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.
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“Administrative detention is not meant to be used as a substitution for a criminal process,” says Sarit Michaeli, a spokesperson for the Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem. “All the evidence is secret. It removes the ability of a person to defend themselves.”Skip to next paragraph
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Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists have been holding regular protests in a show of solidarity with Palestinian prisoners. Yesterday protesters clashed with the Israeli army outside Israel’s Ofer military prison near the city of Ramallah in the West Bank. Youth armed with slingshots, their faces covered with keffiyehs, pelted soldiers with rocks outside the prison where Israel holds around 500 Palestinian detainees.
“I want the prisoners to take their rights. To have their demands met. I want to show them we are here with them,” says one young female activist, her identity concealed by a scarf wrapped around her face and large sunglasses in the midst of a barrage of tear gas used by the army to push back the demonstrators on Thursday. “[The Palestinian Authority] is not doing enough. By hunger striking, Khader Adnan took what he wanted.”
Indeed, Mr. Adnan is a new symbol of resistance in the Palestinian Territories. He was arrested in his home on Dec. 17, 2011. Although he is a member of the Islamic Jihad organization, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the US, he was not charged with any crime.
He was held under administrative detention based on secret evidence, and even he didn’t know the details of the accusations against him. He started his hunger strike to protest his nine arrests over the last 12 years, abusive treatment by Israeli forces, and detention without charge. For 66 days he refused food before an agreement was reached to release him.
A stencil of Mr. Adnan’s face with a padlock pressed between his lips began appearing on walls and placards across the West Bank. Spaces once filled with martyr posters of young men with multiple weapons now feature his bearded face with thin-rimmed glasses, popularizing the nonviolent hunger-strike tactic and drawing attention to his case.
Israeli Prison Service to review prisoner requests
Sivan Weizman, a spokesperson for the Israeli Prison Service, says they have created a team to review the requests of the prisoners, which include an end to this practice of administrative detention and isolation, as well as lifting recent restrictions on family visits and access to university education.
But they are not bowing to the prisoners’ demands because of this wide-scale action, she says, noting that the team was assembled before the mass hunger strike started. “Let’s be clear,” Ms. Weizman says, “It’s not because of the strike.”
As of yet, the mass hunger strike has produced no concrete results and rights groups say the Israeli authorities are punishing those who refuse to eat by removing electronics from their rooms and further restricting contact with their families and other prisoners. Weizman says some prisoners have been moved and had “privileges” taken away, but says it’s not “punishment.”
Sahar Francis, a lawyer and director from the prisoner support group Adameer, calls Adnan’s case a victory and says that reviewing Israel’s reaction so far to the mass hunger strike shows Israel sees the tactic as a threat. “It puts pressure on the prison system,” says Ms. Francis.