Palestinian Hunger-striking Prisoners' Lawyers Call Boycott of All Israeli Court Sessions

Move comes after Israel bars attorneys from meeting with Palestinian prisoners

People hold banners during a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners in Bethlehem, April 17, 2017.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

Lawyers from organizations that aid Palestinian prisoners in Israel announced a boycott of all Israeli court sessions starting Tuesday, after the Israel Prison Service prevented them from meeting with hunger-striking prisoners.

The PLO’s commission for prisoner affairs said in a statement that the boycott was also a response to other Israel Prison Service decisions that it deemed arbitrary, including preventing family visits to prisoners and isolating the prisoners’ leaders.

The commission said the Israel Prison Service claimed that the lawyers’ visits were banned only because their clients were being held in isolation. The commission added, however, that a few of the lawyers reported being told by the prison authority that the prohibition order had come from the Israeli government.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society, one of the aid groups, wrote to State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and the Justice Ministry’s High Court division on Tuesday and asked them to rescind the ban on meetings with lawyers, arguing that such meetings are a prisoner’s basic right. If this demand isn’t met, it added, it will petition the High Court of Justice against the ban.

Both the Prisoners Society and people close to the prisoner leading the hunger strike, Marwan Barghouti, rejected the claim that Barghouti organized the strike in order to undermine Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and increase his own support among the Palestinian public in general and the Fatah party in particular.

Jawad Boulus, an attorney who heads the society’s legal department, told Haaretz that the prisoners’ demands for better conditions were first presented to the Prison Service in August 2016 and the prisoners had planned from the start to launch a hunger strike if their demands were not met.

“The Prison Service cannot claim it was surprised by the demands, and this has no connection to internal battles, as people are trying to claim,” Boulus said.

“Had the Prison Service engaged in serious negotiations, perhaps we’d be somewhere else and this strike wouldn’t have begun. But the Prison Service and the defense establishment didn’t expect that the prisoners would be able to go forward with the strike and treated it with contempt.”

The strike’s timing also wasn’t connected to any political development, Boulus said; rather, it was chosen to coincide with Palestinian Prisoners Day, which the Palestinians mark on April 17. Nor was the decision to strike made by Barghouti alone, but by the prisoners’ collective leadership, including other senior Fatah members, he added.

As of Tuesday, the Prison Service was still refusing to negotiate, but the prisoners believe that at least some of their demands will eventually be granted.

Meanwhile, both the prisoner commission and the Prisoners Society are working to keep the prisoners’ strike at the top of the public agenda in the West Bank. In the coming days, they plan to organize additional rallies and marches in support of the prisoners.

On Monday, some 2,000 Palestinians took part in such demonstrations, and organizers hope the number will grow as time goes on. This is especially likely if Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners join the strike, which they have not yet done.