The use of hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners is their main form of peaceful struggle for their rights and dignity. This method is used only when the situation is unbearable and all other means of dialogue and negotiation with prison authorities fail to improve their living conditions.
This type of struggle poses danger to the health of the detainees but it is the most effective one for achieving their demands and for eliminating all methods of repression and humiliation used against them. These Palestinian heroes have never succeeded against the Zionist enemy without resorting to hunger strikes and direct confrontation, techniques that halt repression in prisons and turn human will into an instrument that is superior to Zionist police authority.
Hunger strikes strengthen -resistance and draw attention to the human and moral dimension of the conflict with the occupiers. At the same time these expose the Zionist state as being an executioner that does not weigh human considerations.
The mass hunger strike carried out by Palestinian prisoners began on April 17 (Prisoners’ Day), and was a heartfelt protest against arbitrary punishment and serious human rights violations committed by the occupying state.
With patience and sacrifice, the prisoners made Israel understand that the protest will expand and will become a genuine rebellion in all prisons, one in which people could possibly die. This put the Zionist authorities into a complicated situation with regard to world opinion, mainly because the demands are related to basic rights that protect prisoners in all prisons around the world, even criminals.
Some 1,600 Palestinian political prisoners began the strike (called “the Battle of Empty Stomachs”) in nearly 17 Israeli jails, and another 1,500 inmates joined them. This strike is a vigorous response to the arbitrary arrests, physical and psychological torture---, and moral humiliation practiced by the Zionist authorities.
This battle was not just a detainee’s battle, but the whole Palestinian people´s inside and outside the country. Palestinian detachments and institutions assumed the responsibilities to support the demands because this is their main cause and one of the priorities of the national principles.
This battle was not just a struggle of those detainees but of the Palestinian people as a whole, consisting of both those inside and outside the country. The nation’s detachments and institutions assumed their responsibilities to support the prisoners’ demands because this is the people’s main cause and one of the priorities of the country’s principles.
The Supreme Committee for Prisoners gathered at Askalan Prison, and the strike ended successfully on May 14, 2012 following negotiations between Palestine and Israel, with Egypt serving as the mediator. The strike marked a new stage in the history of the Palestinian prisoner’s movement and ended a dark and difficult period experienced by prisoners for the past 10 years, since the intensification of repression.
The Supreme Committee for Prisoners gathered in the prison Askalan and the strike ended successfully on the afternoon of May 14, 2012 after a negotiation between Palestine and Israel with Egypt as mediator. The strike marked a new stage in the history of Palestinian Prisoner's Movement and ended a dark and difficult period lived by prisoners for 10 years since the repression intensification.
Moreover, it represented a human victory with symbolic and legendary dimensions and one that has no precedent in human history. It began weeks before with a few individual strikes and was sustained for more than 60 days, and in some cases for more than 90 – exceeding the period of time over which any person can survive without food.
The agreement contains three main demands: to end administrative detention (arrests without charges and for indefinite periods), to release of dozens of Palestinians from solitary confinement; and to respect the internationally recognized right to receive family visits, which Gaza prisoners have been denied since 2007 (a collective punishment imposed after the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit).
The prisoners have shown themselves as examples of sacrifice, courage and endurance for a long time now. The strike received widespread solidarity and touched international consciousness as it called attention to the cause, especially to administrative detention.
It also allowed prisoners to recover their strength in the middle of the constant increase in repression, humiliation and deprivation of their basic rights in their daily struggles. The prisoners’ situation worsened after the capture of the Israeli soldier, as they were subjected to harsh and racist measures such as solitary confinement and collective punishment.
The unity and strength of the prisoners made an international impact as was reflected in actions of broad solidarity carried out by human rights institutions, progressive intellectuals, the United Nations, the Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement, in addition to the strong pressure placed on Israel to respond to the prisoners’ demands.
For first time a global consensus has been achieved concerning the prisoners cause, which is in agreement with the spirit of human and universal laws since the strike called on the members of the international community to live up to their ethical, cultural and human responsibilities. This put Israel in a critical situation from the human and moral point of view. In addition, the global movement revealed the Zionists’ violations committed against prisoners and forced the international community to respond by legally and politically confronting the Zionist state, which acts in defiance of the law.
