Palestinian Prisoners Day is marked annually on April 17. This year’s commemoration was a departure from previous years as around 1,600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails initiated an open-ended hunger strike.
The aim of this mass hunger strike is to shed light on the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail as well as to bring this critical issue to the attention of the international community.
Prisoners are asking for more visitation rights, including reinstating the second ICRC (International Commitee of the Red Cross) monthly visit, after the organisation cut visits down to one a month last year; increasing the duration of family visits from 45 minutes to an hour and a half; and allowing children and grandchildren under the age of 16 to visit detainees. Prisoners also asked that public telephones be installed for Palestinian detainees in all prisons and sections.
In terms of healthcare, prisoners are demanding that Israel terminate its policy of deliberate medical negligence, and the release of sick detainees especially those who have disabilities and incurable diseases.
As for transportation, detainees are asking to be treated humanely, crossings should be prepared for human use and meals provided for detainees.
Thousands of people took to the streets in the West Bank on Monday to show their solidarity with the hunger strike, which was called by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. The influential leader is serving five life sentences in Israeli jail for his role during the Second Intifada.
Ramzy Rabah, a leader in the left-wing DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) party, told Palestine Monitor at a demonstration in Ramallah: “I came to the demonstration today to stand in solidarity with the prisoners held in Israeli jails. This year is different because the hunger strike is not only by a group of people. These Palestinian prisoners will all go on strike indefinitely, because it is about the rights of all prisoners, not just a group.”
According to prisoners' rights NGO Addameer, there are currently 6,300 political prisoners, including 500 administrative detainees, 300 child prisoners and 61 female prisoners.
“Prisons are over-crowded and dirty, they put many inmates in one cell,” Laith Abu Zayad, Addameer's advocacy coordinator, told Palestine Monitor. “In the winter, it is cold and in the summer, it is hot especially the prison in the Negev. In cases where [prisoners] were injured, they were only given painkillers. Generally, there is medical negligence,” he added.
Among those who attended the demonstration in Ramallah on Monday were mothers and fathers whose sons or daughters are held in Israeli prisons, as well as activists, students, civil society and political party leaders.
The father of prisoner Madj Jiyadeh, who was arrested when he was 19 years old and sentenced to 20 years in prison, said: “[My son] has served 15 years and is 34 years old now but I cannot visit him regularly.”
Last week, Amnesty International denounced Israel's policy towards Palestinian prisoners from the Occupied Territories.
“Israel’s ruthless policy of holding Palestinian prisoners arrested in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in prisons inside Israel is a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is unlawful and cruel and the consequences for the imprisoned person and their loved ones, who are often deprived from seeing them for months, and at times for years on end, can be devastating,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement. Palestinians with West Bank ID cards who wish to visit their loved ones in an Israeli prison can only do so with special permits to enter Israel, which are often denied.
The Palestinian Non-governmental Organisations Network (PNGO) also expressed its support for the hunger strikers' demands. The umbrella organisation, whose members include Palestinian NGOs working across all sectors, called upon the international community to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law in its treatment of Palestinian prisoners.
“[Some prisoners] are not given proper medical treatment and suffer inhumane conditions,” said Ashraf Abu Iram, PNGO's National Advocacy Coordinator. Conditions are said to be particularly bad in Ramla prison hospital, which hunger strikers and civil society organisations say should be shut down.
The Israeli government has so far refused to negotiate with the prisoners.
“[The prisoners'] demands such as regular visits and longer visitation hours are very human and compatible with international law,” said Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, who was at the demonstration in Ramallah. “The ICRC reduced the number of visits from twice to once per month and not all families get to visit their loved ones held in jail.”
“This is the only place in the world where prisoners are held without charge and administrative detention is used for months and even years. Since 1967, there has been about 1 million arrests and currently 13 members of the parliament are held this way. This demonstration is to stand in solidarity with the prisoners.”