Palestinian Hunger Strikers Battle on a New Front

The Mother of Samer Issawi, a Palestinian prisoner who has been on hunger strike for more than 200 days, attends a solidarity sit-in outside the Red Cross offices in Jerusalem, on 14 February 2013. (Photo: Ahmad Gharabli – AFP)
 
Published Saturday, February 16, 2013
 
On Monday, 11 February 2013, the iconic Sheikh Khader Adnan, 34, made his way to the International Committee for the Red Cross building in Ramallah’s twin city al-Bireh. He quietly informed the staff that he would be hunger striking inside their premises in support of the current Palestinians on hunger strike in prison.
 

“This is not a solidarity hunger strike,” he clarified. “The prisoners are a part of us, they are us. I am supporting the prisoners in their battle of empty stomachs.”

Last year, Khader Adnan launched the first solo hunger strike that lasted for 66 days, objecting his interrogation and detainment without charge. His hunger strike inspired other prisoners to undertake the same individual action – Hana Shalabi to Bilal Thiab and Thaer Halahleh. This is in addition to the mass 28-day hunger strike in April in which approximately 2,500 out of 5,000 Palestinian prisoners participated.

As a response to Adnan’s sit in, the ICRC closed down its office, thus effectively suspending its services to the prisoners and their families. Only the adjacent room to the veranda where Adnan has been for the past week is open, where he has been consuming only water.

As an international human rights organization, the ICRC is responsible for primarily protecting civilians in times of war, and to safeguard the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

Regarding the prisoners, the ICRC is tasked with making sure the rights of prisoners are guaranteed, maintaining familial connections by delivering letters to prisoners from their families as an example, coordinating family visits, and protecting the basic rights of those who do not have freedom.

The Ramallah based youth group Palestinians for Dignity released a statement on Wednesday condemning the Red Cross’ decision to close its building:
 
“The closing of the ICRC is an act of provocation and cheap extortion for our principled people and their right to support each other, in exchange for the ICRC’s role in providing services, which are consistent with the Occupation’s policies. These same policies strip the work of the ICRC from any value, despite it being an international organization that is supposedly responsible for the protection of our people and prisoners under international humanitarian laws.”
 

In a press conference held the same day, Adnan acknowledged that he is not declaring war on the ICRC, but that their reaction is counterproductive to the needs of the families of the prisoners.
“Closing their offices only serves to increase the suffering of our prisoners and their families,” he stated. “The Red Cross has neglected to bring the prisoner cause to an international level. My hunger strike and sit-in is a message to the international community and the human rights organizations who remain silent to the violations the Israeli occupation commits against the prisoners.”

The spokesperson for the ICRC Nadia Dibsi, has informed the media that the building will remain closed “as long as Palestinian protesters stay inside” of it. However, that was not the term that Adnan was referred to, according to Maher Barghouti, a brother of a prisoner.
 
“I called the Red Cross on Wednesday morning to ask about the permits to visit my brother in Rimon prison,” Barghouti said, “but they refused to give me the permits and told me to call them back once the criminals leave their building.”
 

The ICRC went a step further, and accused Adnan of hanging up banners and flags of the Islamic Jihad political party in the room he is staying in.

“They told the national parties [Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, and Hamas] that I have hung up banners and flags of the Islamic Jihad here,” Adnan said. “What I am more upset about is that some figures actually believed this.”

The only flag in the room is a small brown one that has written on it in white words: We will live in dignity, in solidarity with the prisoners of freedom.

The room that Adnan is now living in is sparsely furnished. It included two benches, one mattress, a heater, and a TV with no receiver. No other facilities are available.

“I feel like I am living as an inmate,” Adnan said, smiling. “I keep water bottles for drinking and for urinating in.”

On Thursday, three men joined Adnan in his hunger strike. Human rights activists Yasser Salah and Muhannad al-Azzeh made their way to the Red Cross building at 11 am and 2 pm respectively, with youth activist Yahya Abu il-Rob joining a couple of hours later. The men chose to embark on their hunger strikes in light of the many pressures that Adnan was facing from the Palestinian Authority, the national parties, and even some of the prisoners’ families.

“Two men who have their brothers in prison came and confronted me about my act,” Adnan said. “We had a long discussion, but I will not back down on my decision. The Red Cross must be held accountable for its shortages and failure to protect the Palestinian prisoners.”

The Minister of Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqe also visited Adnan, and while he expressed his support the hunger strike, he wished Adnan would take his sit-in outside the Red Cross building.

Inside Prison, Strikes Continue

Today marks 208 days of Samer Issawi’s on-and-off hunger strike. The Jerusalemite prisoner, who was released during the prisoner deal exchange in October 2011, was re-arrested in summer 2012 in violation of the deal’s conditions. He has been held under no charge or trial since then.

Shireen Issawi, Samer’s sister and herself a former prisoner in Israel’s jails, said that her brother has been consuming only water since last January. Issa Qaraqe described Issawi’s condition as very bad, having lost 35 kilograms and suffering from pain in his kidneys. Issawi has also lost sensation in his right half of his body.

Three other prisoners are also on hunger strike. Ayman Sharawneh announced his strike on 1 July 2012, whereas Jafar Ezzedine and Tareq Qaadan began their fast on 27 November. All are protesting their administrative detention, which means that they are held indefinitely by Israel with no charges leveled against them.

With almost no mobilized mass action in support of the hunger strikers, 15 February witnessed large demonstrations in Ramallah and al-Bireh, and was dubbed The Friday of Breaking the Silence.

The popular struggle committees galvanized a few hundred people to pray outside Ofer prison in Beitunia, northwest of Ramallah. After the prayers were complete, around 600 protesters demonstrated in front of the prison and were driven back by enormous amounts of tear gas fired by the Israeli occupation army, as well as rubber bullets and live ammunition. Over 100 protesters received treatment for on site injuries, but no casualties were reported.
 

In al-Bireh, several tents were set up in the lot opposite the municipality. Sheikh Raed Salah, of the Islamic movement in the 1948 territories, arrived and led the Friday sermon in front of hundreds of people. In an unannounced visit, PA president Mahmoud Abbas arrived and in a brief speech, maintained that the release of all Palestinian prisoners remains a top priority, but offered no plan.

For the hunger striking prisoners however, Abbas’ words and the belated actions of support and solidarity may prove to be too little, too late.

Increasingly alarming reports are issued nearly daily by legal and medical organizations regarding the critical health situation facing all four hunger strikers, Samer Issawi in particular. With time being a luxury the prisoners can no longer afford, actions such as those taken by Adnan to push an organization whose mandate it is to protect prisoners in the occupation’s jails, may be one of the last remaining hopes.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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