Palestinian leaders gathered at a solidarity sit-in for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners on Saturday in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, as the Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs addressed the participants, saying that Israeli prisons have turned into a “battle field” and an “intifada against injustice, humiliation, and racist arbitrary laws.”
Issa Qaraqe cited the mass hunger strike under way throughout Israel’s prisons, first launched in solidarity with hunger striker Bilal Kayid, which evolved into a mass protest against administrative detention -- Israel’s policy of detention without charge or trial, as well solitary confinement, humiliating raids, and other severe measures imposed on Palestinian prisoners.
Qaraqe said that Israeli forces recently raided Israel’s Nafha, Ramon, Ofer, Galbou, Negev, and Eshel prisons, assaulting Palestinian prisoners, leading them to declare an open hunger strike.
Qaraqe also called Bilal Kayid’s health condition a “time bomb” and reiterated warnings that the hunger striker could die at any moment as his health has remained in critical condition 56 days into his strike.
Families of prisoners and former prisoners, representatives of national and Islamic factions in Bethlehem, religious leaders, children from the Bethlehem-based Lajee Center, and students from the Palestine Ahliya University all took part in the sit-in.
The spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Church Father Issa Musleh called upon the international and humanitarian community to take immediate action to save the lives of the hunger striking prisoners, while Nuran Balboul, sister of the hunger strikers Muhammad and Mahmoud, called upon the UN and its Security Council to intervene and “end the tragedy” of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
Head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society Abdullah Zeghari and head of the Former Prisoners Association Muhammad Hamideh told the crowd that the Israeli government was responsible for the health and the lives of the hunger strikers.
While more than 300 prisoners were participating in the strike since Thursday when 285 Hamas-affiliated prisoners held at the Eshel and Nafha prisons entered an open hunger strike to protest suppressive measures by the Israel Prison Service (IPS), the prisoners on Saturday ended their strikes after making a deal with IPS.
However, the mass protest in support of Bilal Kayid, Muhammad and Mahmoud al-Balboul, and against administrative detention and ill-treatment in Israeli prisons has continued unabated.
Kayid has been on hunger strike since he was sentenced to six months of administrative detention on the day he was meant to be released from prison after serving a 14-and-a-half year sentence.
Kayid is one of six Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike to protest their administrative detention. These hunger strikers included brothers Mahmoud and Muhammad al-Balboul, who began their hunger strikes on July 4 and 7 respectively; Malik al-Qadi; and Ayyad Hreimi, who both began their strikes on July 15.
Meanwhile, prominent imprisoned Palestinian journalist Omar Nazzal began his own open hunger strike on Thursday.
Israel’s policy of administrative detention, almost exclusively used against Palestinians, has been widely criticized by rights group that have accused Israel of using the policy to erode Palestinian political and social life by detaining scores of Palestinians without proof of wrongdoing.
Four other prisoners -- identified as Ahmad al-Barghouthi, Mahmoud Sarahneh, Ziyad al-Bazzar, and Amin Kamil -- were also refusing food to denounce a recent decision by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to decrease the number of family visits to prisoners to once monthly. However, the four suspended their hunger strikes on Friday after negotiating with IPS officials.
Meanwhile, prisoner Walid Malluh Masalmeh has been on a hunger strike since July 18 to protest being held in solitary confinement for more than ten months.
According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, Israel was detaining some 7,000 Palestinian prisoners as of May, including 715 in administrative detention.
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