The mass hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails reached a critical point on Wednesday, the 31st day of the protest action, with Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti threatening to stop drinking water unless the demands of the prisoners were met.
“The next 24 hours are critical. The prisoners are very determined and prefer to die in dignity rather than continue to be imprisoned in inhumane conditions,” Shawan Jabarin, the director of the internationally renowned Palestinian rights group Al Haq, based in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, told the African News Agency (ANA) during an interview on Wednesday morning.
The hunger-striking prisoners are calling for an end to the denial of family visits, the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, among other demands.
“Barghouti warned that if the prisoners’ demands were not met he would cease drinking water and this could mean a life and death situation,” warned Jabarin.
“Many of the hunger strikers are elderly and sick and a number have been transferred to hospital by the Israelis due to the deterioration in their health.”
Approximately 1,300 Palestinians have been refusing food and vitamins and subsisting on salt and water during the one-month strike.
The Israeli media and authorities have claimed that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have dropped out of the strike but Jabarin disputes this.
“There were a number of hunger strikers who took part in the hunger strike temporarily as an act of solidarity with the hunger strikers. They never committed to an open-ended strike,” Jabarin told ANA.
“There are also others who had to drop out due to being too ill to continue and they were told by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Committee that they should stop under such circumstances.”
According to Palestinian media reports, the weight of the prisoners has dropped dramatically with an average loss of 20kgs each. Barghouti is reported to be gaunt and down to 52kgs.
The Prisoners’ Committee appealed to the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly to hold an emergency meeting regarding the prisoners’ strike, to force the Israeli government to respect prisoners’ rights enshrined under international law, and to call on Israel to end its policy of inflicting a “slow death” on the Palestinian detainees.
On Tuesday the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, released a statement raising concern about Israel’s use of administrative detention, which involves imprisonment without charge, trial, conviction or meaningful due process.
“Israel’s use of administrative detention is not in compliance with the extremely limited circumstances in which it is allowed under international humanitarian law, and deprives detainees of basic legal safeguards guaranteed by international human rights law,” said Lynk.
He noted that “many” of the 6,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including the 500 in administrative detention, are incarcerated in prisons within Israel, and not in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in contravention of International Humanitarian Law.
Lynk expressed concern about the reports he had received that due to their participation in the hunger strike prisoners were being held in solitary confinement, denied access to lawyers, and were experiencing other forms of deprivation including beatings and confiscation of personal belongings.
“Prisoners everywhere have a right to engage in hunger strikes to protest their living conditions, and they should not be punished as a result,” Lynk stressed.
In response to Israeli plans to bring in foreign doctors to force feed the prisoners after doctors belonging to Israel Medical Association (IMA) refused to do so on the grounds that is was unethical, Lynk said this amounted to torture.