As some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners marked their 23rd day on hunger strike on Tuesday, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs warned that hunger strikers had entered a dangerous stage, reporting that health conditions were deteriorating considerably.
The political prisoners are calling for an end to the denial of family visits, 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.
Prisoners have started to fall due to waves of dizziness, severe pains, and weight loss, according to a statement released by the committee on Tuesday.
The statement highlighted that Israeli authorities had prepared ambulances outside of every prison, and said that “the occupation’s government treats hunger strikers with such cruelty and savagery to the extent that it is willing to completely exhaust their health and lead them to death.”
The committee accused the Israel Prison Service (IPS) of harassing hunger strikers on a daily basis. “The Israeli Prison Service carry out inspection raids every day using police dogs, and they spill water on prisoners instead of giving them water to drink,” the statement added.
Many hunger strikers have also landed in solitary confinement or have been transferred multiple times throughout Israel’s network of prisons, faced assault, nightly cell raids, confiscation of personal belongings, subhuman cell conditions, and have even been fined hundreds of shekels as punishment for refusing meals.
Head of the prisoners’ committee Issa Qaraqe was quoted in the statement as calling upon the Palestinian people and all their supporters worldwide to undertake an international day of fasting on Thursday and to raise black flags from heights and rooftops.
However, hunger strikers were still standing firm despite the abuse, hunger, and pain, and were committed to compelling IPS to grant them their rights, according to letter smuggled out of a solitary confinement cell in Ashkelon prison by Palestinian journalist Muhammad al-Qiq.
The letter, published by the Gaza-based Asra Media Office, said that the determination of hunger-striking prisoners was “sky-high.”
Al-Qiq was famous for undertaking a grueling 94-day hunger strike in Israeli prison in 2016, and took on a second solitary hunger strike that came to a close in March after he reached a deal with Israel.
He said in the smuggled letter that he had already lost six kilograms since joining the mass hunger strike five days ago. “Once they have made up their minds to face the occupier with their empty stomachs, heroic prisoners will have the final word,” he affirmed.
Al-Qiq urged the Palestinian public to intensify solidarity activities, especially at Palestinian universities in the occupied West Bank. “University students have always pioneered solidarity activities with prisoners,” he said.
Immediately after the strike began, IPS banned lawyer and family visitations for hunger strikers, and for the first 20 days of the strike, lawyers were only given access to Ofer and Askhelon prison.
On Sunday, lawyers were able to visit hunger-striking prisoners in Ktziot and Nitzan prison for the first time, after IPS was compelled to permit lawyer visits following an Israeli Supreme Court petition filed by legal NGO Adalah and the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs.
Following the court hearing, Adalah Attorney Muna Haddad denounced IPS fo “adding insult to injury” by imposing the unconstitutional ban: “The Palestinian prisoners embarked on their strike to protest the humiliating and inhumane conditions in which they are being held and, in response, the IPS took punitive measures that violated the prisoners’ rights even further.”
However, Adalah wrote in a press release Monday that requests by Yousif Jabarin, a member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to visit leader of the strike Marwan Barghouthi — who has been languishing in solitary confinement since the strike began — have been rejected.
“The (IPS) rejection of all my requests to visit Barghouthi constitutes a serious harm to my political activity as a Knesset member and to parliamentary immunity,” Adalah quoted Jabarin as saying. “There is no doubt that the prisoners’ strike is of utmost public importance and that it is my role as an elected public official to examine and scrutinize IPS policies relating to this issue. This is done by, amongst other means, visiting prisoners.”
Israeli authorities have detained approximately one million Palestinians since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, according to Palestinian organizations.
According to prisoners’ rights organization Addameer, some 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of April.