Tag Archives: Israel Prison Service

Palestinian Hunger Strikes: Why Still Invisible?

19 Aug

 

 

            When it is realized that Mahatma Gandhi shook the British Empire with a series of hunger strikes, none lasting more than 21 days, it is shameful that Palestinian hunger strikers ever since last December continue to exhibit their extreme courage by refusing food for periods ranging between 40 and over 90 days, and yet these exploits are unreported by the media and generally ignored by relevant international institutions. The latest Palestinians who have aroused emergency concerns among Palestinians, because their hunger strikes have brought them to death’s door, are Hassan Safadi and Samer Al-Barq. Both had ended long earlier strikes because they were promised releases under an Egyptian brokered deal that was announced on May 14, 2012, and not consistently implemented by israel. Three respected human rights organizations that have a long and honorable record of investigating Israeli prison conditions have issued a statement in the last several days expressing their ‘grave concern’ about the medical condition of these two men and their ‘utmost outrage’ at the treatment that they have been receiving from the Israeli Prison Service.

 

            For instance, Hassan  Safadi, now on the 59th day of a second hunger strike, having previously ended a 71 day fast after the release agreement was signed, is reported by Addameer and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, to be suffering from kidney problems, extreme weakness, severe weight loss, headaches, dizziness, and has difficulty standing. It is well established in medical circles that there exists a serious and risk of cardio-vascular failure for a hunger strike that lasts beyond 45 days.

 

            In addition to the physical strains of a prolonged hunger strike, the Israeli Prison Service puts deliberately aggravates the situation facing these hunger strikers in ways that have been aptly described as cruel and degrading punishment. Such language is generally qualifies as the accepted international definition of torture. For instance, hunger strikers are punitively placed in solitary confinement or put coercively in the presence of other prisoners or guards not on hunger strikes so as to be taunted by those enjoying food. It is also an added element of strain that these individuals were given false hopes of release, and then had these expectations dashed without even the disclosure of reasons. Both of these strikers have been and are being held under administrative detention procedures that involve secret evidence and the absence of criminal charges. The scrupulous Israel human rights organization, B’Tselem, has written that the use of administrative detention is a violation of international humanitarian law unless limited to truly exceptional cases, which has not been the case as attested even in the Israeli press. Hassn Safaedi’s experience with administrative detention exhibits the manner of its deployment by Israeli occupation authorities. Administrative detention was initially relied upon to arrest him when he was a child of 16, and since then he has served a variety of prison terms without charges or trial, and well authenticated reports of abuse, amounting to a total of ten years, which means that during his 34 years of life a considerable proportion of his life has been behind bars on the basis of being alleged security threat, but without any opportunity for elemental due process in the form of opportunity to counter evidence, presumption of innocence, and confronting accusations. Amnesty International has recently again called for an international investigation of the treatment of Palestinian detainees and reassurances that Palestinians are not being punished because they have recourse to hunger strikes.

 

            It is important to be reminded of the context of hunger strikes. Such undertakings require great determination of which most of us are incapable, and an exceptionally strong inner commitment that connects life and death in a powerful, almost mystical, unity. It is no wonder that Palestinian hunger strikers have been inspired by the 1989 Tiananman Square Declaration of Hunger Strikers:  “We are not in search of death; we are looking for real life.” The ten IRA hunger strikers, led by Bobby Sands, who died in 1981 at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland transformed the British Government’s approach to the conflict, leading to establishing at last a genuine peace process that was climaxed by the Good Friday Agreement that brought the violence mostly to an end. Hunger strikes of this depth send a signal of desperation that can only be

Ignored by a mobilization of moral insensitivity generating a condition that

Is somewhere between what psychologists call ‘denial’ and others describe

as ‘moral numbness.’

 

            So why has the world media ignored the Palestinian hunger strikers? Must we conclude that only Palestinian violence is newsworthy for the West?

