1,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails launch mass hunger strike

1,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails launch mass hunger strike
The strike was initially announced for late March but was suspended on the eve of its launch following an agreement with Israeli authorities to revoke the punitive measures. Earlier in August, Israel broke that agreement.
5 min read
West Bank
01 September, 2022
Prisoners demand the revocation of Israeli punitive measures imposed after the Gilboa prison break a year ago, including constant transfer and solitary confinement [Qassam Muaddi / TNA]

Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails will begin a mass hunger strike on Thursday, protesting the punitive measures imposed by the Israeli jails authority after six Palestinians escaped the high security Israeli Gilboa prison almost a year ago.

The strike was initially announced for late March but was suspended on the eve of its launch, following an agreement with Israeli authorities to revoke the punitive measures.

Earlier in August, the prisoners' leadership announced the strike to begin in September after the Israeli jails authority decided to resume punitive prisoner transfers between jails, especially on Palestinians serving high sentences.

On Wednesday the Palestinian Prisoners' Club announced that the strike will be launched by 1,200 Palestinian prisoners, to be progressively joined by more prisoners as the strike goes on, after weeks of preparatory protest actions.

"Prisoners will officially begin their hunger strike on Thursday afternoon and hand the strike declaration to the prison administration in each Israeli jail during the evening count," Amani Sarahneh, spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, told The New Arab.

"The main demand is to end the punitive constant transfer of  prisoners between jails, which takes away the prisoners' capacity to have a group life, increases their pshychological suffering and impacts organisational chances of prisoners," Sarahneh explained.

"In addition, prisoners demand the suspension of how Israel treats "highly dangerous prisoners", like constant shackling of hands and feet and permanent isolation," she added. "As of now, there are 38 Palestinian prisoners in solitary confinement, including the six Gilboa escapees, who have been isolated for a full year." 

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip launched protests last Monday in support of prisoners.

Marches and vigils have been held in Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin and Toubas since Monday. On Tuesday, dozens of Palestinians held a sit-in in front of the International Red Cross Committee offices in Ramallah and on Wednesday Palestinians marched in Qalqilya.

In Ramallah, family members of Palestinian prisoners held pictures of their beloved ones in Israeli jails and chanted slogans in support of the Palestinian prisoners' movement, demanding international pressure on Israel to respond to the prisoners' demands.

Prisoners' families Red Cross Ramallah / Qassam Muaddi
Palestinian prisoners' families rallied in front of the Red Cross offices in Ramallah on Tuesday. [Qassam Muaddi/TNA]

"This hunger strike is very important because Palestinian prisoners are saying to the whole world that they need to get back their dignity and their rights," the wife of Palestinian prisoner Nael Barghouthi told The New Arab at the protest, as she held a picture of her husband.

Barghouthi served 34 years in Israeli jails before he was released through a prisoners swap deal between Israel and Hamas in 2011.

He was then re-arrested two years later after a speech he gave at Birzeit University. An Israeli military court sentenced him to two years in prison and later reactivated his previous sentencing of life in prison.

Palestinian prisoners' families / Qassam Muaddi
Palestinians began to protest in support of the prisoners' hunger strike a week ahead across the West Bank [Qassam Muaddi / TNA]

"This strike aims at breaking the Israeli jails' authority decisions that violate prisoners' rights," Ameen Shouman, the head of the Palestinian Commission for Prisoners' Affairs, told The New Arab.

"All efforts are required by Palestinians and all those who support the Palestinian cause, to make this strike as short as possible, and restore the rights of Palestinian prisoners in the occupation prisons," he added.

On Wednesday, almost 24 hours before the mass hunger strike began, Israel agreed to fix a release date for Khalil Awawdeh, a 47-year-old Palestinian detainee without charges, after six months of a hunger strike he carried out to protest his detention.

According to the Israeli written commitment, Awawdeh will be released on 2 October.

Khalil Awawdeh / Qassam Muaddi
Khalil Awawdeh ended his hunger strike on Wednesday after Israel approved his release, 24 hours before the beginning of the mass prisoners' hunger strike. [Qassam Muaddi/TNA]

Awawdeh ended his hunger strike following the agreement, taking his first cup of tea in months in front of the press cameras. Israel had frozen Awawdeh's detention order, allowing him to receive visits at the Israeli Asaf Harofeh hospital, earlier in August.

"Although Khalil is happy for this victory, his health condition remains very delicate," Dalal Awawdeh, his wife, told The New Arab.

"They have been six very difficult months for me and the children, full of anguish, expecting to hear the news of his death at any moment," she described. "Khalil will remain in the hospital until he can walk again, and God willing he will be among us in October."

Palestinian prisoners have repeatedly staged hunger strikes to push back against Israeli restrictions on their detention conditions.

The most significant Palestinian mass hunger strikes in recent years are the hunger strike in 2012 when around 1,500 Palestinian prisoners refused to take any food for 28 days.

Prisoners then protested against the isolation of dozens of them under the then-newly introduced Israeli "Shalit law", passed after the release of some 1000 Palestinians from Israeli jails in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Gaza.

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In 2014, 220 Palestinian administrative detainees went on hunger strike for 63 days, with many of them being hospitalised due to a deterioration in their health. The detainees protested against their detention without charges. The strike ended after Israel agreed to revoke punitive measures.

In 2017, around 220 Palestinian prisoners progressively joined a mass hunger strike started by Palestinian prisoner and leader Marwan Barghouthi to protest the Israeli decision to take away several rights that had been previously gained concerning detention conditions. The strike lasted 41 days.

Since 1967, Israel has arrested near to one million Palestinians, representing one third of the male population of the Palestinian territories, which makes prisoners in Israeli jails a national issue for Palestinians, impacting all sectors of their society.

Currently, about 4,450 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, including 27 women, 175 children and 670 administrative detainees without charges.