Palestinian prisoners are not fearful of the travails of a hunger strike as much as they worry about this nail-biting endeavour ending in favor of the Israeli prison administration. Such a development would dampen their resolve and discourage them from engaging in future hunger strikes. In any case, the Israeli occupation preempted their actions by inflicting severe repressive measures.
by Hani Ibrahim, Mahmoud Issab, Al-Akhbar
Gaza, Ramallah: An open-ended hunger strike is our last resort. That is what everybody who comes out of Israeli prisons, having gone through that experience, says. However, after the long months of neglect that has befallen their cause, and after the leaders of the prisoners’ movement reached an agreement, Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails intend to take escalatory measures starting early next month, from disobedience and refusing prison police decisions, such as searching rooms and sections, to going on an open hunger strike until March 10.
The prisoners announced these steps in the media, so the news could reach the rest of the prisons, and yet, what happened yesterday came as a surprise. The Israeli occupation tried to preempt coordination among the leaders of the prisoners’ movement in order to sabotage any plan leading to a hunger strike, which usually — though not always — succeeds in achieving the prisoners’ demands.
First, Islamic Jihad prisoners at Ramon Prison, then at Nafha Prison, (both in the Negev, southern Palestine), began a disobedience campaign in response to isolating a number of the organization’s prisoners. Fatah prisoners followed suit. Detainees in Ramon Prison said in a phone call that they refused to come out of their sections. Eventually, Hamas prisoners and the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine prisoners joined them.
A state of heightened tension prompted the Israelis to choose the stick over the carrot. As a result, a prisoner from Gaza by the name of Hamza Abu Sawawin (detained in 2013 and sentenced to 13 years in jail) attacked an Israeli officer from the Nachshon Unit called Haim Azoulay. Reports conflicted as to whether he tried to strangle him with an iron wire or stabbed him in his face with an iron rod. The prison administration usually deals with these situations in a very serious manner. They closed off the Ramon, Nafha, and Eshel prisons completely and put their forces in other prisons on high alert, preventing families from visiting their loved ones.
Islamic Jihad prisoners at Ramon Prison said they decided to engage in a confrontation similar to the one they had last December, namely, going on a hunger strike for three days this week (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday). Their demands include returning “the leader Zaid Bseisi to prison,” releasing Ali al-Saffouri, Majdi Yassin and Mahmoud Abu al-Rabb from solitary confinement, and refraining from transferring any of the members of the leadership body — which the Israeli authorities do in order to disperse the prisoners and prevent them from coordinating unified steps — except after prior coordination with the organization’s leadership.
Some of the measures that provoked the prisoners include preventing al-Tawil family from visiting their daughter Bushra and her father Jamal in Megiddo Prison, in addition to humiliating the family when they searched them before the visit, forcing them in some cases to strip off their clothes. Later on, it was found that a special Israeli force (Mitsada) with dogs stormed Islamic Jihad prisoners’ rooms after each of them was fined about $180, confiscating electrical devices and kitchen utensils, and transferring 24 prisoners to unknown locations.
The local and regional political conditions are not particularly conducive to the success of this campaign. At the Palestinian level, the West Bank is drowning in the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis and Gaza is still suffering from the effects of the war. The Arabs are preoccupied with other matters and distracted from the Palestinian issue. Egypt has completely abandoned its role as a mediator. In the meantime, Palestinian prisoners gradually lost the gains they had previously achieved over the course of nearly a year. The harsh winter conditions have added to their ordeal.
According to the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), Qaddoura Fares, the success of the prisoners’ campaign is dependent on the political conditions and the climate. Prisoners avoid going on a hunger strike in the winter because of the adverse impact it could have on their health. Politically, their chances of success are minute as the Israeli election draws nearer and Israeli politicians try to outflank each other on the mistreatment of Palestinians. Never one to hold back, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman proposed a bill to impose the death penalty on Palestinian prisoners. In addition, some observers argue that the difficulty of forming an Israeli government in the next few months will distract from the prisoners’ cause.
The prisoners movement will have to study several scenarios to avoid what happened last year when they engaged in an open-ended hunger strike for weeks but were forced to end it when three Israeli settlers were kidnapped in Hebron, south of the West Bank, and the last war on Gaza broke out. Besides, Palestinian political divisions are reflected in the prisons which house 7,000 Palestinian prisoners including 11 women, 214 children, and hundreds of administrative and sick detainees.