What the #!%*? Prisoner hunger strike feeding unrest among Palestinians (NATIONAL POST) National Post Wire Services 05/11/12)
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In this occasional feature, the National Post tells you everything
you need to know about a complicated issue. Today, we examine the
issue of 1,600 Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israel
that has the potential to spark major unrest.
Q: Why are they on a hunger strike?
A: The vast majority are protesting about the use of solitary
confinement, visitation rights, education privileges and an end to
the practice of administrative detention. It’s the last one that has
caught the attention of the international community.
Q: What’s administrative detention?
A: It is used for suspected terrorists based on intelligence
information, usually from an undercover informant. To protect the
informant, Israel detains the suspects rather than go to trial. A
detention order must be signed by the Minister of Defence and is for
a maximum of six months, but can be renewed. The suspect must be
brought before a judge within 48 hours to review the evidence. If the
judge does not approve of the detention, then the suspect must be
released immediately. There are about 300 administrative detainees in
Q: So who started the hunger strikes?
A: The protests began with Khader Adnan, a detainee from Islamic
Jihad, a terrorist group based in Gaza notorious for suicide
bombings, who fasted for 66 days until he reached a deal in February
for his release in April. Another detainee, Hana Shalabi, also
believed to be a member of Islamic Jihad, fasted for more than 40
days before being sent into temporary exile in Gaza.
Q: But it didn’t end there?
A: No. Two men, Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahleh, 33, both
residents of the West Bank accused of working with Islamic Jihad,
have been on a hunger strike for 72 days. Halahleh has been in
detention for almost two years and Diab since August last year. This
week, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected their appeal for release and
upheld the practice of administrative detention. Physicians for Human
Rights-Israel, an advocacy group, said the ruling was “the effective
equivalent of handing down a death sentence.” The International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that another four hunger
strikers were “at imminent risk of dying.” Meanwhile, a total of
1,600 Palestinian prisoners have been on a hunger strike for about
‘[U]ltimately, this is not about medical facilities. This is about
Q: What happens if any of the men die?
A: Prisoner rights are a deeply emotive subject for Palestinians, a
fifth of whom — some 700,000 people — have served time in Israeli
jails, according to activist groups. So there is widespread fear of
violence if any of the men die. Islamic Jihad has declared that it
will end its ceasefire if any prisoner dies, while Mahmoud Abbas, the
Palestinian Authority president, said it would be “a disaster and no
one could control the situation.”
Q: What’s Israel doing?
A: The prison service has offered to ease restrictions on prisoners,
according to an official with Palestinian prisoners’ rights group
Addameer. The official told Agence France-Presse that the prison
service had agreed to allow visits for families from Gaza, revoke a
range of restrictions on prisoners, including a ban on education, and
that an agreement on moving prisoners out of solitary confinement was
also on the table.
Q: Can’t Israel just force-feed the men?
A: No. A prisoner’s right to fast is protected by international
conventions that discourage force-feeding, said Juan Pedro Schaerer,
head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the Palestinian
Territories. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was
providing medical treatment for the prisoners and they were free to
choose their own doctors. “But ultimately, this is not about medical
facilities. This is about hard-core activists, from Hamas and Islamic
Jihad, who through this protest are trying to instigate violence,” he
said. (© 2012 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.
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