Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups appealed to the European Union’s top foreign policy official on Sunday to try to broker a solution to the problem of hunger-striking Palestinians under administrative detention in Israel.
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The appeal to Catherine Ashton is part of a broader effort by the organizations and the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs to generate international pressure on Israel over this issue.
According to a statement put out by the organizations, some 125 administrative detainees have been on hunger strike for the last five weeks, and most are in a life-threatening state. Yet so far, Israeli authorities appear to have no intention of conducting real negotiations with the strikers, the statement said.
The strikers include Palestinian parliamentarians, academics and political activists, some of whom have spent years behind bars without a trial, the statement added.
Sources in the Palestinian Prisoners Club expressed great concern on Sunday over the detainees’ deteriorating condition, saying that 78 have already been hospitalized. All are being nourished only on water and vitamins, and some are even refusing the vitamins, making do with only salt or sugar in addition to water, they said.
Aside from the administrative detainees, dozens of Palestinian convicts serving time in Israel have joined the hunger strike as a sign of solidarity.
According to the Israel Prison Service, which gave slightly different figures than the Palestinians, 290 Palestinians are striking altogether, including about 100 administrative detainees. All are under medical supervision, and 70 have been hospitalized, it said.
Lawyers who have met with some of the hunger strikers in recent days said they have no intention of abandoning the strike, even if it kills them.
The strikers are demanding that Israel end the practice of administrative detention, or imprisonment without trial, and either release the detainees or charge them.
Prisoners Club activists told Haaretz that despite the lengthy strike, no real negotiations have yet taken place.
“All that’s happened have been meetings between Prison Service officers and the detainees’ leadership,” said one. “But the officers made it clear they have no mandate to conduct official negotiations.”
The activists noted that both the Prison Service and other Israeli security agencies say they have no authority to abolish the practice of administrative detention even if they wanted to, since that would require legislation, and therefore can’t negotiate over the detainees’ demands.
“The widespread feeling now is that both sides have climbed a tall tree – on one hand the prisoners, who are demanding the abolition of administrative detention, and on the other the state agencies, which are refusing to negotiate with the detainees,” said a source who visits the detainees often.
Nevertheless, he said, efforts have been underway for the last few days to craft a more moderate demand: that administrative detentions not last longer than six months in general, and that there be clear criteria for extending this period.
Attorney Jawad Boulos, the Prisoners Club’s legal advisor, told Haaretz that after a hunger strike lasting five weeks, in which dozens of detainees have already shed a quarter of their weight and are in danger of dying, the time has come for Israel to authorize someone to conduct real negotiations with them.
“We’re in an intolerable situation, in which dozens of prisoners have lost their freedom and some have been in detention for years without being granted a fair trial,” he said. “You have to understand that these prisoners have reached a point from which there is no return, and the Israeli authorities must understand that these are reasonable demands by people who seek the right to a fair trial.”
Sunday night, the Prisoners Club announced that one hunger striker had been released and transferred to the Nablus hospital.