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Huge hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners

By Sarah Martin |
April 19, 2012
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Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails did not eat on Palestinian Prisoners Day, April 17, as part of a growing protest against conditions in Israeli prisons. Prison authorities reported that 3500 prisoners turned away their meals. 1200 vow to continue the fast beyond April 17, joining several administrative detainees. Two of these detainees have been on a hunger strike for over 40 days and are in the hospital in perilous health. Eight ‘flytilla’ activists who were detained for flying into Israel to protest the Israeli occupation and are awaiting deportation fasted in solidarity with the prisoners.

At the same time, thousands demonstrated in solidarity in Ramallah, Gaza, Nablus, Tulkaram and Qalqilya, calling for the release of the prisoners. In Ramallah hundreds went to the military prison Ofer, where political prisoners are held, and were dispersed by the Israeli army with tear gas and the ‘skunk’ water cannon.

The question of prisoners has come to the forefront of Palestinian politics, with several heroic hunger strikes. Just before the Shalit prisoner swap last year there was a collective hunger strike of 100 prisoners. Soon after that, administrative detainee Khadar Adnan’s 66-day hunger strike galvanized international attention and calls for his release. He was released April 17 and greeted with gratitude and pride as part of the Prisoners Day Protest. Hana Shalabi was deported from an Israeli prison to Gaza after a 43 day hunger strike. These hunger strikes brought international attention to the outrageous and unjust situation of administrative detainees who are held without charge or trial.

The new strike, however, is broader. Prisoners are demanding a cancellation of new restrictions. These restrictions include an increased use of the solitary confinement of prominent leaders; a ban on Arabic newspapers, books and television; a stop to the transfer of funds from family members to prisoners - funds used for many basic food products, cigarettes and more; and stopping prisoners from studying in Israel’s Open University, which has long made possible distance learning.

The Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine issued a statement that said, “The movement of prisoners, despite the brutality of the occupation and its fascist wardens, stands as a model of unity, resilience, struggle and innovation, saluting their experience of struggle and their battle of the empty stomachs, saying that the will of the prisoners is stronger than the whip of the occupation and that all of the prisons of the occupation will come crashing down.”