Approximately 12,000 people rallied in support of Palestinian hunger strikers in Kafr Kanna, outside Nazareth, Friday evening. The demonstration was organized by the Islamic movement in Israel, a group that promotes Islam among Israeli Arabs and was originally associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The hunger strikers are protesting for more rights in Israeli prisons. Specifically, they are also targeting Israel’s practice of administrative detention, by which it holds and extends the incarceration of Palestinian prisoners – without formally charging them. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that Israel should charge or release those being held in administrative detention.
More than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners have now joined a hunger strike that began April 17. Six of the hunger strikers are believed to be in danger of dying. Two of them, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, are in the 74th day of their hunger strikes; the other four prisoners have fasted for about 40 days.
Israel’s Prison Service responded to reports on Friday by saying that those in need of medical attention would receive it. Prison officials have also agreed to release a few prisoners from solitary confinement as a “goodwill gesture,” Haaretz reported Friday.
Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have warned Israel that violence could erupt if one of the hunger strikers dies while in detention.
The protest also centers around other terms of the prisoners’ treatment, including a lack of visitation rights by their families (many are from Hamas-controlled Gaza).
Israel, for its part, maintains that it cannot bring a public trial (and disclose important information regarding national security or informants) against those held in administrative detention. There are currently some 300 Palestinian administrative detainees in Israel.
Earlier in the year, Israel released Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi after they waged hunger strikes. They were suspected of being members of the terror group Islamic Jihad, as are Diab and Halahla.