Palestinians begin mass hunger strike on Prisoners’ Day


At least 1,200 Palestinian inmates of Israeli jails began an open-ended hunger strike on Tuesday as rallies across the occupied territories marked Prisoners’ Day. As thousands of people gathered in towns and cities in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, three-quarters of the 4,700 Palestinians held by Israel began refusing food, the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) said.
Of that number, 2,300 men said they would refuse food throughout the day, while another 1,200 said they were beginning a hunger strike, IPS spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told AFP.
“In the framework of Prisoners’ Day, around 2,300 security prisoners said they were refusing their daily meals, and around 1,200 prisoners said they were starting a hunger strike,” Weizman said.
“At IPS, we have coped with hunger strikes in the past and we are prepared to do so again now,” she added. Speaking to crowds gathered in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, gave a higher figure for the hunger strike, saying “1,500 prisoners from all the factions” had joined it already and more were expected to do so later in the month. “We are united and undivided when it comes to prisoners, and we will stand by them until they get their demands,” he said.
In a letter to the public which was smuggled out of prison, the hunger-strikers said they would continue to starve themselves until their demands were met — or they died in the process.
“We promise our martyrs, prisoners and all of our people to go on until we grab hold of our full rights and end the policy of solitary confinement, or until we die as martyrs,” said the note which was scrawled on a piece of paper.Earlier this week, prisoners minister Issa Qaraqaa told AFP that 1,600 inmates were expected to join the strike, and on Tuesday he said the initial number “is likely to increase in the coming days.”
Throughout the morning, thousands of people held marches and rallies across the West Bank, with around 3,000 people gathering in Shuhada Square in central Nablus, waving Palestinian flags and holding up pictures of imprisoned relatives.
Another 1,000 or so people gathered in central Ramallah, with a sit-in planned for later in the afternoon outside the nearby Ofer prison.
In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, 1,500 people gathered holding up flags, pictures and slogans reading: “Stop the policy of solitary confinement.”
Hundreds more gathered in the northern towns of Tulkarem and Qalqilya, AFP correspondents said.
In Gaza City, around 2,000 people marched to the headquarters of the Red Cross where they set up a solidarity tent with the hunger strikers.
This year’s Prisoners’ Day took on added symbolism as it was also the day when Israel was to release Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad prisoner who went on hunger strike for a record 66 days in protest at being held without charge.