Palestinian Protesters Close ICRC Office in Al-Bireh, West Bank

A group of Palestinian activists, former prisoners, and prisoners’ families Wednesday demonstrated outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the central West Bank city of al-Bireh near Ramallah in protest of what demonstrators said was the committees negative role in attempts to save the lives of several hunger striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody.

According to Anadolu Agency, Dozens of Palestinian activists closed the headquarter of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in protest of failure to pressure Israel to free hunger-striking prisoner Bilal Kayed.

Around 50 activists gathered outside the ICRC building and prevented the workers from entering the premises.

Protesters demanded an immediate release of Kayed, who has been on hunger strike for over two months now.

The protesters used their bodies to prevent ICRC employees from accessing the building, while other protesters raised photos of Palestinian prisoners and posters denouncing the “silence” of ICRC and other international organizations.
Former prisoner Rula Abu Dahou urged the ICRC and other organizations to pressure Israeli authorities to release Bilal Kayid, who has been on hunger strike for more than two months, and to release the two Balboul brothers, who have been on strike for 48 and 51 days.
After highlighting that ICRC officials have not visited the hunger striking prisoners to check on their health conditions, she added that the “ICRC is switching from playing an impartial humanitarian role towards prisoners to complicity with the occupation by adding more suffering to prisoners and their families.” She underscored recent incidents when ICRC officials have called Israeli police to evacuate prisoners’ families from ICRC headquarters in Jerusalem.

“The Red Cross and other international organizations have failed to protect Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails,” Amin Shuman, head of the higher follow-up committee for prisoners, told Anadolu Agency.

“Kayed has been on hunger strike for 70 days now and the Red Cross, which is responsible for ensuring human rights for prisoners, did nothing,” he said.

Shuman vowed more rallies across Israel-occupied West Bank until Kayed is released from Israeli prison.

Kayed, 35, has entered his 70th day on hunger strike to protest his ongoing placement in “administrative detention” — a policy by which prisoners can be held for up to one year without charge or trial.

Kayed was arrested by Israeli authorities in 2002 and sentenced to 14-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted of being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

He was slated for release on June 13 of this year, but the Israeli authorities — citing “secret evidence” — extended his detention for a further six months.

According to official Palestinian figures, over 7,000 Palestinians are currently languishing in Israeli prisons, roughly 700 of whom are being held in administrative detention.

Since families of Palestinian prisoners often experience rejection or long-term delays of their permit applications to visit prisons in Israel, including incidents at checkpoints that prevent them from crossing even after they have been issued permits, Palestinians are heavily reliant on ICRC-arranged visitations as ICRC buses transport Palestinians to and from the prisons and act as an institutional medium between the families and Israeli authorities.
However, the Palestinian Authority announced its plans this month to cover the financial expenses of the second family visit for Palestinian prisoners, while ICRC would still be responsible for arranging the visits with Israeli authorities.
The initial protests have evolved into a condemntation of the group’s inaction over the deteriorating health of several Palestinian hunger striking prisoners.
A mass hunger strike first erupted across Israeli prisons in June, first launched in solidarity with Bilal Kayid, while scores of others have continued to join in protest of Israel’s arbitrary use of administrative detention on Palestinians — a policy of detention without charge or trial almost exclusively used against Palestinians.