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Red Cross may consider demand of Palestinian hunger strikers

Inmates want return to policy of two monthly visits for family members; Red Cross says it only reduced visits because families weren’t showing up

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian women holding pictures of their family members attend a rally calling for the release of all Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel, Outside the Red Cross office in Gaza City, September 15, 2008. Over 10,000 Palestinians are currently jailed in Israel.
 (Wissam Nassar / Flash 90)
Palestinian women holding pictures of their family members attend a rally calling for the release of all Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel, Outside the Red Cross office in Gaza City, September 15, 2008. Over 10,000 Palestinians are currently jailed in Israel. (Wissam Nassar / Flash 90)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Sunday that it may consider the demand of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners, who want the humanitarian body to return to its policy of facilitating two monthly visits for their family members to Israeli jails instead of just one.

ICRC media relations director Rima Kamal told The Times of Israel that the humanitarian agency has “not taken a final decision” on the matter, but is planning “to sit down with the detainees as well as with the various entities concerned to talk through their demands.”

An estimated 1,200 Palestinian prisoners, mostly from the Fatah organization and including many convicted terrorists, are on an open-ended hunger strike announced last week in a bid to improve their conditions in Israeli prisons.

Nearly all the demands are related to the Israeli Prisoners Service, but this one is aimed directly at the ICRC.

The ICRC reduced the coordinated visits to Israeli jails to once a month last May.

Protesters hold portraits of Palestinian prisoners during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show their support to Palestinians detained in Israeli jails after hundreds of them launched a hunger strike on April 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
Protesters hold portraits of Palestinian prisoners during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show their support to Palestinians detained in Israeli jails after hundreds of them launched a hunger strike on April 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Kamal said the policy changed last year because of “an increased number of ‘no shows’ over the years (which still continue today) and the need for the ICRC to use its resources in the best way possible.”

Kamal said that while her organization “understands the frustrations” caused by the new policy, she pointed out that the overall number of visits to Palestinian inmates hadn’t really changed due to the decrease.

In the first of half of 2016, before the new policy was set in place, she said 6,542 Palestinian prisoners were visited. In the latter half of 2016, after the number of visits was decreased to one per month, a total of 6,231 Palestinian prisoners were visited, making for a difference of 311 visits.

“The arrangement of each visit takes a lot of time and resources (direct costs and human resources) from the ICRC. The efforts put into the organization of each visit must be equivalent to the added value of the visit,” Kamal said.

In early 2017, the ICRC in Israel and the Palestinian territories proposed adding three additional visits per year for all detainees: the first during Ramadan, the second during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and a third date yet to be determined.

A man holds a photo of convicted Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti calling for his release during a rally supporting those detained in Israeli jails after hundreds of prisoners launched a hunger strike, in the West Bank town of Hebron on April 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
A man holds a photo of convicted Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti calling for his release during a rally supporting those detained in Israeli jails after hundreds of prisoners launched a hunger strike, in the West Bank town of Hebron on April 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

The hunger strike is led by Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences after he was convicted in a civil court in 2004 of initiating and planning multiple terror attacks against Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada.

Among the demands made by Barghouti are the prevention of family meetings being cancelled for security reasons, extending the length of each visit from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams to prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells, and the installation of public telephones in security wings.

Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of terror offenses and crimes. Around 500 are held under administrative detention, a controversial counter-terror practice that allows for extended imprisonment without charge.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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