Palestinian detainees take on Israel with hunger strike
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — Inspired by Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, who pressured Israel with a 66-day hunger strike, a growing number of his fellow detainees are launching similar protests.
The tactic appears to be spreading among the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, who see themselves battling for their rights with the only weapon they have: “empty stomachs.”
Adnan went for more than two months without food before a military court agreed to free him, on April 17, when his four-month administrative detention order ends.
Inspired by his example, 30-year-old Hanaa Shalabi began a hunger strike after her detention in February, reaching her 39th day without food on Sunday.
Across the Israeli prison system, around 30 Palestinian prisoners have followed suit, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, which tracks Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.
The Israeli prison service puts the number at around 20, a spokeswoman said.
“Consultations are under way at all the occupation’s prisons, and while a hunger strike is always individual, there will be a large hunger strike in different Israeli prisons in the next two months,” Qaddura Fares, president of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, told AFP.
“The prisoners in the occupation’s prisoner are using the weapon of ’empty stomachs’ as a result of increased repression and in the absence of a channel of dialogue with the Israeli side or negotiations with the Palestinian Authority to improve their conditions,” he said.
Those involved, according to the PPC’s media director Amani Sarahna, are drawing inspiration from the hunger strike protests launched by Irish prisoners in the 1980s, in which 10 people died, including IRA militant Bobby Sands.
“All the messages we have received from prisoners in Israeli jails say that they are following the example of the Irish hunger strikes,” Sarahna said.
While prisoners have cited various reasons for their protests, Fares said the current wave began in part when improvements expected in the wake of a prisoner exchange deal last year failed to materialise.
Palestinian prisoners had expected improvements after the exchange, which saw Gaza militants release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the freeing of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
“The exchange deal and the release of Shalit didn’t change the conditions of their detention in the occupation’s prisons. On the contrary, it got worse,” Fares said.
Shalabi was among the 1,027 prisoners freed under the deal, after being held for more than two years without charge, but she was rearrested on February 16.
She says her hunger strike, which has resulted in her hospitalisation in recent days, is intended to protest her imprisonment without charge under a procedure known as administrative detention.
The procedure allows a military court to order a detainee to be held for up to six months at a time without trial or even revealing the evidence against them. The decision can be appealed and an order can only be renewed by the court.
Other detainees are seeking the end of their administrative detention, or to be moved from solitary confinement, and 52-year-old Kifah Hattab is using his protest to call for authorities to grant him prisoner-of-war status.
A former member of the Civil Defence in the West Bank, Hattab began his hunger strike on March 1.
“My husband is on hunger strike to claim his status as a prisoner of war, but he represents dozens of military prisoners held by Israel who are being treated as civilians,” his wife told AFP.
She said he had been arrested in 2003 in the West Bank town of Tulkarem and is serving two life sentences for “security reasons.”
The prisoners club said Israel is holding some 700 members of the Palestinian security services, along with 27 Palestinian lawmakers, 24 of them from Hamas.
Ahmed al-Hajj Ali, a Hamas MP who was arrested in June last year, began his hunger strike in mid-March to protest being held despite his status as an elected official.
More than 4,700 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli prisons, including 320 held under administrative detention orders, according to the most recent statistics from the Palestinian prisoners ministry.