Must Palestinian hunger striking prisoners die before their acts are of notice? Why is so much attention given to human rights abuses elsewhere in the world, and so little attention accorded to the Palestinian struggle that is supposed to engage the United Nations and underpin so much of the conflictual behavior in the Middle East? Aside from a few online blogs and the Electric Intifada there is a media blackout about these most recent hunger strikes, another confirmation of the Politics of Invisibility when it comes to Palestinian victimization.

 

            After all, the United Nations, somewhat ill-advisedly, is one of the four parties (the others being the United States, Russia, the European Union) composing The Quartet, which has set forth the roadmap that is supposed to produce peace, and should exhibit some special responsibility for such a breach of normalcy in the treatment of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons. Addameer, al-Haq, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel have called on three international actors to do something about this situation, at the very least, by way of fact-finding missions and reports—UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, the European Union, and the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Is it too much to expect some sort of response?  We do not expect the United States Government, so partisan in all aspects of the conflict, to raise its voice despite its protestations of concern about human rights in a wide array of countries and despite President Obama’s almost forgotten promises made in his June 2009 Cairo speech to understand the suffering of the Palestinian people and to turn a new page in Middle Eastern policy.

 

            Since I have been following this saga of hunger strikes unfold in recent months, starting with Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi in December 2011, I have been deeply moved by the consistently elevated human quality of these hunger strikers that is disclosed through their statements and interactions with family members and the public. Their words of devotion and loving solidarity are possessed of an authenticity only associated with feelings rarely expressed except in extreme situations when life itself is in jeopardy. This tenderness of language, an absence of hate and even bitterness, and a tone of deep love and devotion is what makes these statements from the heart so compelling. I find these sentiments to be spiritually uplifting. Such utterances deserve to be as widely shared as possible to allow for a better understanding of what is being lost through this long night of the soul afflicting the Palestinian people. Surely, also, the politics of struggle is implicit, but the feelings being expressed are at once deeply political and beyond politics.

 

            I can only hope that informed and sensitive writers, poets, singers, and journalists, especially among the Palestinians, who share my understanding of these hunger strikes will do their best to convey to the world the meaning of such Palestinian explorations in the interior politics of nonviolence. These are stories that deserve to be told in their fullness maybe by interviews, maybe through a series of biographical sketches, maybe by poems, paintings, and songs, but they need to be told at this time in the same spirit of love, empathy, solidarity, and urgency that animates theses utterances of the Palestinian hunger strikers.

 

            I paste below one sample to illustrate what I have been trying to express: a letter from Hassan Safadi to his mother written during his current hunger strike, published on July 30, 2012 by the Electric Intifada, translated from Arabic by a young Palestinian blogger, Linah Alsaafin, who contributed a moving commentary that is a step in the direction I am encouraging:

 

“First I want to thank you dear mother for your wonderful letter, whose every word penetrated my heart and immersed me in happiness, love and tenderness. I am blessed to have a mother like you. Please thank everyone who stood in solidarity and prayed for me.

What increased my happiness and contentment was you writing that you raise your head up proudly because of me…I hope your head will always be lifted high and your spirits elevated oh loved one. As for waiting for my release, I remind you mother we are believers.

We are waiting for God’s mercy with patience…as Prophet Muhammad related God’s words, “I am as my slave thinks…” As you await my release, think positively and God willing, God will not leave you and your work and He will not disappoint your expectations.

Thank God I have a mother like you, a patient believer who prays for me from her heart, and I thank you dear mother for the beautiful song you wrote that warmed my chest as I read the lyrics..

Congratulations to Nelli’s [his sister] twins…I pray to God they will be attributed to Muslims and to Islam and for them to receive the best upbringing, and for their time to be better than our time.

Say hello and salute Abu Jamal and thank him for his efforts and say hello to Ayah and Amir and tell them I miss them, tell everyone who asked about me I say hello, and pray for them.

How beautiful the last line in your letter is! “God is with you, may He protect you and take care of you…I leave you in His safe hands.”

Please mother, always pray for me using those words especially in the month of Ramadan, happy holidays.

