Fears of death loom as Palestinian prisoners enter 39th day of hunger strike

Several human rights organizations along with the United Nations (UN) have expressed serious concerns over the health conditions of some 1,300 Palestinians who entered their 39th day of a mass hunger strike across Israeli prisons on Thursday, as Palestinian leaders fear possible deaths as hunger strikers continue being transferred by the dozens to Israeli civilian hospitals.

Palestinian 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, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention — imprisonment without charge or trial — among other demands for basic rights.

Fears of death as more hunger strikers transferred to hospitals

Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe said in a statement on Thursday that the health conditions of the hunger strikers have become “very critical,” and expressed his concern over possible deaths of the prisoners if Israel Prison Service (IPS) continued to refuse their demands.

Qaraqe said that calls were still being made to legal and international institutions, along with initiating calls with Israeli authorities “around the clock” concerning the hunger strike.

He added that reent discussions between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and right-wing US President Donald Trump during Trump’s two day visit to Israel and the ocuppied West Bank, “played an important role” and “forced many to take action” in order to pressure Israel to respond to the demands. However, Qaraqe did not elaborate on what discussions he was referring to or how the US President has been involved in any initiatives around the hunger strike.

“Israel has become concerned and surprised when they found that field hospitals were not enough to take in all the prisoners,” he added, referring to controversial medical clinics that were set up in several Israeli prisons when the hunger strike began — sites many fear could be used to force feed the hunger strikers en masse.

Abbas made a statement on Thursday during a Fatah Central Committee meeting in Ramallah saying that the prisoners’ cause was “deeply discussed” with Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations. He added that Palestinian leaders had informed Greenblatt of the details around the hunger strike and that they were “hoping to be in touch with Greenblatt again soon to hear his responses concerning the prisoners’ demands.”

Abbas also emphasized that the “whole world knows that the demands of hunger-striking prisoners are fair. Israel has no excuse to refuse their demands.”

The media committee formed to support the hunger strikers also released a statement on Thursday, saying that IPS officials have moved 15 hunger-striking prisoners from Israel’s Ashkelon prison to Israeli civilian hospitals owing to the deterioration of their health conditions.

Some 150 Palestinian prisoners have been transferred to Israeli civilian hospitals to be treated in recent days.

Hunger-striking prisoner Alaa al-Din Abd al-Karim from Bethlehem told lawyers of the the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) Karim Ajwa and Khaled Mahajna that the prisoners have experienced severe weight loss, pains, exhaustion, and difficulty moving.

Abd al-Karim noted that IPS had moved him, along with a number of other hunger strikers, to Israel’s Barzilai Hospital to undergo medical checkups. He said that the Israeli doctors had informed IPS officials of the their “dangerous health conditions,” but did not provide them with any medical treatment.

Israel continues prison-to-prison transfers of Palestinian hunger strikers

Palestinian prisoner solidarity network Samidoun reported on Thursday that the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)’s prison branch Kamil Abu Hanish was transferred from solitary confinement in Israel’s Gilboa prison in the north to solitary in Ayalon prison in central Israel.

On Wednesday, Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs lawyer Hanan al-Khatib, who recently visited hunger-striking prisoner Yousif Kamel al-Zaaqiq, said that IPS had imposed an information blackout on the health conditions of the hunger strikers and the daily transfers of prisoners from one detention facility to another — a tactic used to exhaust, demoralize, and isolate the hunger strikers.

The media committee reported in a separate statement that these transfers have continued in Israel’s infamous “Bosta”, a prison vehicle with blacked out windows and hard, metal seats that transfer handcuffed and shackled Palestinian detainees between prisons and to prison medical clinics.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities released a 19-year-old Palestinian prisoner Saed Yihiya Dweikat on Wednesday after he had been on hunger strike for 38 days. Dweikat, from the Nablus-area village of Beita, was held in Israel’s Nafha prison for three-and-a-half years for being involved in political activities with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at Israeli forces and settlers.

He was released at noon on Wednesday and transported to the Istishari Hospital in Ramallah to receive medical care for his deteriorated health condition.

UN and B’Tselem express concern over prisoners’ health conditions

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein released a statement on Wednesday and expressed his concern for the deteriorating health conditions of the hunger strikers. He underscored his concern regarding punitive measures used by Israeli authorities in an attempt to break the hunger strike, and emphasized that “the right of detainees to access a lawyer is a fundamental protection in international human rights law that should never be curtailed.”

In reference to Israel’s use of administrative detention — imprisonment without charge or trial based on undisclosed evidence — the ending of which is one of the central demands of the hunger strike, al-Hussein noted that “various international bodies have repeatedly called on Israel” to end the practice, adding that the prisoners should be “released immediately” or “charged with an offence and tried.”

Israeli rights group B’Tselem also released a statement Thursday, emphasizing that the worsening health of the hunger strikers has indicated that Israeli authorities could begin force-feeding the hunger strikers soon, an act which Israeli authorities have carried out several times before during previous Palestinian prisoner hunger strikes, and which has led to the deaths of several Palestinians.

“Force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike against their wishes is dangerous and is considered a form of torture. It is also prohibited since it violates the individual’s right to autonomy over their body and dignity, and their right to protest in the manner they choose,” the group said, pointing out that despite international medical ethics, the Israeli government passed a law in 2015 permitting Israeli authorities to force feed hunger strikers if their lives are perceived to be in danger.

However, according to earlier reports, Israeli doctors have thus far refused to accept force-feeding the hunger strikers, aligning themselves with international standards, prompting the Israeli government to explore importing foreign workers into Israel to carry out the painful and dangerous procedure.

The incarceration of 6,300 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, “most of them without a fair trial, and some without any trial at all – and the draconian restrictions they face form an integral part of the occupation regime,” the group said.

Solidarity actions continue across Palestinian territory

Meanwhile, Palestinians have continued to launch solidarity activities across the occupied Palestinian territory in support of the hunger strikers.

On Wednesday evening, three former prisoners from Jabaa village in the Jenin district in the northern occupied West Bank declared an open hunger strike in support of the prisoners while visiting a solidarity hunger strike tent in Ramallah city. Local sources identified the three as Maamoun Salama, Azzam Abu Auon, and Mueen Hamamra.

In central Hebron, PPS and the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs organized a sit-in on Thursday with the participation of numerous family members of hunger strikers. The demonstrators marched to Hebron city and closed its northern entrance for about an hour and a half to express their support for the prisoners.