Palestinian Hunger Strikers Seek World's Intervention Three Weeks Into Strike

Some 1,200 Palestinian prisoners ask World Health Organization to stop Israel from force-feeding them as international sympathy for the strike steadily grows

Women demonstrating in front of pictures of jailed Palestinian prisoners in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers in Gaza City, May 4, 2017.
Adel Hana/AP

Some 1,200 hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, now in their third week on water and salt, sought over the weekend to internationalize their cause, calling on the World Health Organization and other bodies to intervene to prevent Israeli authorities from force-feeding them. 

Meanwhile, former Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss and Gregory III Laham, patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, announced separately they would stage a one-day sympathy hunger strike. 

Many West Bank activists are now on hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners.

The hunger strikers expect more developments in the next few days when the strike intensifies. Speaking through his brother and lawyer, one of the leaders, Kareem Younis, said the prisoners are extremely interested in Palestinian public opinion and to what extent it will lead to pressure being put on the Israeli authorities.

“Kareem promised that the prisoners will not end the strike until their demands are met,” attorney Tamim Younis added.

Until now the strikers have come largely from Fatah, but on Thursday a number of Palestinian security prisoners who are not with Fatah joined the strike. Notable among them were the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmad Sa’adat, and a number of senior Hamas prisoners, including Hassan Salameh.

A statement released by the prisoners’ representatives said medical ethics prohibit force-feeding and prisoners had the right to choose their means of protest, even a life-threatening hunger strike. The head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, Issa Karaka, told a press conference in Ramallah on Saturday that Palestinians would take legal action against physicians who took part in force-feeding. “This is a decision that means killing the prisoners and not maintaining their health, and it is against any legal or ethical norm,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Israel Prison Service said it will only allow the lawyer of Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti to meet her client if she agrees not to represent any other prisoners participating in the current hunger strike. Abeer Baker says the IPS is afraid Barghouti will try to send messages to other prisoners through her.

Barghouti is one of the leaders of the hunger strike, which began on April 17. They are demanding additional privileges, including more public telephones on prison cell blocks and more family visits.

Baker requested a visit with Barghouti, based on the agreement reached in the High Court of Justice on Wednesday, when the government agreed to reinstate lawyer-visitation rights to hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

Baker asked to see Barghouti in Kishon Prison, near Haifa, where he has been held in solitary confinement since the hunger strike began. She was surprised by the IPS demand that made the visit conditional on her not representing any other hunger-striking prisoners.

Baker called it “a sweeping decision that violates the freedom of occupation of the lawyer, without any legal authorization.”