parcel of the ongoing attacks against Palestinian prisoners and the colonization of Palestine. From the U.S.’ over $3.8 billion annually in weaponry provided to the Israeli regime to the ongoing economic, political and diplomatic support provided by the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom and others, all of these states are directly involved in the ongoing crimes perpetuated against the Palestinian people. Everywhere in the world, we can and must act now to stand with all Palestinian prisoners struggling for justice, and for the liberation of Palestine!