1,000 Palestinians March to IDF Prison in Support of Hunger Strikers

IDF stations mass troops around Ofer compound ahead of protest; Islamic Movement leader joins strike as High Court refuses to intervene for one Palestinian detainee.

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Some 1,000 Palestinians gathered in the West Bank town of Beitounia on Thursday morning for a mass protest march to Israel's Ofer military prison in support of the administrative detainees now on hunger strike.

The Israel Defense Forces deployed large forces around the compound, with snipers positioned on the fences.

Clashes erupted ahead of the protest between Palestinian youth and IDF troops. A Channel 1 reporter was wounded when struck in the head by a rock.

Palestinian hunger-strikers in Israeli prisons continued to make headlines on Wednesday as well, as the head of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement launched a hunger strike the same day that the High Court of Justice declined to hear a petition from one of the striking prisoners.

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, on Wednesday said he would be joining the hunger strikers as a show of solidarity. His announcement came a day after a protest tent was erected in Nazareth's Spring Square in support of the strikers.

Also on Wednesday, the High Court of Justice declined to hear a petition from Palestinian hunger striker Ayman Sharawna, one of the prisoners released in the exchange between Israel and Hamas that freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The petition sought to annul clauses in Israel's military order that permit freed prisoners to be returned to prison to serve out the remainder of their full term, even if the evidence against them is secret and is not heard by a panel of military judges.

Chief Justice Asher Grunis and Justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Uzi Vogelman accepted the state’s position that the issue should not be decided by the High Court before being heard by various lower courts in the military justice system.

Sharawna’s attorneys, Ahlam Haddad and Nery Ramati, argued that the lower military courts, the Military Prosecutor’s Office and the Military Advocate General have all said they lack the authority to change the order.

While the negotiations for the Shalit deal were ongoing, the Military Prosecutor’s Office amended the military order related to freeing security prisoners. The changes were intended to make it easier to re-incarcerate prisoners freed in the Shalit deal for the remainder of their original sentences.

In Sharawna's case, the military prosecutor used classified evidence to claims that he was involved with terror after his release and therefore had to serve the remainder of his sentence – 28 years. He had been convicted of a terror attack in Be’er Sheva and was originally sentenced to 38 years in jail; he served 10 before being freed in the Shalit swap.

Sharawna was arrested in late January 2012, after which Haddad appealed to the committee tasked with examining parole violations. Hadad and the state presented evidence to the committee four months ago, but it is only expected to issue its decision on Sharawna’s continued imprisonment next week. Even that date was only set after the petition to the High Court.

Justice Grunis criticized the committee’s foot-dragging, adding that he believed the High Court petition had expedited the matter. Sharawna’s lawyer argued that if the case made it to the military appeals committee, it would take years before the High Court makes time to discuss the legality of the practice.

Grunis responded that the appeals committee would have to reach a decision in a reasonable amount of time, and if not, Sharawna could refile his petition to the High Court.

In a separate incident in the West Bank on Thursday, six Palestinian vehicles were torched in the village of Kusra near the Shilo settlement. This is apparently the latest in a series of clashes between Shilo residents and their Palestinian neighbors that have erupted over the course of the week. In one incident, an 8-dunam vineyard belonging to Shilo residents was vandalized.

Gili Cohen contributed to this report

A Palestinian man demonstrating in Beitounia. Credit: Emil Salman
Channel 1 reporter Yoram Cohen was injured by a rock during a protest in Beitounia on February 21, 2013.

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