What Leads to a Hunger Strike?

I am worried for the 1,500 of 6,500 Palestinian prisoners held by Israelis who have been on a hunger strike for over a month. I am also worried about what might happen.

Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail.

I witnessed a sampling of how volatile the situation can be while I was an Ecumenical Accompanier. In Feb. 2013, Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian father of two died in an Israeli prison; there were reports his death was caused by torture and inadequate medical attention. Protests broke out across Palestine. The Israeli military responded harshly and quickly. Tear gas swept across the West Bank, stun grenades and rubber bullets were used on protestors. After a few days, the protests calmed down but the story continued.

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli autopsy found Jaradat died of natural causes. But, a noted Turkish pathology expert, Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, stated in her expert opinion, “the injuries on Jaradat’s body are indicative of “blunt trauma with a long and thick object” and are not consistent with resuscitation efforts. She also noted, beatings by blunt objects during detention is classified as “torture.” She concluded the cause of death was as a result of, “blunt trauma on the chest” resulting with “lung contusion” and “acute respiratory distress syndrome” (suffocation).”(i)

This situation is typical of what many human rights observers encounter, the Israeli government claims to be blameless for any anything that causes Palestinians to protest. Simultaneously, the Israeli military brutally crackdown on protestors. Meanwhile, NGO’s document the protests being rooted in Israeli military violence and/or unjust treatment of Palestinians before Israeli military courts.

Just before my term ended, another disturbing event occurred in Hebron. The picture shows the scene described to me by a colleague; Israeli soldiers detained a group of seven boys all under the age of 12. Again, outrage filled the streets. Again, the Israeli military cracked down.

I still cannot imagine the fear in each of these little boys. Nor, can I fully imagine how the indelible mark left on each of them will play out in the future.

Last year, Defense for Children International – Palestine collected affidavits from 161 West Bank children detained by Israeli forces and prosecuted under Israeli military courts. 25 were held in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes for an average of 16 days, a 23% increase over the previous year. The longest documented period of isolation for a child in 2016 was 29 days. (ii) Currently, there are about 300 children held by the Israeli military.

Ever since leaving, I have asked myself, “What kind of government treats children like this?”

Marwon Barghouti, the hunger strike leader, writing in the New York Times, points out that amoung the 6,500 Palestinians currently imprisoned by Israel are some, “who hold the dubious distinction of holding world records for the longest period in detention of political prisoners.”(iii)

These examples just begin to scratch the surface of the plight of Palestinian prisoners and the outrage felt by Palestinians around just this single issue.
The situation has deteriorated since I was there – for the prisoners and Palestinians as a whole. For example, there are almost 2,000 more Palestinian prisoners than four years ago.

Conditions have reached a crisis point. On April 17, Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike.

Hunger strikes are a desperate act by desperate people. They are an ancient, non-violent protest. Ghandi held several. The World Medical Association (WMA) Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikes states, “(Hunger strikes) are often a form of protest by people who lack other ways of making their demands known. . . . Genuine and prolonged fasting risks death or permanent damage for hunger strikers.(iv)

The prisoner’s demands are simple. They are merely asking for rights guaranteed under international treaties; family visits, proper medical care, an end to Israel’s practice of detaining Palestinians without charge in so-called administrative detention and stopping the use of isolation.

Several NGO’s have documented Israel’s violations of the 4th Geneva Convention in its treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Amnesty International states, ”Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law.”(v)

It is time to pressure our governments as Signatories to the 4th Geneva Convention to stop turning a blind eye to the Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including children. Governments need to demand that Israel live up to its obligations under international law and that Israel acquiesce to the demands of the Palestinian prisoners. Supporters of human rights and the rule of international law need to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners – their lives depend on us.

(i) https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20140629-arafat-jaradat-and-the-man-behind-his-autopsy/
(ii) http://www.dci-palestine.org/palestinian_children_held_in_solitary_confinement_for_longer_periods
(iii) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/…/palestinian-hunger-strike-prisoners-call-for-justice
(iv) https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-declaration-of-malta-on-hunger-strikers/
(v) https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/04/israel-must-end-unlawful-and-cruel-policies-towards-palestinian-prisoners/


About Steve Berube

I am a team minister at St. Paul's United Church in Riverview, NB, Canada. I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem while on sabbatical in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches.
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1 Response to What Leads to a Hunger Strike?

  1. Paul Burns says:

    Good write up Steve – as always. Whenever I read about the things the Israeli government or military does, I find I can’t square it in my head that the parents or grandparents of these people most likely lived through the holocaust. How can they ignore their past in such a manner. Of course, in that part of the world, the past is not measured in decades. Still, how can they be so content to be on the other end of the rifle? What are they thinking?

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