During the strike, the Arab League held an emergency meeting with the permanent representatives and made several important decisions to introduce the cause of the prisoners to the General Assembly and to take the issue to The Hague. The objective was to raise the legal position and the status of the detainees as prisoners of war, according to the third and fourth Geneva Conventions, as well as to point out the responsibility of the occupying state to abide by international law and its commitment to the community of nations.
This decision by the Arab League, which was reaffirmed by several human rights institutions at the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Sharm Al-Sheikh during the strike, is considered a strategic move to legally protect the prisoners and to end the treatment of prisoners as terrorists and common criminals, as they were being viewed under Israeli military laws.
We are witnessing this Palestinian struggle backed by a broad worldwide solidarity movement to raise the situation of these prisoners before the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council. The purpose of this is the ensure that these prisoners are considered prisoners of war and therefore covered under the accords of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in this manner begin a humanitarian and political battle. Palestinian political and diplomatic work is a major task in internationalizing the cause and in condemning the practices of Israeli against them until the Third and Fourth Geneva Convention is applied.
National, regional and international support constituted a human referendum on the cause of the political prisoners. It showed that this is a critical issue for the Palestinian people and cannot be bargained or subjected to any Israeli blackmail and unfair conditions. This was also a political message that showed that the cause is essential for any political solution to the conflict for achieving national rights and that there will be no reasonable peace without the release of all prisoners.
All of this reaffirmed the existence of objectively mature factors for a third popular intifada. It also showed that internal division is the cause that is impeding the unleashing of this form of struggle and preventing people’s unity against the occupation, land theft and colonialism. This division stands in the way of self-determination, independence (with Jerusalem as the capital), and the return of the refugees – as called for by international resolutions.
Statistics and Figures
More than 750,000 Palestinians — almost 20 percent of the population, consisting of mostly young people, women and even children — have been arrested and confined in Zionist Israeli prisons since the Six Day War of 1967. In early May, the total number of prisoners in Israeli jails reached the 4,610. They are distributed geographically as follows:
3930 from the West Bank, 153 of them from Jerusalem; 456 from the Gaza Strip; 192 from the territories occupied in 1948; 32 arrested at the border. Of the total number, 203 were sentenced to terms of less than 16 years; 320 are being kept in administrative detention; 527 received life sentences; 449 were sentenced to more than 20 years; 447 to more than 15 years but less than 20 years; 259 were sentenced from 5 to 15 years , and 398 to less than 5 years.
According to the Addameer human rights organization, the number of prisoners as of June 1 had reached the 4,659.
Still, this number of prisoners isn’t definitive because the Zionist army and security forces arrest Palestinians every day.
Israeli authorities do not provide medical care, and on top of this it is forbidden for prisoners to receive any medications. All of these deficiencies and inhuman conditions have led to the deaths of hundreds of prisoners.
Torture in Zionist prisons and detention centers
Israel is the only country in the world that has legalized torture, which is prohibited internationally in all its forms. The Jewish state legalized torture in military and legal institutions and rewards the torturers. Its security forces have invented over 70 methods of physical and psychological torture, ones such as putting prisoners in refrigerators; the “Shabah” (phantom), which involves forcing prisoners to spend hours in painful positions (tied to a chair with their back bent, standing barefoot on glass or with them hanging from a ceiling); sleep deprivation; starvation; isolation; beatings in the stomach, on the head, on wounds and the genitals; broken ribs; spitting in their faces; making the prisoners stand for several hours, and torturing the detainees’ relatives in front of them.
Prisoners and martyrs
Due to torture, as well as murders following arrests and the lack of medical care, the number of martyred prisoners from 1967 until this past June reached 202, according to one Palestinian report.
Every year, Israel uses mass administrative detention to jail hundreds of Palestinian residents from the occupied territories. That country keeps many administrative detainees for long periods without properly assessing the reliability of the confidential information used against them. This type of administrative detention contradicts international humanitarian law.