Tag Archives: Israeli prisons

THE PALESTINIAN HUNGER STRIKE: “Our chains will be broken before we are..”

16 May

 

 

On April 17th at least 1500 Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike of indefinite duration, responding to a call from Israel’s most famous Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti. It also happens to be that Barghouti is the most popular political leader, far more liked, trusted, and admired that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Barghouti is serving a series of lifetime terms for his alleged role in directing an operation during the Second Intifada in which five Israelis were killed.

 

Barghouti who has been in prison for fifteen years, gave his reasons for the strike as “torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence,” as well as a failure to abide by international legal standards pertaining to prison conditions during a military occupation. Even the normally timid International Committee of the Red Cross acknowledged prisoner demands by issuing a public statement asserting that the denial of family visits and moving Palestinian prisoners and detainees outside of the occupied territory to Israeli jails were violations of international treaty norms set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation.

 

Because Barghouti expressed his grievances in an article somewhat surprisingly published by the NY Times on April 16th. Surprising because the Times, an influential media outlet, has over the years been reliably deferential to the Israeli rationalizations for Israeli contested policies and behavior. It turns out that the newspaper was nervous about this departure from its normal operating mode. Barghouti’s piece only appeared in its international edition, and had a qualifying editorial note appended: “This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.” [italics in the original]

 

In retaliation for daring to publish this opinion piece Barghouti was severely punished. He was immediately placed in solitary confinement, has not been allowed to change his clothes for the past month, and is inspected by prison guards four times a day.

 

The notorious Canadian ultra Zionist media watchdog, Honest Reporting, explains on its website that its goal is “defending Israel from media bias.” Honest Reporting expressed its outrage by condemning the NY Times for opening its pages to a convicted Palestinian ‘terrorist.’ It is Orwellinan to so describe Barghouti, a political leader courageously defending his people against an unlawful and oppressive occupation that is approaching its 50th anniversary, and is now best understood as a crime against humanity taking the form of apartheid victimizing the Palestinian people as a whole, and not just those living under occupation. If the Honest Reporting was indeed honest it would expose the pronounced media bias in the West shielding Israel from international accountability and obscuring the severity of Palestinian grievances under international law and morality.

 

The world media treatment of this massive Palestinian strike is typical, although nevertheless disappointing. It gives meager attention to the dramatic character of such a prison protest that has continued for over a month, stimulating many solidarity demonstrations throughout occupied Palestine, a sympathy 24-hour hunger strike by South Africans including the prominent Deputy President Cyril Rhamaposa, and widespread shows of support throughout the Palestinian diaspora. The reaction of the Palestinian Authority has been evasive, with Abbas giving a token show of public support for prisoner goals, while letting it be known privately that he hopes the strike will end as soon as possible.

 

The behavior of the Israeli Prison Service is an indirect confirmation of prisoner discontent. In a sadistic taunt, Israeli settlers were allowed to have a barbecue in the parking lot in front of one of the prisons, apparently mocking the hunger strikers with the pungent aroma of meat being grilled. Worse than this, a fake video was distributed by prison official purporting to show Barghouti having a snack in his cell. This effort to discredit the strike and its leader has been angrily denied. Khader Shkirat, Barghouti’s lawyer, explained that there was no way food could be smuggled to someone in solitary, especially with frequent room searches. It was finally conceded by prison officials that food was delivered to Barghouti’s cell by prison guards trying unsuccessfully to tempt him to break the fast. Barghouti on his side responded via his lawyer, “I plan to escalate my hunger strike soon. There is no backtracking. We will continue until the end.” Barghouti, 58, has according to the last report has lost 29 pounds since the start of the strike, and now weighs 119, planning to refuse even water.

 

Even if this dire commitment is not carried through to a potentially grim finality it will not tarnish the significance of what has been undertaken, and the great reluctance of the world to focus its attention on such a display of nonviolent martyrdom. This is not the first Palestinian prison strike motivated by abusive prison conditions and instances of administrative detention, arresting and jailing without any formal charges. But it appears to be the most consequential due to the participation of Marwan Barghouti along with so many other Palestinian prisoners as well as producing many displays of solidarity beyond the prison walls.

