On Monday hundreds of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip whose parents are held in Israeli jails staged a candle lit vigil in the courtyard of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City.
In the fist initiative of its kind for several years, the anti-Zionist Prisoner's Movement has planned a bold and coherent series of measures against the systematic, pervasive and persistent violation of prisoner rights within Israeli jails. The initiative, which comes from within the prisons themselves, consists of a progression of escalating non-violent 'battles' waged by thousands of prisoners being held in more than 10 Israeli prisons and three detention camps under the most appalling conditions.
Today marks the first of the planned protests which has been called 'the battle of empty intestines'; a hunger strike aimed at securing a list of basic prisoner demands. It comes in response to the ever tightening and repressive practices of the Israeli prison department.
Yesterday evening, the Centre for Prisoner Studies announced that representatives of more than one of the prisons in question had sat down with prisoner representatives to hear their key demands. These include;
- An end to the humiliating and degrading way in which family visitors are treated, including improper searches.
- To allow the families of captives from Gaza to visit their loved ones. This also applies to the hundreds of other families of captives from the West Bank, Jerusalem and other occupied regions.
- To allow access to suitable television channels such as al-Jazeera
- To allow family to bring in books during visits
- To allow prisoners to take general secondary school examinations
- General demands for the observation of prisoners' basic human rights
Not only do these daily practices contravene the official codes of the prison department itself, but the demands being made by prisoners are human rights safeguarded under various international conventions including the Third Geneva Convention, which relates specifically to prisoners, and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. Israel's prisons are accused of a policy intentionally designed to inflict maximum levels of humiliation, degradation and insult upon those immediately under their control as well as their families. Daily violations range from the prevention of family visits, unnecessary and inappropriate strip searching, food rationing and the denial of medical treatment to mental and physical torture among other heinous practices.
Indeed, that prisoners from Gaza have been denied visits from their families for the past four years; since the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and as a penalty on all Gazans for what Shalitt's family suffers, this amounts to collective punishment, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Israeli prisons department are notorious for their persistent gross abuses. MEMO, along with a number of human rights bodies and organisation have written on this subject previously but without tangible improvement.
The Palestinian Authority, lead by President Mahmoud Abbas, as a partner in both peace negotiations and security coordination with Israel, has an obligation to prisoners held under such conditions within Israeli prisons. Nevertheless, they have failed to either secure for them conditions of captivity that conform to international standards or their release. On the contrary, the two have operated a 'revolving-door' of detention whereby prisoners released by Israel are immediately re-arrested by the PA and vice versa. In this way certain individuals are kept in continuous incarceration.
Instances of medical neglect, deprivation and severe human rights abuses have sparked the current initiative and there have been several appeals for the plight and efforts of these prisoners, to be publicised and supported. Within the region, Palestinians from all walks of life and regardless of political affiliations have been called upon to stand in support and solidarity with the prisoners' movement. This reflects the decision by the prisoners themselves to stand united in their cause. Indeed, the committee formulated to lead the strike is politically heterogeneous consisting of members of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and many other groups. Leaders of the initiative have said that they fully expect prison authorities to crack down on them even further; nevertheless, they have vowed not to back down whatever the cost.
Similarly, this initiative should be supported internationally by all organisations and individuals concerned with the alleviation of suffering and universal human rights. These prisoners have not chosen to strike because they are fans of suffering and pain, but because they have been compelled to their current course of action. And until they can be completely released from the jails that serve Israel's colonial, apartheid regime in occupied Palestine, at the very least, the conditions within them must be brought into conformity with international standards.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad