Palestinian prisoners´ hunger strike swells (REUTERS) By Noah Browning JENIN, West Bank 04/30/12 1:55pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - A hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners against Israel´s
jail policies has swollen in weeks from a protest by a handful to a
national movement with around 1,400 participants.
Several are at risk of dying, including Bilal Diab and Thaer
Halahlah, both on their 64th day without food, their Palestinian
lawyer said. Eight other detainees have been hospitalized.
But most joined the fast two weeks ago, demanding an end to Israel´s
imprisonment without trial for individuals the state deems a security
threat, restrictive visiting rights and limited access to educational
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday his government
would refer the issue of prisoners to the United Nations,
internationalizing a campaign in which all the often divided and
acrimonious Palestinian factions are taking part.
"In prison, hunger is the only weapon ... my brother is defending not
just his own rights and honor, but those of the whole Palestinian
people," said Bassam Diab, a former detainee and brother of jailed
hunger strikers Bilal and Azzam Diab.
Israeli prisons commissioner Aharon Franco has named a panel to
address the hunger strikers´ demands, and on Monday told Marwan
Barghouti, a Palestinian leader once convicted by Israel of murder,
Palestinian officials said.
"The director of prisons communicated that the prison administration
would study seriously their demands and will respond to them after a
short time," said Qaddoura Fares, chairman of the main Palestinian
Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Prisons Authority, said
the Israeli panel was set up before the hunger strike was launched
but confirmed Franco had told prisoners he would review the
Israeli authorities say some 1,450 prisoners are on hunger strike.
Palestinian sources give varying figures, all well over 1,000.
There are more than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, of
whom around 320 are held in "administrative detention", or jailed
without trial, a security measure Israel defends as a precaution to
protect undercover sources.
Many however have been convicted in open proceedings of killing
Israeli civilians or plotting attacks.
"STONES, GUNS, HUNGER"
At the forefront of the new wave of hunger strikes are members of
Islamic Jihad, proscribed by Israel and other governments as a
"God holds the decision: sometimes we are called to resist with
stones, sometimes with guns, and other times through hunger and
perseverance," Khader Adnan, a leader of Islamic Jihad and survivor
of a 66-day jail fast, told Reuters from a Jenin refugee camp.
"I didn´t realize my actions would lead to of this scale. But
naturally people saw what I accomplished and took notice," he said.
After his hunger strike against his "administrative detention",
Israel commuted Adnan´s sentence and released him two weeks ago.
Fellow Islamic Jihad members followed his example, and further
Israeli concessions helped inspire the current movement.
His campaign has prompted solidarity marches throughout Gaza and the
West Bank, and widespread graffiti of Adnan´s bearded visage and
proclamations like "Hungry 4 freedom" even in the well-to-do
neighborhoods of Ramallah.
"In prison, there are no factions, we´re just flesh. God willing this
will lead to a unified, national movement," Bassam Diab, like his
brother an Islamic Jihad member, said from the family´s modest home
in the northern village of Kufr Ra´i.
Prisoners especially resent Israel´s "Shalit law," restricting
prisoners´ access to families and to educational materials as
punishment for the harsh, five-year captivity of Israeli soldier
Gilad Shalit by Hamas militants.
The law remains in force despite a prisoner swap deal which saw
hundreds of Palestinian detainees released in October in exchange for
the soldier´s freedom.
"Dialogue with them is not possible, there´s no alternative," said
Qahira Saadi, a mother of four sentenced to life in prison by Israel
in 2002 for her alleged role in a suicide bombing, but released in
exchange for Shalit.
"This is a battle, and hopefully it will come to a good end," she
said.(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; editing by
Andrew Roche) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 04/30/12)
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