Palestinian security prisoners declare massive hunger strike

All 5,000 inmates held in Israeli jails will stop eating Thursday in solidarity with administrative detainees

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

Illustrative photo of security prisoners in an Israeli prison (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of security prisoners in an Israeli prison (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The five thousand Palestinian security prisoners currently jailed in Israel will go on hunger strike Thursday to protest administrative detentions, the Palestinian ministry of prisoner affairs announced on Wednesday.

In refusing food, the prisoners will join 250 jailed Palestinians, 130 of whom began fasting on April 24 after their negotiations with Israel’s Prison Service and the Shin Bet security service to curtail administrative detentions fell through, and another 130 of whom joined Wednesday, including prisoner leaders Marwan Barghouti of Fatah and the chairman of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Ahmad Saadat, Ma’an news agency reported.

Israeli MK Ibrahim Sarsur (Ra’am-Ta’al) confirmed that prisoners would launch an open-ended strike to demand that Israel halt renewal of administrative detentions for those already jailed, refrain from rearresting detainees released from prison, and stop using classified information in trials against them, thus denying their lawyers access to the material.

Sarsur, who frequently visits the detainees, said they had raised the three demands with the Israeli authorities last December but were refused.

“We are talking about prisoners who undoubtedly have no connection to violent acts, such as parliamentarians, academics, students, merchants and the like,” Sarsur told The Times of Israel. “There is no reason to arrest them. These arrests are politically motivated, meant to pressure the Palestinian side and embarrass [Mahmoud Abbas].”

MK Ibrahim Sarsur (photo credit: Flash90)
MK Ibrahim Sarsur (photo credit: Flash90)

Israeli law — based on British Mandate emergency legislation from 1945 — allows for the detention of suspects in security violations without criminal indictment or trial, often without access to the evidence used against them. According to Israeli rights NGO B’Tselem, as of the end of April, 191 administrative detainees were held in Israeli prisons

The general hunger strike set for Thursday was also a protest against the prison authorities’ treatment of the original hunger strikers, Sarsur said. These were placed in solitary confinement, given prison clothes (which administrative detainees are exempt from in their wards), and denied access to the media or to their families. The Israeli parliamentarian noted that such treatment violated an agreement signed between Palestinian prisoner leaders and Israeli authorities in 2012.

On May 15, Israeli human rights NGO Adalah sent a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Prisons Service head Aharon Franco, claiming that Palestinian detainees have been denied access to their lawyers since the start of the hunger strike in April.

A legal adviser in the Prisons Service responded to Adalah’s appeal by claiming that a shortage of visitation rooms has created a backlog in meetings between Palestinians on strike and their attorneys, but that prisoner authorities were nevertheless instructed to oblige all lawyer requests for such meetings.

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