Special Report: All-Prison Hunger Strike by Palestinian Political Prisoners Ignites Widespread Demonstrations

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Special Report: All-Prison Hunger Strike by Palestinian Political Prisoners Ignites Widespread Demonstrations

Palestinian prisoners from major Israeli detention facilities began an open hunger strike on Sept. 27 to protest deteriorating conditions of detention imposed on them by Israeli authorities. The strike was formally announced by prisoners in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali Sept. 25. In the letter, prisoners said they had "exhausted all other means of negotiating, without success" and were turning to a hunger strike as a means of last resort.

"The prison authorities are depriving us of practicing our religion, stealing our food, denying us medical care, refusing to perform needed surgical operations for detainees. . .banning visits within and between sections of the same prison, forbidding prisoner representatives to move between sections and denying us reading materials," the prisoners wrote. "They are also not providing us with necessary materials for cleaning, subjecting us to collective punishments, banning family visits for long periods, and tear-gassing."

Prisoners' Demands

The prisoners specifically called for a halt to the policy of long periods of solitary confinement, the closure of special underground punishment units where dungeon conditions prevail, reinstatement of adequate food rations, a halt to overcrowding, access to proper medical treatment, and an end to beatings and tear-gassings in the cells and demeaning strip searches.

Other demands included the release of very young and elderly prisoners, mothers with young children, and ill and long-term prisoners. The prisoners cited particularly the cases of seven Palestinian prisoners held for more than 20 years under extremely poor conditions, and of at least 10 prisoners from Lebanon who completed their sentences several years ago but have not been released by Israeli authorities.

Over the past year, prisoners have reported to human rights organizations about a deterioration of already inhuman conditions prevailing in Israeli prisons: food rations have been reduced, attempts by prisoners to negotiate with prison authorities for better conditions have been treated harshly and prisoner representatives beaten or transferred to other prisons. Conditions have become more repressive, on the pretext of security, during family visits. Even supervised visits, limited to 30 minutes every two weeks, with no physical contact, often are denied by prison administrators to punish or pressure detainees.

Since 1989, the Israeli Prison Services Organization has used a policy of isolating prisoners in small, unventilated cells, far below standard minimum conditions, in Ward 8 of Roni Nitzan detention center in the town of Ramle and in Bir Saba' prison. …