 

As Ramzy Baroud has pointed out in an Al Jazeera article published on May 10, 2017, the strike, although putting forth demands relating to prison conditions, is really a reflection of the underlying ordeal, what he refers to as “the very reality of Palestinian life”; it is above all “a call for unity against factionalism and Israeli occupation.” The distractions created by the Trump presidency, Brexit and the rise of the European right-wing, and turmoil in the Middle East have given Israel’s leadership the political space to push their expansionist agenda toward an imposed outcome of one Jewish state imposing its will on two distinct peoples. Such an endgame for this version of colonialist displacement and subjugation of the indigenous majority population will extend Palestinian suffering in the short-run, but will over time undermine Israeli security and stability, and bring the long Palestine nightmare to an end.

 

The British leadership finally appreciated their own interests, forging a political compromise in Northern Ireland in the form of the Good Friday Agreement, which while fragile and imperfect, has mostly spared Catholics and Protestants further bloodshed. Will the Israeli and U.S. leadership grow responsive to the moral and legal imperatives that call for a sustainable and just peace between these two peoples before the political imperative of such an essential outcome assume more menacing forms?

 

Against all expectations, the South African leadership did eventually become so responsive, but only after enough pressure was exerted internally and internationally. The South African leadership produced a new dawn by releasing its prime ‘terrorist’ inmate, Nelson Mandela, from prison, and the rest is history. Marwan Barghouti is clearly available to play such an historical role in relation to Israel. It will be a tragedy if Zionist ambitions and American led geopolitics preclude this from happening! The road to peace for Israel is the similar to the road to peace for apartheid South Africa: dismantle the apartheid regime that now dominates and discriminates against the Palestinian people on a systematic and totalizing basis. Such a projected future may seem a dream, but dreams can be made to come true through the dynamics of a struggle for justice. If so, we may look back on Barghouti’s hunger strike as the beginning of a winning Palestinian endgame.

 

It is important that we appreciate that a hunger strike is not only a pure form of nonviolence, but is also a self-inflicted sacrifice by those who seek to exhibit their opposition to the existing state of affairs in this manner, hoping to create conditions that produce change. It is an extreme type of resistance that in its essence is an appeal to the conscience and compassion of its opponents and public opinion generally. As Gandhi found out in racist South Africa, if that conscience and compassion are not sufficiently present within a given society such tactics are futile, and violent resistance becomes the only alternative to submission and despair. Israel has been repeatedly challenged by the Palestinians to do the right thing, but responds increasingly by treating all of its adversaries as ‘terrorists’ regardless of their behavior, while itself continuing to defy international law thereby denying the most fundamental rights to the Palestinian people and repeatedly relying on excessive force to safeguard its dominance.

Force-Feeding Palestinian Hunger Strikers

11 Jun

Palestine Hunger Strike and Israeli Force-Feeding Pending Legislation

 

            The highly respected human rights NGO, Adalah (meaning justice) dedicated to securing human rights for Palestinians living in Israel, has issued an urgent appeal on behalf of a reported 125 Palestinian prisoners who are engaged in a hunger strike protesting their being held in Israeli jails on the basis of ‘administrative detention’ procedures. It is the longest collective hunger strike in Palestinian history. Administrative detention is

an objectionable practice by which individuals are held in prison, sometime for months or even years, without being informed of charges or facing trial. According to international law reliance on administrative detention is regarded as prohibited unless there are overwhelming reasons in the form of imminent and severe security threats to justify the failure to produce criminal charges and hold a trial. Israel has made no such appeal, and appears to use administrative detention procedures routinely and against individuals who cannot be considered security threats.

