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'We fight crime with empty stomachs': Palestinian hunger strikers

Palestinian prisoners on 4th day of hunger strike in Israeli jails release a message calling on their compatriots' support

ِAhram Online , Sunday 27 Apr 2014
Palestinians take part in a protest marking "Palestinian Prisoners Day" in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 17, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Entering their fourth hunger-striking day, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails released a message calling on their people's support in the ongoing "battle" against Israel's administrative detention law, Egypt's state-run news agency MENA reported Sunday.

The hunger strikers are currently imprisoned under Israel's so-called administrative detention law -- in place since the end of the 1948 British mandate in Palestine – which allows the arrest of Palestinians deemed a "threat" to Israel's national security.

Published by the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, the message stated that "Our goal is to kiss our parents' hands, hug our children and behold a smile on the faces of our wives with no fear or barriers."

"We will fight the crime with our empty stomachs that shall not be replenished on account of our freedom," Mahmoud Hamdy Shabana, a Palestinian hunger striker imprisoned in Israel's Ofer prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah, said in the message.

The prisoners' message also denounced the harshness of the administrative detention court.

"Prisoners are forced to appear in court to stand before the judge, and they are denied access to the trial's details to defend themselves; the judge is no more than an employee for Israel's intelligence officers who can only approve their decisions," they said.

Jawad Boulos -- the lawyer of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club -- said the administrative detainees, backed by several international rights bodies, had given the Israeli security authorities "more than one chance" to reconsider their arrests and examine their demands, MENA said.

Boulos asserted the hunger strike will continue until the prisoners "get a sense" of Israeli seriousness in revisiting its arrest measures and policies, an action that Israel vowed to adopt three years ago.

According to the Palestinian Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the "open-ended" hunger strike taking place in Ofer, Megiddo and Naqab prisons involves over 100 Palestinian political detainees.

The association, an NGO that works to back Palestinian prisoners under arrest in Israel, linked the hunger strike to the 2012 agreement between the Israeli Prison Service and representatives of the prisoners.

The agreement, which included an Israeli approval to restrict its use of administrative detention only to "exceptional circumstances", ended a hunger strike involving roughly 2,000 political prisoners.

Last December, Israel released Palestinian political prisoner and resistance icon Sameri Issawi after he spent over 17 months in the Shatta Israeli occupation detention centre.

Issawi ended his 277-day hunger strike on 23, April 2013 after accepting a deal brokered by Israeli and Palestinian officials to serve eight months on charges of violating bail conditions for an earlier release.

In October 2011, Issawi, then serving the ninth year of a 30-year jail sentence for involvement in resistance activities against Israel, was released as part of an Egypt-brokered prisoner swap between the Gaza-ruling Hamas movement and Israeli authorities.

That deal led to the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

However, Issawi was rearrested in July 2012 under Israel’s so-called administrative detention law.

Palestinian hunger strikers have posed a new challenge to the Israeli government, which has come under international criticism for its practice of detaining prisoners without trial. 

In a related context, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said earlier he was open to resuming peace talks with Israel as long as the latter met long-standing demands to free prisoners and halt settlement building on occupied land.

"There's no obstacle to us restarting the talks except the 30 prisoners [that] need to be released," Reuters quoted Abbas as saying.

US-mediated peace talks had recently proved unsuccessful after Israel failed to release a final group of Palestinian prisoners it had promised to free in March following Abbas' signing of several international treaties. Israel regarded this step as a unilateral move towards statehood.

During a press conference held in Cairo last March, spokesman of the Palestinian Fatah movement, Ahmed Assaf, criticised the continuing imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli jails. "Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have spent almost a quarter of a century in prison," he said.

Assaf said Abbas rejected the transfer of prisoners to locations outside their hometowns upon their release. "Israel did it before during the Gilad Shalit deal; so Abbas has emphasised they should only return to their homes," the spokesman affirmed.

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