The hunger strike undertaken by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails has entered its 20th day amid reports that a number of prisoners have been rushed to the hospital after their health deteriorated. Two hunger strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahila, have now been striking for 70 consecutive days, while eight other prisoners are in the second month of their strike. The prisoners have threatened to escalate their strike if the Israel Prison Service (IPS) does not meet their demands.
Meanwhile, delegations from various Palestinian factions, ministries, universities and other institutions have continued with their visits to the sit-in tent set up on the Square of the Unknown Soldier in the Gaza Strip. They visit the square to show their solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners and to observe the health of around 50 men — including a number of ex-detainees — and more than 20 women who have now been striking in the square for five days.
Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs Atallah Abu al-Sabah from the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip said that the administration is currently in contact with Egyptian officials to put pressure on Israel. The Hamas administration wants to obligate Israel to implement the terms of the latest prisoner-exchange deal and put an end to the use of repressive practices against prisoners. He added that during a recent visit to Cairo, Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Meshaal discussed the issue of Palestinian prisoners with Egyptian officials, as well as ways to support them at the international level.
In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) broke its silence on the issue of Palestinian prisoners and attempted to explain why it had thus far abstained from speaking out. Ayman Al-Shahabi, ICRC spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said, “We share the prisoners’ families’ concern over their children in the occupation prisons.” He added that the commission “is carrying out the role assigned to it, which is to visit the prisoners and remind the Israeli authorities of the international standards governing the conditions of prisoners.”
Responding to accusations by the prisoner's families that the ICRC had been neglecting those being held, Al-Shahabi said that the commission “makes frequent visits, checks on the health conditions of prisoners and delivers the results to the relevant authorities to remind them of the international standards.”
Yesterday, a commentator from a Hebrew radio station said that “the Israeli security apparatus fears a deterioration of the health of prisoner Bilal Diab,” who was transferred to Assaf Harofeh Medical Center last week. Diab refused to cooperate with hospital staff because he was not referred to an external doctor, was not to allowed to meet with family and was shackled.
The Central Committee for prisoners in Israeli prisons issued a statement on Sunday [May 6], saying that “the prisoners have pledged not to end their strike unless their demands are fulfilled. Those include an end to solitary confinement and allowing individuals from Gaza as well as those banned from entering Israel to visit the prisoners.”
“The prisoners are going through a serious and sensitive stage in which they are risking their lives for their dignity,” he added.
He noted that “exploiting the prisoners’ demands and their hunger strike to achieve personal or partisan goals is tantamount to betrayal, and a stab in the back.” He denied that any agreement has been reached with the IPS management or the so-called “Israeli Action Committee for Palestinian Prisoners” regarding the approval of part of the prisoners’ demands. Hamas claims that these groups are trying to circumvent the strike.
Qaddura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, said that the IPS' claims that it had responded to the prisoners’ demands is “untrue.” A committee bringing together Palestinian factions and the strike’s senior leadership said:
“If the IPS does not deal positively and conclusively with the overall demands of the prisoners without maneuvering and procrastination, [the prisoners] will take a number of escalatory steps that will change the rules of the game and turn things upside down ... including the striking prisoners’ refraining from taking vitamins provided by the prison doctors so they would not be bargained on or extorted at the expense of their demands. Thirty-five prisoners have stopped taking these vitamins and standing during the head count of prisoners by the prison jailers. There are also a number of aspiring martyr-prisoners who will refrain completely from drinking water.”