 

            The current hunger strike commenced on April 24, over 50 days ago. Some of the prisoners are being held in prison hospitals in view of their deteriorating and precarious health, with concerns that serious physical damage and possibly death could occur if the strike continues for several more days. Under these circumstances, the Israeli government has sought to break the will of the strikers by seeking a legislative mandate to engage in coercive forms of force-feeding. It should be noted that the Israeli government at its highest levels has made it clear in its public statements that its main purpose is not to save the lives of the prisoners, but to break the strike as a prison protest. At the moment, a bill authorizing force-feeding of hunger strikers has passed a first reading in the Knesset, and is being fast-tracked to allow for the required second and third reading in the coming week. To have any prospect of stopping such a step from being taken immediate and intense international pressure is needed from as many angles as possible.

 

            In keeping with international standards, the Israeli Medical Association, has indicated that it is improper for physicians to cooperate in any way with governmental force-feeding. Unfortunately, prison doctors are not member of the Israeli Medical Association, although one might hope that their moral stand would exert some inhibiting influence. The most authoritative text on the international status of force-feeding is contained in the Declaration of Malta (1991, rev. 2006) adopted by the World Medical Association. In guideline 6 the Declaration states that “hunger strikers should be protected from coercion,” and more directly in guideline 13 asserts that forcible feeding is never acceptable because it constitutes “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment.’ Such a wording is similar to that used to indicate the scope of prohibition contained in the widely ratified International Convention on Torture (1984), thereby validating the contention that forced-feeding is a type of torture. The Declaration adopts a subtle approach that recognizes the complexity of the issue, including the possibility in some circumstances that coercion may arise from other hunger strikers eager to avoid any defection from their ranks. Overall, the core commitment is respect for the freedom of a hunger striker either to maintain or abort his protest, which is itself as aspect of freedom of conscience.

 

            There are journalistic accounts published in Israel that suggest both that the Shin Beth places a high priority on ending the hunger strike, which threatens to spread among the 5,271 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails in acts of solidarity with those 192 current held in administrative detention. There is also Israeli worries that the strike might spread unrest beyond the prison walls to Palestinian society as a whole with unpredictable results . Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with typical bravado has indicated that even if some doctors refuse to participate in force-feeding he will find enough that will.

 

            The depth of this deepening humanitarian crisis has even moved the normally passive Palestinian Authority to take some action. President Mahmoud Abbas has sent a letter actually under the signature of Saeb Erekat, the chief international negotiator on the Palestinian side, asking the UN Security Council to intervene to prevent force-feeding. It is hard to know whether anything will come of this initiative.

 

            As has been the Palestinian experience all along, the world media averts its gaze when humanitarian emergencies arise in occupied Palestine. In this instance, treating Palestinian hunger strikes as unworthy of the sort of coverage that is given to similar such political protests in other parts of the world, including India, China, and Tibet. It is well to recall that the 1981 hunger strikes by Irish Catholic militants held in the notorious Maze Prison in Northern Ireland resulted in several deaths, most notably that of Bobby Sands after 66 days without food, and had the political effect of shifting the British approach to the Irish struggle from blood-soaked counterinsurgency to conflict-resolving diplomacy.

 

            In the text of the Adalah urgent appeal pasted below there are a list of initiatives that individuals around the world are urged to take. I firmly believe that it is important of people of good will around the world to shout and scream in solidarity with these prisoners.

 

            We need to keep in mind several salient features of this developing situation:

            –this hunger strike is protesting against Israel’s extensive and abusive reliance on ‘administrative detention’ to hold Palestinians in a cruel manner that is incompatible with international law, especially given the international obligations of Israel in relation to the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; this is in essence a protest against injustice;

            –it should be appreciated that a hunger strike is the supreme form of nonviolent self-sacrifice seeking to highlight and transform severe encroachments on fundamental norms of human rights, including the universally prohibition on torture that becomes relevant to the extent that the Israeli government seeks to end the strike by force-feeding;

            –Palestinian detainees, reacting to deep grievances, have engaged in several long and dramatic hunger strikes in recent years starting on December 18, 2011 when Khader Adnan went 66 days without food, followed by a 43 day hunger strike by Hana Shalabi that ended with a early release, involving a punitive deportation from the West Bank for three years to Gaza; in these cases of individual hunger strikes, Israel finally offered concessions to induce the prisoner to give up the hunger strike when prison medical authorities feared death or permanent disability;