Your son”

 

Akram Rikhawi and the Saga of Palestinian Hunger Strikes

9 Jul

 

       The persistence of Palestinian hunger strikes shocks me for two reasons: that these extreme expressions of moral freedom alert all who choose to expose their consciousness to such realities of the severely abusive arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures that many Palestinians living under Israeli occupation must endure; that the world’s media, foreign governments, the UN, the Arab League barely acknowledge such events, which if they occurred in other countries would generate outpourings of outrage and sympathy, and depending on the geopolitical calculus, hypocritical calls for the application of the ‘responsibility to protect’ norm.

       I post below a joint press release by respected NGOs of Palestine and Israel that summarize the desperate medical condition of Akram Rikhawi, who has continued his hunger strike for more than 85 days, an extraordinary display of discipline and resolve, the exemplary Palestinian virtue of samud (steadfastness). Mr. Rikhawi, whose home is in Gaza, has been held in prison since 2004 after being convicted to a nine-year term by an Israeli military court. He has been denied mercy by the Israeli authorities despite a present political atmosphere in which the Palestinian resistance has not been posing violent challenges to Israeli security behind the green line, and his condition would in any event make political activism an impossibility.

       As a result of the ‘Shalit Law,’ a vindictive violation of international humanitarian law that retaliates against Palestinian prisoners because of the capture of Gilad Shalit an Israeli soldier who was released a year ago, Rikhawi has been denied family visits since 2006 despite being the father of eight children plus the five young children of his recently deceased brother. Yasmine, daughter of his brother, summed up Akram Rikhawi’s tragic situation: “My uncle made a decision and we support him because we live life once; we either live it with dignity or we die fighting for it.” No human being should be forced to face such a dilemma, and those that do deserve our compassion and support. Jasmine describes Akram Rikhawi as the main source of financial and emotional support of the entire family, which was the center of his life. She describes him as an avid reader who was constantly challenging the family to engage in serious discussions, including issues arising from his intense opposition to the occupation.

 

       He suffers from multiple life-threatening ailments, including serious asthma and diabetes, and has been targeted for abuse since initiating this hunger strike as the following report makes clear.

       Putting all the pieces together, including the realization that many hunger strikes have been in process since Khader Adnan had recourse to a hunger strike on December 17, 2010 in protest against his arrest and confinement as a result of an administrative detention decree, we can reach some tentative conclusions:

–these brave acts of nonviolence have inspired Palestinians and some others, sustaining their dignity under the most difficult and inhumane of circumstances;

–Western countries and Western NGOs, claiming to be champions of humanitarian diplomacy, have spurned the moral and political challenges posed by these hunger strikes;

–despite such malign neglect, the hunger strikes have shined a bright light on the unlawfulness and cruelty of Israeli arrest and interrogation procedures and prison conditions that has increased awareness of this dimension of prolonged Israeli occupation of Palestine;

–with such an awareness comes responsibility, including acting on the request of Addammeer and Phsicians for Human Rights-Israel that letters demanding Akram Rikhawi’s release be sent to listed Israeli officials.

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Concern mounts for the life of Akram Rikhawi on his 85th day of hunger strike

An independent doctor from PHR-IL visited Akram Rikhawi yesterday and an Addameer lawyer visited him today, along with Samer Al-Barq and Hassan Safadi. Samer and Hassan are still denied access to independent doctors.

Joint Press Release, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel

Ramallah-Jaffa, 5 July 2012—Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL) and Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association are gravely concerned for the life of Akram Rikhawi, who is now on his 85th day of hunger strike. An independent doctor from PHR-IL visited Akram in Ramleh prison medical center yesterday, 4 July, which was made possible only after an appeal to the Israeli District Court, where the judge eventually ordered the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) to allow the entry of the independent doctor no later than 3 July.

Following the visit to Akram, the PHR-IL doctor reported the alarming deterioration of Akram’s asthma, which continues to be unstable. The doctor believes Akram has been given very high doses of steroids as treatment, which can cause severe long-term and irreversible damage. The doctor reiterated recommendation for immediate examination by a lung specialist, which was not performed as recommended after the last visit by an independent doctor on 6 June.

