Saturday marks the thirteenth day of the latest mass hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli jails. Palestinian human rights groups announced earlier this month that 1,500 prisoners had started a new protest against their prison conditions with the objective of compelling Israel to make fundamental changes.
Since Israel invaded, occupied and started to colonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip 50 years ago, more than 750,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces, according to figures issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. In other words, almost every single Palestinian family in those regions of historic Palestine will have at least one story — and often many more — of how Israeli detention, internment or imprisonment has affected them.
The detainees are demanding an end to solitary confinement, heavy restrictions on family visits and the practice of administrative detention. The latter is particularly harsh, amounting to indefinite imprisonment with neither charge nor trial, based purely on secret “evidence” presented by one of Israel’s spy agencies. Despite the inherent injustice of this process, administrative detention continues to be used by the Israeli occupation authorities; it is no less than internment without trial. This being the 100th anniversary of the infamous Balfour Declaration, it is appropriate to recall that this cruel and unjust practice actually dates back to the period of the British occupation of Palestine, the so-called Mandate. Britain’s Mandatory Emergency Law Act of 1945 laid the foundations for this bedrock of the Israeli occupation.
According to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, as of this month, Israel holds 500 Palestinians under this unaccountable, totalitarian and antidemocratic status. Eight of these prisoners are members of the Palestinian Authority’s moribund legislative arm; in other words, they are Palestinian MPs.
Even those Palestinian prisoners who make it before an Israeli court are denied anything resembling justice. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are subjected to Israeli military law and face courts presided over by Israeli army officers masquerading as “judges”. These kangaroo courts have a 99.7 per cent conviction rate. Meanwhile, in further evidence of Israel’s status as an apartheid regime, Jewish settlers living in and occupying those same territories are subject to Israeli civilian law, not military law. In practice, though, the settlers can act with almost complete impunity when they attack Palestinians. So much for Israel’s claim to be a democracy.
Previous hunger strikes since 2012 have often started after individual administrative detainees launched their own campaigns to fight back peacefully against their nightmarish limbo status. Charismatic and iron-willed activists like Khader Adnan, Hana Shalabi and Mohammad Al-Qeq launched their own actions against internment, and were later joined by others in solidarity. These strikes had their own successes, with some prisoners being released, but ultimately they failed to stop the practice of Israeli internment without trial – a key hunger strike demand – for more than short periods. This time the protest is more coordinated. Popular and prominent Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti managed somehow to get around Israeli restrictions and smuggle an op-ed out of prison so that it could be published by the New York Times, to the outrage and despair of the Israeli government and its supporters. Israel’s former ambassador in the US, Michael Oren, now works for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and even threatened to have the paper’s Jerusalem office shut down in retaliation. In the article, Barghouti related how the violent racism of Israeli occupation has dominated his life since his youth:
I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.
This kind of torture is endemic in Israeli jails, as documented in painstaking detail for decades by Palestinian, international and even Israeli human rights groups. That is the real reason why Oren and his colleagues are so upset; they have to cover up such brutality to maintain the façade of Israeli democracy.When, in 2015, Minister for Public Security Gilad Erdan proposed new legislation permitting the barbaric force-feeding of hunger strikers it was passed by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. This is despite the state’s well-documented record of using force-feeding so brutally that it killed several Palestinian hunger strikers.
Erdan also holds the portfolio of a second government department – the Strategic Affairs Ministry — which for several years now has been almost exclusively focused on fighting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. This campaign has included a “black-ops” war against Palestinian activists overseas which has likely included tactics such as cyberwarfare and invasion of privacy, stalking, harassment and death threats.
The Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike only for fundamental human rights, nothing more. Ending the Israeli occupation is a moral imperative.
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