            –the issue of force-feeding is an aggravation of the underlying injustice and illegality of administrative detention, and is often preceded by violent nighttime arrests that constitute instances of state terror that produce resistance by those detained in prison;

            –Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly justified force-feeding by referring to the American practice at Guantanamo Bay where terrorist suspects have been detained for many years without charges or trials, and subjected to an array of inhuman and degrading practices; such an attempt at validating Israeli practices by invoking America’s unlawful behavior has no moral or legal weight, and should be interpreted as virtually a confession;

            –hunger strikes should be treated as nonviolent resistance tactics used by Palestinians to protest against unlawful Israeli unlawful practices and policies associated with the prolonged occupation of Palestine; in view of this, those of us who support the Palestinian struggle for rights and justice seize this opportunity to be sure our voice is heard loudly enough to offset the shameful silences of governments and the mainstream media. Also beyond the fate of Palestinian prisoners, it would also seem imperative to insist upon a public debate in Israel on the treatment presently accorded to imprisoned Palestinians.

**************************************************************************************************

 

Adalah’s Urgent Appeal on Behalf of Palestinians Hunger Strikers, and their Right not to be Force-fed:

 

Urgent Appeal / Day 49 of the Palestinian mass hunger-strike: Israeli fast-track legislation to permit force-feeding may be completed next week

 

Since 17 April 2014, over 100 Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been on hunger strike in protest at Israel’s policy of Administrative Detention (see box).

 

On 9 June, an Israeli government-initiated law proposal to permit force-feeding of hunger strikers passed first reading in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The second and third readings are scheduled to take place in a fast-track procedure next week. This can only be prevented by public responses locally and abroad.

 

Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet or Shabak (known also as GSS, ISA), has encouraged the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to push through this legislation as fast as possible, with the explicit purpose of breaking the hunger strike, rather than out of concern for the welfare of the strikers.

 

Force feeding is defined as torture by the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Malta and has been condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other UN organs.

 

The Israel Medical Association (IMA) has objected publicly to the proposed legislation and announced that its members will not comply with it. However, doctors working for the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) are not members of the IMA. The body in charge of supervising and disciplining doctors in Israel is the Ministry of Health, which, unfortunately, is a main supporter and promoter of the legislation.

 

In line with the approach taken by the Shin Bet and PM Netanyahu, the Ministry of Health is now also introducing new, more stringent restrictions on the access of external independent doctors to the hunger-strikers, despite the fact that the right of prisoners to see an independent doctor is anchored both in Israeli law and in international norms.

 

What is Administrative Detention?

A form of internment without trial, administrative detention can be ordered by an Israeli military commander in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) based on ‘security reasons’, which are broad enough to include peaceful political activity and virtually any act of opposition to the Israeli occupation. As of 1 May 2014, 192 Palestinians were held in administrative detention in Israel. Detainees are held without trial and neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see the ‘secret evidence’ used against them. While detainees may appeal the detention in a military court, such a right is rendered meaningless without access to the information on which the detention order is based. Administrative Detention orders are valid for up to six months at a time and can be renewed indefinitely. According to testimonies collected by human rights organizations, detainees have been held in administrative detention for periods ranging from one month to as much as six years. The frequency of the use of administrative detention has fluctuated throughout Israel’s occupation. It has specifically been used as a means of collective punishment against Palestinians opposing the occupation. UN CERD has recently expressed its opinion that Israel’s current practice of Administrative Detention is ‘discriminatory and constitutes arbitrary detention under international human rights law.’ The European Union has also condemned Israel’s use of this measure.