Akram also reported that he is experiencing severe dizziness, can no longer walk and is having difficulty standing. Even more troubling, Akram has not been given any assistance in these matters, leaving him vulnerable to the danger of falling, which could result in fatal injury due to his osteoperosis. The doctor further noted that Akram is experiencing tingling and numbness in his left thigh, which could indicate peripheral nerve damage, and recommended immediate examination in a public hospital, for fear of permanent neurological damage.

The IPS has continued to punish Akram for his hunger strike by confiscating his books and reading materials, isolating him from other prisoners and cancelling his daily break. He is also being held in a cell with no fan or air conditioning, despite the high humidity and how badly it affects his asthma.

Akram pointed out to the independent doctor and to Addameer lawyer Mona Neddaf in her visit today that he was recently hospitalized at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, but was shackled at all times to the hospital bed and felt his needs were mostly ignored by the medical staff. He emphasized to Ms. Neddaf his desire to have unrestricted access to the independent doctors from PHR-IL.

Ms. Neddaf also visited Samer Al-Barq, who is on his 45th day of renewed hunger strike in protest against the extension of his administrative detention. Ms. Neddaf noted that he seems significantly weaker than during her last visit on 25 June. He is consuming only water with glucose.

Samer’s family has reported that he suffers from kidney problems and high blood pressure and has lost more than 25% of his original weight. On 21 June, PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for independent physicians. On 25 June the IPS denied this request without providing any reasons.

Hassan Safadi is on his 15th day of renewed hunger strike, after previously spending 71 days on prolonged hunger strike. His last administrative detention order was due to expire on 29 June and, according to the agreement ending Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike, he was supposed to be released on that date. However, his lawyer was informed on 21 June of the renewal of his administrative detention order for a further six months, in violation of the agreement.

According to Ms. Neddaf after her visit with him today, Hassan’s lawyer submitted a request to the military judge that he review the agreement and consider his immediate release. The judge responded that he would give a decision on this matter in two weeks. Hassan stressed that he will not break his hunger strike until he is released to his home in Nablus.

Hassan was transferred to Ramleh prison medical center last week and is currently being held in an isolated cell. He is drinking water with salt and taking vitamins due to a low potassium level in his blood. He has lost approximately 8 kilos in weight since the beginning of his renewed strike. PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for an independent doctor on 26 June and have not yet received a response from the IPS.

 

In light of the deterioration of the conditions of the remaining Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, PHR-IL and Addameer urge the international community to immediately intervene on their behalf and demand:

  • unrestricted access for independent physicians to all hunger strikers;
  • the immediate transfer of Akram Rikhawi and Samer Al-Barq to a public hospital, and the transfer of all prisoners on hunger strike for more than 40 days to public hospitals;
  • that no hunger striker be shackled while hospitalized;
  • that all hunger strikers—especially those in advanced stages of hunger strike—be allowed family visits, while they are still lucid;
  • that all information be given to families as to the medical condition of their loved ones, which is the responsibility of hospitals and medical staff in accordance with standards of medical ethics;
  • that Akram Rikhawi be granted release on humanitarian grounds;
  • that Hassan Safadi and Samer Al-Barq, along with all other administrative detainees, be immediately and unconditionally released.

*Write to the Israeli government, military and legal authorities and demand that Akram Rikhawi be released immediately and receive adequate medical care.

  • Brigadier General Danny Efroni
Military Judge Advocate General
6 David Elazar Street
Harkiya, Tel Aviv
Israel
Fax: +972 3 608 0366; +972 3 569 4526
Email: arbel@mail.idf.il; avimn@idf.gov.il
  • Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon
OC Central Command Nehemia Base, Central Command
Neveh Yaacov, Jerusalam
Fax: +972 2 530 5741
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Ministry of Defense
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya
Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972 3 691 6940 / 696 2757
  • Col. Eli Bar On
Legal Advisor of Judea and Samaria PO Box 5
Beth El 90631
Fax: +972 2 9977326

*Write to your own elected representatives urging them to pressure Israel to release Akram Rikhawi.