Hunger-striking Palestinian Prisoners Hospitalized as Talks With Israel Continue

Family visits and phone calls are two key disputes between Palestinian hunger strikers and Israeli prison officials on 36th day of strike

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Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, May 12, 2017.
Palestinians in the West Bank city of Bethlehem take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, May 12, 2017.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

The Israel Prison Service on Sunday evacuated some 60 hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners to hospitals because their medical condition had deteriorated, while 592 other hunger strikers have recently been moved for observation to infirmaries set up in the prisons.

The prison service has been conducting talks with prisoner representatives, and officials believe that the two sides are close to reaching understandings that will soon end the hunger strike, which enters its 36th day on Monday. The officials said the main issues being discussed, increasing family visits, will be resolved.

Prison service sources added that if agreements are reached, it would not constitute an achievement by the hunger strikers because the service had offered several times in the past to accommodate the prisoners on this issue. The sources said that if understandings are reached, the parties will agree to end the hunger strike with both sides emerging as “winners.”

There are 850 Palestinian security prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Under the procedures in place in the past, the prison service was required to send hunger strikers to the hospital for medical observation after 28 days. But over the past few months, the Health Ministry changed its regulations and agreed to let the prison medical staff decide whether to hospitalize the prisoners based on their condition, while the prisons must increase their medical supervision of the prisoners on site.

The prison service has turned a few prison wings into infirmaries, which have been equipped with suitable medical equipment and had their medical teams boosted.

Over the past few days there was a meeting between Palestinian security officials and U.S. intelligence officials regarding the prisoners’ hunger strike, Palestinian sources told Haaretz. Over the past two days international entities, among them the United States, have been trying to advance an agreement to end the strike.

During the conversation, which lasted three hours, the Palestinians made it clear to the Americans that the strike issue was a top priority for the Palestinian public and it was important to resolve it. The Palestinian representatives said that ending the strike would reduce the tension on the ground, while its continuation could spark violence.

Palestinian officials stressed that ending the strike would require the fulfillment of two demands. The first is arranging family visits, including coordination with the Red Cross, issuance of entry permits to family members and all other arrangements. The second is to allow prisoners to make calls from the prisons’ public phones to a prearranged number under supervision. “If these two demands get a positive response, we can talk about ending the strike,” a Palestinian source said.

Public action on behalf of the prisoners will continue as long as there is no announcement that the strike has ended. On Monday a general strike is planned throughout the West Bank, and the High Monitoring Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel is also calling a strike, except for the schools, which will open as usual. Committee chairman Mohammed Barakeh told a press conference Sunday in Nazareth that the strike is a declaration of support for the prisoners.

“The prisoners have made legitimate, humane demands, some of which they’d already gotten in the past,” he said. “It’s [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his government that are making a political issue of this in order to break the strike.”

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