"What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost" Marwan Barghouti.
Yesterday, an estimated 1,500 Palestinians prisoners launched an open ended hunger strike across eight Israeli prisons, until their demands for rights are met. The strikers’ demands include: the end to administrative detention and solitary confinement; an improvement of health and medical services; access to education for detainees; and the end to inhuman practices. They are also demanding the right to keep books, newspapers and clothes, air conditioning, and renovations of their kitchens.
Palestinians prisoners have frequently reported: extreme psychological, physical, verbal and sexual torture and abuse as well as inhumane and degrading treatment. They have reported medical negligence and instances of being chained, beaten, placed in solitary confinement for long periods, deprived of sleep and threatened with harm to family members. Notable cases include Rasmea Odeh, whose father was ordered to rape her in the interrogation room where she was chained naked to a wall. When he refused, she was raped with a wooden rod and now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Aisha Odeh was raped with a wooden rod, beaten and showered with cold water. Arafat Jaradat died six day after being arrested in 2013, the autopsy revealing that the 30 year old suffered six broken bones in his neck, spine, arms and legs, his lips lacerated and face bruised. (Source, Al Jazeera).
Palestinian prisoners suffer from medical negligence and are forced to pay for their own medical treatment, whilst they are denied adequate care. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 50 Palestinian prisoners have died from medical negligence inside Israeli prisons. Sick prisoners have reported being denied water while others are forced to wait for years to get surgery.
The strike called by popular Palestinian figure Marwan Barghouti commenced on Palestinian Prisoners Day and ahead of commemorations marking 50 years since the Israeli occupation of all of Palestine. Barghouti currently in Hadarim prison for his role in the second intifada launched the strike with an article in the New York Times, stating that hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available and that through hunger strike, they seek an end to abuse.
"Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation" Barghouti said.
"It (the strike) inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells" Barghouti added.
In his article, Barghouti also highlighted that Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel instead of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), which means that contrary to International Law Palestinian civilians are forcibly transferred into captivity. In addition, this has resulted in a restriction of prisoners rights to see their families due to to the difficulty to obtain permits from Israeli authorities, which also forces families to go through long and difficult journeys. Amnesty International have described Israel's policy of holding Palestinian prisoners inside Israel as "unlawful and cruel".
In an attempt to squash the hunger strike, Israeli authorities have been taking a number of punitive measures against hunger strikers. Prisoners are being forcibly removed to different sections, having their clothes and personal belongings confiscated and leading figures placed in solitary confinement.
The authorities also stated that they will be prosecuting Barghouti in a disciplinary court as punishment for his op-ed published in the New York Times on Monday.
On the announcement of the hunger strike last week, Israeli Minister of Public security Gilad Erdan called for the creation of a military hospital to ensure that hunger striking Palestinian prisoners are not transferred to civilian hospitals, which have so far refused to force feed hunger-striking prisoners.
Currently Israel is detaining 6,500 Palestinians across 22 prisons, 6,300 of whom are political prisoners according to Addameer, Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Of those, 500 are under administrative detention, 300 are children and 62 are women.
Administrative detention is a procedure that the Israeli military uses to arrest Palestinians on ‘secret evidence’ without charge or allowing them to defend themselves in court. Administrative detentions can be indefinitely renewed and the longest on record lasted eight years.
Under current Israeli practices, a detainee can be interrogated for 75 days and denied legal representation for up to 60 days. Interrogations can also be indefinitely renewed. Since 1968, two hundred Palestinians have died at the hands of Israeli authorities during interrogation according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.
"Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent" Barghouti wrote.
Over 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel, approximately 40% of the Occupied Palestine Territory's male population, according to Addameer.
The strike has prompted a number of protests and rallies across Gaza and the West Bank, with the potential to raise tensions in the region.
"The Israeli government will be responsible for any and all of the consequences of this hunger strike - if a prisoner dies, or becomes extremely ill, they are the ones that will have to handle the outcome. Palestinian prisoners have been demanding these basic rights for years" said Amina al-Taweel, spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners Centre for Studied.
A number of organisations including Addameer have called on the International Criminal Court to immediately open an investigation into the case of Palestinian prisoners and detainees and bring those who have tortured, extrajudicially executed, forcibly transferred, and arbitrary detained Palestinians to account. Palestinians are also calling on the international community to take strong action to ensure that Israel acts without impunity and in accordance with International Humanitarian Law to protect the rights of Palestinian prisoners.