Hunger Strikes Highlight Israeli Injustice
by Stephen Lendman
Israel treats Palestinian prisoners horrifically. Cruel and unusual punishment is policy. Detention conditions include torture, intimidation, and other abusive practices.
Hunger strikes first began in 1968. Nablus Prison detainees initiated them. Numerous others followed. At issue is abusive treatment and appalling prison conditions.
Medical neglect causes sickness, disease and death. Last summer, the Palestinian Center for Defending Detainees (PCDD) reported hundreds of seriously ill prisoners. They're affected by heart disease, cancer, kidney failure, pleurisy, chronic pain, and other illnesses too grave to ignore.
Prison conditions cause them. Medical neglect exacerbates them. Palestinians complain they lack access to hospitals for tests, treatment and surgery. It's unavailable in prison medical clinics.
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) delays and obstructs until illnesses are too advanced to treat effectively. As a result, Palestinians suffer and die.
Last summer, the European Network to Support the Rights of Palestinian Prisoners (UFree) demanded international bodies enforce international law provisions protecting their rights and health.
Deep concern was expressed following reports of medical neglect causing slow, painful deaths. Sixty-five World Health Organization (WHO) member countries supported a resolution condemning how abusively incarcerated Palestinians are treated. They urged intervention to help them.
Nothing followed. Prison abuses continue unaddressed. This among other issues launched hunger strikes.
On May 10, Addameer said lawyer Mona Neddaf visited four strikers in Ramleh Prison's medical clinic. Thaer Halahleh was among them. May 11 marked his 74th day without food.
Death could be imminent. His vital signs are dangerously weak. He's vomiting blood. His gums and lips are bleeding. His upper body's infected. IPS officials cancelled a scheduled a family visit.
Neddaf also saw strikers Mohammad Taj (on day 55), Jaafar Azzedine (on day 51), and Nidal Shehadeh (on 25).
Strikers are isolated. IPS authorities threaten them. Even if too weak to stand, they're ordered to do so for daily counts. Otherwise lawyer visits are denied.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel  (PHR-I) stressed the urgency of transferring prisoners without food for over 40 days to private hospitals for care unavailable at Ramleh.
In a letter to Netanyahu, Israeli health ministry officials, IPS authorities, and the Israeli Medical Association, PHR-I's Anat Litwin, Director, Prisoners and Detainees Department, said prison doctors have conflicts of interest. They yield to "demands of security" over patient needs, health and well-being.
Medical ethics breaches are common. Prison doctors are complicit in abusive treatment. They ignore serious health issues. They deny vital care. Their negligence risks lives.
"There is thus grave concern that irreparable damage to hunger strikers' health and/or life threatening conditions are not addressed."
"PHR-Israel is deeply concerned that the IPS uses its medical system to exert pressure on hunger strikers, violating medical ethics, and endangering their health and lives."
"We are concerned that efforts to prevent visits by independent doctors and lawyers are aimed at isolating hunger strikers and avoiding transparency in prison conditions."
Litwin requested an immediate response "before we turn to legal measures."
Bilal Diab was transfered to Assaf HaRofeh Hospital, then returned to Ramleh on his 71st hunger striking day. He's now on day 74. Denying him vital treatment is criminal and unconscionable. The clinic holds other long-term strikers.
At least eight refused food for 45 or more days. Hassan Safadi reached day 68. Omar Abu Shalal's on day 66. Their health significantly deteriorated. Urgent private hospital care is needed. IPS officials refuse transfers.
On May 11, the International Middle East Media Center  headlined "No Deal Reached With Hunger-Striking Detainees," saying:
The Palestinian Center for Defending Detainees (PCDD) refuted media reports about agreement between strikers and IPS officials. The "battle of empty stomachs" continues.
Other reports about Mahmoud Issa and Waleed Khaled removed from isolation are untrue. They remain abusively confined in tiny cells.
Only strike leaders may negotiate and speak on behalf of others. IPS and Shabak officials met with unauthorized detainees. At issue was preventing more strikers joining them. False reports followed. Doing so mocks prisoner rights.
Unverifiable claims harm strikers. PCCD and other organizations hold Israel fully responsible for appalling life-threatening treatment.
Prisoners won't accept cosmetic changes for real ones. They listed demands. All must be addressed. International law supports them. Israel spurns them unaccountably. Weaseling around them is rejected.
Reports suggest from 2,500 to 3,000 prisoners refuse food. Their ranks grow daily. Israeli attempts to stop them failed.
Striker representative Tawfiq Abu Naim said Israel's response to prisoner demands is too demeaning to consider. He stressed that only authorized striker committee members may negotiate on behalf of others.
On May 10, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that hunger strikers exist. A weak-kneed statement on his behalf said in part:
He "continues to follow with concern the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, in particular those held in what is known as administrative detention."
He added that "those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay. (He) urged all concerned to reach a solution without delay."
He stopped short of denouncing abusive Israeli practices and holding responsible officials fully accountable. He avoided what most needs to do done. His statement lacked teeth and conviction. He did too little too late to matter. He showed whose side he's on.
On May 10, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) issued a statement quickly removed from its site.
Commissioner General Filippo Grandi "expressed his grave concern about the current medical and health conditions of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons."
He "appealed to the Israeli government to find an acceptable solution, noting that the hunger strikers’ demands are generally related to the basic rights of prisoners, as stipulated in the Geneva Conventions."
He "reiterated the call of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that those under administrative detention be brought to trial or be set free, noting that two of the administrative detainees are in serious condition after more than 74 days, and are in imminent danger of death."
Again, it was too little, too late, then quickly removed without explanation. Perhaps UNWRA's indifference to Palestinian suffering was affirmed.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also acted largely indifferent. On May 9, he said striker deaths could trigger harsh backlash responses. They could spin out of control. "It is very dangerous," he said.
He's done pathetically little to help. He talks but won't act. So do others who matter. Israel takes full advantage.
Strikers show undaunted courage despite appalling conditions and abuse. They've come too far to yield now. They attracted world attention. Western media acknowledge them. Israel's image is further blackened.
Palestine's elected prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, read aloud their statement at a May 11 demonstration. They vowed to escalate their struggle for justice, saying:
"We swear we will not retreat. We are potential martyrs. Either we live in dignity or die."
Some West Bank strikers refused Gaza deportation for freedom.
Who knows what's needed to break Israel's chokehold on injustice. Perhaps martyrs will hasten the time it comes. Palestinian suffering won't end until then. Liberation is worth the price it costs.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War"
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.