The situation on the ground in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Friday reached a critical and dangerous juncture as the health of the hunger-striking Palestinian political prisoners continued to deteriorate on the 33rd day of their strike.
Simultaneously, protests and violence rocked the territory, leaving several Palestinians dead and dozens injured as they clashed with Israeli security forces and settlers.
The Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, Issa Qaraqe, released a statement saying that all hunger-striking prisoners, whose numbers are estimated to be around 1,300, had been transferred to three Israeli prisons with field hospitals due to their proximity to Israeli hospitals.
Despite the Israeli authorities refusing to release information on the condition of the hunger-strikers, according to Israeli and Palestinian media reports a number of the hunger-strikers have been refusing water, while the rest are subsisting on salt water alone.
The leader of the strike, Marwan Barghouti, also threatened to stop drinking water unless the prisoners’ demands for improved prison conditions were met.
The hunger-strikers are calling for an end to the denial of family visits, the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, among other demands for basic rights.
A media committee to support the strike warned that striking detainees had “entered a critical health condition”, marked by chronic vomiting, vision impairment, fainting, and an average weight loss of 20 kilograms.
“The next 48 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 West Bank, told the African News Agency (ANA) during an interview earlier in the week.
Afraid of the political backlash, and the possible outbreak of a third Palestinian Intifada or uprising should any of the prisoners die, the Israeli government said it would be bringing in “doctors” from an outside country to force-feed the hunger-strikers, after Israeli doctors refused to do so on the grounds of it being unethical.
On Tuesday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, stated that force-feeding amounted to torture, adding that administrative detention, or imprisonment without trial, was against international law.
Meanwhile, deadly confrontations between Israeli security forces, Israeli settlers and furious Palestinians protesting the situation of the hunger-strikers continued to inflame the West Bank.
A Palestinian was shot dead and a journalist wounded during a protest march after they were shot by an Israeli settler after his car was stoned near Nablus in the northern West Bank.
He was the third Palestinian to be shot by Israeli settlers, with another wounded near Ramallah several days earlier.
A video of another settler handing out chocolates to “celebrate” the death of a young Palestinian man only served to exacerbate anger.
Protesters also blockaded roads and intersections with burning tyres and debris throughout the occupied territory, while entrances to some offices of the UN and Red Cross were blocked.
Earlier in the week the Israeli navy shot a Palestinian fisherman dead off the coast of Gaza as he fished, claiming he posed a security threat.
Weeks earlier, a 13-year-old Palestinian girl was gunned down with multiple shots by Israeli police near the Old City of Jerusalem after she threatened them with a knife.
However, onlookers said the killing was unnecessary as she could have been physically overpowered.
The wave of violence threatened to spiral as the weekend approached as Palestinians were called to continue confronting Israeli security forces at various points in the West Bank.
Furthermore, leaders of the various political factions in Gaza united in the West Bank by holding a press conference and warning of a military confrontation with Israel if any of the hunger-strikers died.