ISRAEL — Over 1,500 Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons announced the beginning of a massive hunger strike on “Palestinian Prisoners’ Day,” an annual April event held in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners. The strike was inspired by the bleak conditions that prisoners face inside the prisons, as they have few other options to protest their circumstances.
According to human rights organization Addameer, Israeli prisons hold approximately 6,500 Palestinians, including an estimated 300 children. At least 550 prisoners are currently being held under administrative detention, a form of detention used for detainees who are held without trial or even charges filed against them.
This method of detention has been used to hold Palestinians indefinitely based on information that is withheld from the public. The striking prisoners have called for an end to the use of administrative detention, as well as made other demands.
Soon after the hunger strike was announced, Israeli media reported that strike participants were set to face disciplinary measures for failing to comply with prison rules, as the Israeli prison service stated that the strike was a violation of the law and would result in serious consequences.
Not long after the strike began, so did the crackdown. In the first week, Israeli authorities sought to target the strike’s leaders, confiscating personal belongings, banning television, separating strikers from one another and placing dozens of them in solitary confinement.
The Ma’an News Agency reported that in the Nitzan and Ramla prisons, Israeli prison officials used police dogs to deter the strikers, as well as seized copies of the Quran in retaliation for the strike. Officials have also barred strikers from receiving visits from family and lawyers.
Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti was singled out for solitary confinement by Israeli authorities, largely for having written an article explaining the Palestinians’ reasons for striking, as well as inspiring the strike itself. The article was smuggled out of prison and published in the New York Times, provoking a frantic reaction from Israeli authorities who have accused Barghouti’s wife, lawyers, and even the Times itself of culpability.
The medical community has even gotten caught in the fray. Israeli media reported last week that several hospitals had been ordered by the Israeli Health Ministry to prepare to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.
According to the World Medical Association and the United Nations, force-feeding is considered a cruel and degrading punishment, as well as a flagrant violation of international law. Furthermore, in past hunger strikes of Palestinian prisoners, force-feeding has even led to death.
Several Israeli doctors have refused to perform the procedure. However, Haaretz reported that the Israeli government will force doctors to find replacement physicians who are willing to administer force-feeding, a move that sparked harsh criticism from the Israeli Medical Association. The Physicians for Human Rights’ Israeli branch also condemned the Israeli Health Ministry’s stated plans to import doctors from abroad to carry out the inhumane procedure.
While most of the retaliation has come at the hands of the Israeli government and prison officials, far-right Israelis and some Israeli businesses have decided to openly mock the strikers by holding barbecue cookouts next to prisons where the strikers are housed in order to mock the prisoners. A Pizza Hut franchise in Israel even made light of the prisoners’ struggle in this tasteless advertisement.
Despite the severity of the Israeli retaliation, support for the strikers has grown substantially. In addition to the many everyday Palestinians who have chosen to take part in the strike, internationally-known Palestinian figures such as Archbishop Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Church and Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled have taken part as well.
— OccPal-Gaza (@OccPalGaza) May 8, 2017
The strike has quickly become an international phenomenon, with thousands of solidarity strikes springing up in France, England, Scotland, Italy and Morocco. The social media campaign #SaltWaterChallenge has also gone viral, challenging people from around the world to show their solidarity by drinking saltwater — the only form of sustenance that the strikers are willing to consume.
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) May 5, 2017
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