Palestinian minister opposes prisoner hunger strikes
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Palestinian minister opposes prisoner hunger strikes

Issa Qaraqe says refusing food is too risky for prisoners’ health, but Fatah official claims there’s no alternative

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinians and Bedouins demonstrate for the release of Palestinian prisoner Muhammed Allaan, in the Bedouin city of Rahat in south Israel, on August 18, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Palestinians and Bedouins demonstrate for the release of Palestinian prisoner Muhammed Allaan, in the Bedouin city of Rahat in south Israel, on August 18, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Individual hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails pose too great a risk to their health, and should be replaced with alternative methods of collective protest, the Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs said on Saturday.

Minister Issa Qaraqe said that despite constituting “heroic defiance” of Israel, hunger strikes are “very costly and dangerous” for the health of prisoners, and should make way to “joint action inside the prison.”

Qaraqe spoke in the West Bank village of Einabus, south of Nablus, during a visit to the family of Mohammed Allaan, a Palestinian detainee without charges who ended his 65-day hunger strike last week. The detention of Allaam, an alleged Islamic Jihad activist, was suspended for the time being by the Israeli High Court of Justice, which found he had suffered brain damage.

“Our goal was to save the life of prisoner Allaan and put an end to the crime that Israel wanted to commit, believing that the death of a prisoner as a result of a [hunger] strike will put an end to strikes and protests in jails,” Qaraqe was quoted by Fatah’s official website as saying, explaining the Palestinian Authority’s appeal to the High Court on Allaan’s behalf through a group of civil society organizations.

According to Joint (Arab) List MK Youssef Jabareen, some 10 Palestinian administrative detainees are currently on hunger strike out of a total of some 400 prisoners held by Israel for security reasons without charges.

Not everyone in the Palestinian prisoner leadership was pleased with Qaraqe’s statements, however. Qadoura Fares, a former Palestinian minister for Fatah who currently heads the nongovernmental Palestinian Prisoners Club, said Sunday that it was unrealistic for the Palestinian government to tell prisoners how to protest.

“This is nothing but media blabber,” Fares told The Times of Israel. “Say tomorrow a prisoner decides to go on [hunger] strike, will we tell him ‘go to hell?'” Fares, noticeably angry, said in a telephone interview.

Kadoura Fares, with a picture of jailed Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti in the background (photo credit: Flash90)
Kadoura Fares, with a picture of jailed Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti in the background (photo credit: Flash90)

He said that the Palestinian government had no real strategy to replace individual hunger strikes.

“In principle, it is better to go on strike together, as a collective,” he said. “But you can’t formalize that as a government decision.”

Rather than debate the forms of protest, and the possible health risk to prisoners, the Palestinian government should focus its efforts on combating the Israeli law that allows for administrative detention in the first place, Fares argued.

“It’s useless to talk about a new strategy. I don’t think people will be disciplined enough to adhere to it,” he concluded.

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