by Ruth Pollard
RAMALLAH: The number of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails has grown to at least 2800, human rights groups say, while two of the inmates hovered close to death as they entered their 69th day without food. The Israeli prison service disputes the numbers.
Israel’s practice of jailing people without charge – known as administrative detention – is the main issue driving the hunger strikers, whose images are seen on posters throughout the West Bank and Gaza as the protests backing the prisoners grow.
About 320 Palestinians are being held in administrative detention in Israeli prisons, 24 of them are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Advertisement: Story continues below
They are not informed of the accusations or evidence against them, there is no trial and they have no opportunity to defend themselves, the prisoners’ rights group Addameer said.
The Israeli prison service disputes the number of prisoners on hunger strike and rejects the claims that lawyers are not being given access to the prisons.
A spokeswoman said 1600 prisoners are refusing food.
”We have a committee that is going from prison to prison to discuss the prisoners’ concerns. We will tell them soon about our decision,” she said.
Their term of imprisonment is determined by an Israeli military judge, and can be extended.
Tha’er Halahleh, 33, and Bilal Diab, 27, the two prisoners who have been on a hunger strike for 69 days, had their appeals against their imprisonment without charge rejected by a military court last month.
Their cases are now before Israel’s High Court, which was expected to make a ruling yesterday. Halahleh has been held without charge for 22 months, Diab for nine months.
Israel has consistently defended its use of administrative detention, saying it is a vital security measure that prevents terrorist attacks and that disclosing evidence could put security operations at risk.
The prison service has responded harshly to the mass hunger strike, placing prisoners in solitary confinement, issuing daily fines of 500 shekels ($132), denying electricity supplies and conducting random cell and body searches, the director of the human rights group Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, told the Herald. “Prisoners are calling for humanitarian treatment and basic human rights,” Mr Jabarin said.
At least six other prisoners are on an extended hunger strike, including Hassan Safadi, who is on his 62nd day.