Hunger for justice
A general strike in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners begins today. Reports Haitham Ahmed from Ramallah
The Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, which began on 16 April, includes more than 1,500 prisoners drawn from all Palestinian factions.
The Dignity Strike, as it has been called, demands basic improvements to political prisoners’ conditions. These include adequate healthcare, regular family visits, access to telephones, and the end of solitary confinement and “administrative detention” which is used to detain people for long periods without trial.
In an attempt to forestall the strike the Israeli Prisons Service carried out numerous relocations of prisoners who have been subjected to constant searches. Prisoners have been stripped of all personal possessions, and visits by their lawyers have been halted since the strike began. It is now extremely difficult to obtain any information from inside the prisons.
Palestinian Prisoners’ Club head Qadura Fares called on Palestinian authorities to take all possible steps to support the strike and the growing grassroots solidarity movement. “The struggle must be revitalised and this strike serves to boost the national movement,” he said.
Grassroots solidarity is expected to include the declaration of a general strike today with calls for all government agencies, schools and stores to close. Mass protest marches organised for Friday will generate more momentum.
By Tuesday the hashtag #Dignity_Strike had reached over 12 million tweets.
The Dignity Strike Press Committee has confirmed that the state of health of Marwan Barghouti is deteriorating. A member of the Fatah Central Committee, Barghouti has been in prison since 2002. The committee said the prison director had asked Barghouti to accept urgent medication which Barghouti refused.
Eissa Qaraqe, head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority (PA), expects more prisoners to join the hunger strike.
According to the Dignity Strike Press Committee, the hunger strikers are still being prevented from seeing their lawyers. “Legal measures against this ban, including the filing complaints and making preparations to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, are being taken.”
A committee formed by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club and the PA Prisoners’ Affairs Commission says it rejects “the excuses and pretexts concocted by the occupation prisons authorities to prevent visits to the striking prisoners”.
The statement added that lawyers working with Palestinian organisations involved in prisoner affairs have been boycotting Israeli courts for nearly a week in response to the repressive measures taken by the occupation authorities against hunger striking prisoners.
Prisoners and lawyers have been appealing for improvements in prison conditions for years. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claims Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are being treated “in accordance with international standards” said, in a statement broadcast on national radio in Hebrew, that his government was following “a resolute and responsible policy in accordance with international norms, not terrorists’ dictates”. In this week’s cabinet meeting Netanyahu lashed out at Palestinian prisoners, labelling them “terrorist murderers”.
Haaretz, citing Palestinian officials, reported that President Mahmoud Abbas has begun to prepare for his trip to Washington, scheduled on 3 May, and hopes calm will prevail in the occupied territories on the eve of his meeting with US President Donald Trump. But Fadwa Barghouti, the lawyer wife of Marwan Barghouti, thinks the calm Abbas is hoping for may be counter-productive. She believes the hunger strike and solidarity movement work in favour of the Palestinian cause and will help focus international attention, and the attention of the US president, on the plight of the prisoners and their legitimate demands and on the occupation of Palestinian land and the imprisonment of its people.
According to Fadwa Barghouti, planned escalatory measures include a Freedom and Dignity march scheduled to take place in Ramallah on 3 May. She expects a huge turnout from across the Palestinian territories to affirm the Palestinian people’s support for the prisoners and detainees. By 3 May prisoners will have been on hunger strike for 16 days.
The hunger strike, says Barghouti, was first mooted in August 2016 when prisoners submitted a petition listing their demands to the prison authorities. The petition stated that if the demands were not met by 16 April the prisoners would begin a hunger strike on 17 April, to coincide with the 43rd annual Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.
“If the Israeli authorities want to keep the situation from escalating they would be wise to begin negotiations with the prisoners’ leaders,” says Palestinian Prisoners’ Club head Qadura Fares. He added that, contrary to a statement issued by the Prison Service that it does not prevent security detainees from meeting with lawyers, lawyers have not been able to visit the hunger strikers.
On 24 April Haaretz reported that lawyer Tameem Younis had told the newspaper “he wasn’t allowed into Kishon Prison on Sunday to visit his brother, Karim Younis, and Marwan Barghouti, two of the leaders of the hunger strike.”
“After waiting six hours, he said, he was told that the two prisoners were unable to meet with him for medical reasons, but was given no information on their condition.”
The national committee to support the strike has called for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli goods and products for as long as the hunger strike lasts. The committee called on merchants not to order Israeli goods and make them available in Palestinian markets or, if they had any goods in stock, to take them off the shelves, and called on Palestinian consumers not to purchase any Israeli products that were still available.
Israel has 6,500 Palestinian prisoners detained in 22 jails. They include 29 detainees who have been imprisoned since before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, 13 parliamentary deputies, 57 Palestinian women, 13 of whom are minors, and 500 prisoners under administrative detention.
On Monday Meshaal Al-Salami, the speaker of the Arab Parliament, expressed solidarity with Palestinian prisoners and the sacrifices they are making in protest against the racist and repressive violations they suffer at the hands of the Israeli occupation authority.
Al-Salami delivered his remarks during the fifth session of the first meeting of the second legislative term of the Arab Parliament at the headquarters of the General Secretariat of the Arab League in Cairo. During the meeting, which was attended by the UN secretary-general’s representative Richard Dictus, those present were asked to stand for a minute of silence in solidarity with the prisoners who launched the Dignity Strike.
The Hebrew language daily Israel Hayom reported that a Palestinian delegation led by Saeb Erekat arrived in Washington earlier this week to prepare for Abbas’ visit to the White House. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Maliki said that Ramallah hopes Trump will tell Abbas that he is committed to a two-state solution and will not move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jérusalem