Ramallah, 18 April 2012 – Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons launched a mass hunger strike yesterday, 17 April, on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. The call for hunger strike came amidst a wave of individual hunger strikes initiated in the past few months, and prisoners on hunger strike continue to face punishments by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).

An estimated 1,200 Palestinian prisoners announced the beginning of an open hunger strike yesterday, along with approximately 2,300 who refused meals and are currently preparing for a wider campaign of disobedience. The hunger striking prisoners’ demands include: an end to the IPS’ abusive use of isolation for “security” reasons, which currently affects ­­­­19 prisoners, some of whom have spent 10 years in isolation; an end to Israel’s practice of detaining Palestinians without charge or trial in administrative detention, under which 322 Palestinians are currently detained; a repeal of a series of punitive measures taken against Palestinian prisoners following the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, including the denial of family visits for all Gaza prisoners since 2007 and denial of access to university education since June 2011.

This collective hunger strike follows the 22-day day campaign of disobedience, including a mass hunger strike, launched at the end of September 2011 in protest of the escalating series of punitive measures taken against Palestinian prisoners in prior months. On 18 October, prisoners put their hunger strike on hold in light of the prisoner exchange deal concluded by Israel and Hamas. As most of the punitive measures taken by the IPS against prisoners were part of a policy aimed at collectively punishing them for the continued incarceration of Gilad Shalit, it was expected that these would be reversed with his release. At the time of the first phase of prisoner releases, the spokespersons for the prisoner’s movement made a deal with the IPS that the policy of isolation and other punitive measures would be stopped within three months if the prisoners ceased their hunger strike. Today marks six months since this agreement was made, and no policy changes have yet occurred. Prisoners have therefore re-launched their hunger strike to demand their most basic rights.

Notably, at least ten Palestinian prisoners remain on extended hunger strikes launched during and following the inspiring individual hunger strikes of Khader Adnan, who was on hunger strike for 66 days and released from administrative detention at around 11:00 pm yesterday, and Hana Shalabi, who ended her hunger strike after 43 days. Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh are currently on their 50th day of hunger strike in protest of their administrative detention. They are both being held in Ramleh Prison medical center, where their health is rapidly deteriorating. Three other administrative detainees have also been moved to Ramleh Prison medical center, including Hassan Safadi, Omar Abu Shalal and Jaafar Azzedine, on their 45th, 43rd and 28th days of hunger strike respectively. Ahmad Saqer, the currently longest-held administrative detainee, is on his 32nd day of hunger strike. Mohammed Suleiman, Thalassemia patient, is also refusing medical treatment in protest of his administrative detention. Four additional prisoners remain on hunger strike for other reasons, including: Mohammad Taj, on his 32nd day of hunger strike demanding to be treated as a prisoner of war; Mahmoud Sarsak, moved to Ramleh Prison medical center on 16 April and on his 27th day of hunger strike in protest of being held under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law; Azzam Diab, on his 23rd day of hunger strike in solidarity with his brother Bilal; and Abdullah Barghouti, on his 7th day of hunger strike in protest of his ongoing isolation.

These prisoners have all been punished for their hunger strikes by being placed in solitary confinement and denied family visits. The prisoners involved in the mass hunger strike have also already begun to face punishments by the IPS. In an attempt to isolate them from the rest of the prisoners, prisoners on hunger strike in Rimon prison have been transferred to the isolation section of the prison and prisoners on hunger strike in Eshel prison have been transferred to Ohalei Keidar, where no other Palestinian political prisoners are held. Even more troubling, the IPS has made it exceedingly difficult for independent doctors to visit the hunger striking prisoners and has prevented hunger strikers from meeting with their lawyers.

Addameer particularly condemns the IPS’ efforts to ban Addameer lawyer Samer Sam’an from all prison visits following the increasing number of Palestinian prisoners engaging in hunger strike. After being frequently denied visits upon request, the deputy director of Ofer prison informed Mr. Sam’an on 10 April that he would receive an official ban on access to all prisoners. According to IPS regulations, the director of a prison can decide to ban a lawyer visit to an individual prisoner for two days, after informing that prisoner, which can then be extended by the head of the IPS for up to one year. Mr. Sam’an’s ban therefore violates even the IPS’ own regulations, as he is now effectively being banned from access to all prisoners. Addameer anticipates that the IPS will continue to use tactics employed in last fall’s hunger strike in order to systematically prevent lawyers from having access to the hunger strikers, such as moving prisoners to other prisons without informing their lawyers, in an attempt to further isolate the hunger strikers and undermine their campaign.

Addameer calls on the diplomatic community to pressure Israel to immediately allow for hunger striking prisoners to have access to necessary healthcare and legal advisement. Addameer further urges all political parties, institutions, organizations and solidarity groups working in the field of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory and abroad to support the prisoners in their hunger strike and demand that their legitimate demands be granted. Addameer will continue to closely follow the prisoner’s campaign of civil disobedience and provide regular updates on the situation as it develops.