Hunger intifada? Palestinian prisoners wield new-old tool against Israel.
As many as half of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have followed the example of Khader Adnan, whose 66-day hunger strike became something of a cause célèbre earlier this year.
Ramallah, West Bank
As many as 2,000 Palestinian prisoners – nearly half of the 4,500 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails – have launched a mass hunger strike that is gaining momentum and putting pressure on Israel to review prisoner demands.Skip to next paragraph
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More prisoners join each day, and many see hunger striking as their last option, especially those who are held without charge or trial under Israel's administrative detention policy and limited legal recourse. They blame not only the Jewish state, which defends the policy as necessary to its security, but also the Palestinian Authority for not securing better rights for prisoners.
“The hunger strike is the strongest thing the detainee can do … a person inside jail can’t make any other kind of resistance,” says Khader Adnan, a member of the Islamic Jihad militant movement whose 66-day hunger strike earlier this year became something of a cause célèbre among Palestinians. “Because the detainee has no instrument for protesting, to make his voice loud, except this kind of protest. A hunger strike is using the man’s own body as an instrument against humiliation and oppression.”
Among those who followed Mr. Adnan's example are the two longest hunger strikers are Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, who have refused food for 66 days and are in critical condition, according to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.
Robert Serry, the United Nations envoy for Middle East peace, issued a statement yesterday saying he was "deeply troubled" by the conditions of those prisoners, who are being held in administrative detention. "Above all, he urges all sides to find a solution before it is too late, and calls on Israel to abide by its legal obligations under international law and do everything in its power to preserve the health of the prisoners," the statement said.
'These are not boy scouts'
Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Palestinian prisoners have executed more than a dozen hunger strikes. One in five Palestinians has spent time in an Israeli jail, according to prisoner support group Adameer, and almost every family has had a member incarcerated.
But Israel, which has lost thousands of civilians to Palestinian terrorist attacks, says it is not locking up just anyone.
“These are not boy scouts,” says the Israeli prime minister's spokesperson, Mark Regev, cautioning that most prisoners refusing food have been convicted of crimes by Israel. Mr. Adnan, he points out, is an admitted member of Islamic Jihad – an organization that has claimed responsibility for the deaths of scores of Israelis. He calls the use of administrative detention “unfortunate, but necessary” because it is used to protect informants who provide information about those being detained.
Of those in Israeli jails, at least 300 are being held under administrative detention orders, which can be repeatedly renewed without a transparent judicial process. In a report released May 2, Human Rights Watch said, “Israel should immediately charge or release people jailed without charge or trial under so-called administrative detention."