 

What you can do:

 

  • Contact Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Health Yael German and your local Israeli Embassy to voice your objection to this proposed amendment to the prisons law: bnetanyahu@knesset.gov.il ; ygerman@knesset.gov.il
  • Contact your national medical association and the World Medical Association and ask them to publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw the law: doh@wma.net; wma@wma.net

 

  • Contact the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Prof. Juan Mendez and ask him to condemn the law and publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw it: urgent-action@ohchr.org

 

  • Contact the EU High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton and ask her to condemn the law and publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw it: Catherine.ashton@ec.europa.eu

 

  • Contact your local MP and ask her to condemn the law and publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw it.

 

The IMA’s position: http://www.ima.org.il/ENG/ViewCategory.aspx?CategoryId=4497

Recent press articles:

Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/09/israel-force-feeding-law-palestinian-hunger-strikers

Haaretz

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.597672

http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/.premium-1.598098

Related websites:

http://www.phr.org.il/default.asp?PageID=4

www.Addameer.org

www.Adalah.org

www.stoptorture.org.il

http://www.mezan.org/en/

 

Israel’s attempt to break the hunger-strikes: Background

In 2012, Palestinian detainees and prisoners embarked on multiple hunger strikes, aiming to end the policy of Administrative Detention as well as seeking to improve prison conditions and renew family visits from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which had been interrupted. Despite punitive measures against the strikers, the hunger strikes were largely successful, leading to the release of several administrative detainees as well as to an Egyptian-brokered agreement between the prisoners’ leadership and the Israel Prisons Service, which included an undertaking to respect most of the strikers’ demands. This year, as the number of administrative detainees crept up again and conditions in the prisons did not improve, a new mass hunger strike was declared on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (17 April). As the hunger strike gathers speed and support, the response of the Israel Prisons Service has increased in hostility. Prison staff has exerted pressure on hunger-strikers to break their protest in various ways including isolation from the outside world by denial of access to lawyers, independent doctors and family; separation from other prisoners through solitary confinement and frequent transfers from one prison to another; and punitive measures such as raids on striking prisoners’ quarters, confiscation of personal belongings and fines.  IPS medical staff has been implicated in this process by preferring the interests of the prison to their obligations to their patients, in breach of medical professional-ethical standards. Hunger-strikers have been shuttled between medical facilities in the public health system.

Access to trustworthy legal advice and independent doctors is crucial to the hunger-strikers’ ability to make conscious and informed decisions regarding their actions, but PHR-Israel doctors and the detainees’ lawyers have only gained access to some of the hunger-striking prisoners after repeatedly appealing to the courts.

 

For information and updates on this issue please contact Physicians for Human Rights-Israel: Amany Dayif at amanydayif@phr.org.il, or Hadas Ziv at hadas@phr.org.il

 

This appeal is by:

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Haifa)

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association (Ramallah)

Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza)

Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (West Jerusalem)

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (Jaffa – Tel Aviv)

 

 

ENDS

——–

 

Miri Weingarten

EU Advocacy Coordinator for Israel/OPT

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel * Adalah * Public Committee Against Torture in Israel

M +44 753 1719159

Skype miri.weingarten

email miri.weingarten@gmail.com

 

 

This mailing list includes representatives of the following organisations:

 

ACAT, ACSUR, Action Against Hunger, Action Aid, Actions in the Mediterranean, Adalah, Addameer, AIDA, Al-Haq, Amnesty, APRODEV, Avaaz, Breaking the Silence, Broederlijk Delen, B’Tselem, CAFOD, CARE, Caritas, CCFD, Christian Aid, Church of England, Church of Sweden, CICC, CIDSE, Cordaid, Crisis Action, DCA, Defence for Children International, Diakonia, EAPPI, EMHRN, FCA, FIDH, Gisha, HRW, ICCO, ICTJ, InterAction, Israeli Human Rights Coalition, MAP, Medact, Medecins du Monde, medico international, Mercy Corps, Merlin, NPA, NRC, OSI, Oxfam, PAH, Plateforme Palestine, QPSW, RCT, Rights Forum, Save the Children, Terre des Hommes Italia, The Elders, Methodist Church, Trocaire, UCP, War Child, World Vision, Yesh Din.

 

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