In Israeli prisons today, over 6300 Palestinian political prisoners languish in horrible conditions. For the most part, they spend years, in near oblivion, enduring administrative detention, farce trials, solitary confinement, and torture. Often times, only their families – mothers, fathers, siblings, children – are aware of their glaring absence.
According to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group based in Ramallah, almost every Palestinian family has experienced losing a loved one to the Israeli prison system.
Every year, on April 17, Palestinians in Israel, in the Palestinian territories, and in the diaspora attempt to remind the international community of the thousands of men, women, and children wasting away their lives in unjustified captivity. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, a letter that made public British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and on the 50th anniversary of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories, prisoners have taken matters into their own hands in a massive show of resistance and protest.
Led by the high-profile imprisoned politician and parliamentarian Marwan Barghouti, over 1500 political prisoners from across the Palestinian political spectrum have started a large-scale, open-ended hunger strike to protest Israel’s denial of family visits, proper medical care, and the decades-long practice of detaining Palestinians without charge or trial.
In an article penned for The New York Times on Prisoner’s Day this year, Barghouti, who was recently sentenced to five life sentences and forty years in prison in a show trial condemned by international observers, wrote of the decision to strike:
Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.
Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.
In response to his public activism on this issue, Barghouti was placed in solitary confinement.
Palestinian political organizations and social movements, including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas, and Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, have thrown their support behind the largest mass hunger strike since 2012, and before that, 2004. Head of the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, Issa Qaraqe, called on all Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons to join the hunger strike. Protesters in Israel and Palestine took to the streets in large numbers to express their solidarity with the prisoners. Support for the huger strike also popped up in cities around the world.
— Opération Boycott (@opBoycott) April 17, 2017
— Sophia #NoBanNoWall (@SophiaArmen) April 18, 2017
— Joe Catron (@jncatron) April 17, 2017
Without a concerted effort on behalf of the international community to hold Israel accountable for its systematic violation of Palestinian human rights, including the rights of prisoners, the hunger strike is unlikely to achieve its goals. Indeed, soon after the strike was announced, officials for the Israeli Prison Service reportedly said they would not respond to any of the prisoners’ demands, revealing a complete disregard for the lives of those in their custody. Prisoners on hunger strike were also banned from visits with family and lawyers as punishment.
Samidoun, a Palestinian prisoner solidarity network of organizers and activists, based in North America, has created a list of actions people around the world can take this week to make sure the plight of Palestinian prisoners enters and remains in the international spotlight.