After 40 days, Palestinians suspend mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons
Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe and Head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) Qaddura Fares said in a joint statement that the prisoners suspended the "Freedom and Dignity" strike after reaching an agreement with IPS officials following more than 20 hours of negotiations between Marwan Barghouthi -- the imprisoned Fatah leader who has been the primary leader of the mass strike -- and other prison leaders with IPS in Ashkelon prison.
The statement added that IPS officials announced the end of the strike after negotiating with Barghouthi, who they had consistently refused to speak with throughout the strike’s duration. However, the statement did not mention which of the hunger strikers’ demands were actually met by Israeli prison authorities.
A spokesperson for IPS told Ma’an that the agreement was forged between the Israeli state, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and granted the prisoners a second monthly family visit that would be funded by the PA.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether Barghouthi was present during the negotiations.
The ICRC faced anger last year when it reduced the number of monthly visits it facilitates from two times a month to just one.
The IPS spokesperson told Ma’an that all prisoners had ended their strikes and the 18 prisoners who remained hospitalized would be returned to Israeli prison following the improvement of their health conditions.
The spokesperson declined to comment on whether any of the other demands were met, which also included the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention -- imprisonment without charge or trial -- among other demands for basic rights.
The agreements came on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when some hunger strikers had vowed to fast and forgo the salt and water mixture being consumed by the prisoners from dawn until sunset -- the only source of nutrients the hunger strikers were consuming.
Scores of Palestinian prisoners were transferred to Israeli hospitals during the hunger strike, with reports emerging that prisoners were puking blood and fainting. Palestinian leaders had feared possible deaths among the hunger strikers if their demands were not met.
Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), released a statement on Saturday, saying that the hunger strike had “prevailed.”
“This is an important step towards full respect of the rights of Palestinian prisoners under international law. It is also an indication of the reality of the Israeli occupation which has left no option to Palestinian prisoners but to starve themselves to achieve basic rights they are entitled to under international law,” the statement read.
As the statement pointed out, the hunger strike was one of the longest strikes in Palestinian history and included a wide participation of Palestinian prisoners from across political factions.
Israeli forces had attempted to break the hunger strike through various punitive measures, including punishing hunger strikers with the use of solitary confinement, “inciting” against the hunger strikers and their leaders, most notably Barghouthi, and threatening to force feed the hunger strikers, the statement highlighted.
“The epic resilience and determination of the hunger strikers and their refusal to end their hunger strike despite the repression and very harsh conditions they endured allowed for their will to prevail over the will of the jailer.”
The statement also went on to thank all those who stood in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners, particularly former political prisoners in South Africa, Ireland, and Argentina.
“The Palestinian people are a nation held captive, and the Palestinian prisoners are the reflection of this painful reality,” the statement read.
He added that the details of the agreements between IPS and the prisoners would be explained during a press conference later on Saturday at Yasser Arafat Square in Ramallah.
Palestinians imprisoned by Israel have underwent numerous hunger strikes since the Israeli army occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967, with several hunger strikers being killed during strikes owing to Israeli policies of force-feeding the prisoners.
Their demands have ranged from insisting on better quality prison food to ending torture in Israeli prisons.
According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli prisons as of April, most of whom are being held inside the Israeli territory in contravention to international law which forbids holding Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza outside the occupied territory.
While Israeli authorities label Palestinians as “security prisoners,” activists and rights groups have long considered Palestinians held in Israeli custody as political prisoners, and have routinely condemned Israel’s use of prison as a means of dismembering Palestinian political and social life in the occupied territory.
Addameer has reported that 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been detained by Israeli authorities at some point in their lives.