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Running on Empty

Pressure is rising against the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) as thousands of Palestinian detainees embark on a third week of open-ended hunger strike in protest at their treatment behind bars.

The mass action began on Tuesday 17th April, coinciding with Palestinian Prisoner Day, and more mouths refuse to take food as each dawn passes. Punitive abuses against inmates include refusing family visits and prolonged solitary confinement.

The coordinated act of resistance follows the high-profile hunger strikes of Khader Adnan and Hana al-Shalabi. Both were making a stand against their administrative detention, a policy that allows Israel to hold detainees without charge or trial for indefinite periods. Banned from seeing the evidence against them, those held have no way of challenging their situation – except refusing food.

Adnan ended his fast after 66 days but there are others who could surpass even this record during the first week of May. On Saturday 27th April, Thaer Halahleh entered his 60th day of hunger strike in protest at his administrative detention. Accused of tentative links with banned political party Islamic Jihad, Halahleh has been in and out of the Israeli prison for most of the past nine years, his latest arrest coming in June 2010.

Halahleh had been free only 14-days before his re-arrest. Always held without charge or trial, not a single piece of strong evidence has been presented against him. Now the 33-year-old languishes in al-Naqab jail, his incarceration denying him the right to witness the birth of his only daughter, who at the age of two is growing up without a father. Joining Halahleh beyond 60-days is Bilal Thiab, whose story is a similar tale of arbitrary arrest and punitive punishment.

An Israeli prison doctor told Ha'aretz newspaper this week that he feared for the lives of Thiab and Halahleh, along with two other hunger strikers. Thiab was transferred to Assaf Harofeh hospital on Tuesday May 1st as his condition deteriorated further. It was also reported Sunday that Ahmed Saadat, secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was transferred to the hospital wing of an Israeli prison outside Tel Aviv. He began his strike only two weeks ago.

According to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Thiab and Halahleh are being denied family and lawyer visits. Even more shockingly, the level of maltreatment has increased as the pair's condition has deteriorated. Due to acute muscle weakness they need full assistance in daily activities such as showering, but PHR-Israel say no such help is being provided.

The IPS have been increasingly impinging on the rights of prisoners in recent years. One particular policy, dubbed the 'Shalit Law', restricts prisoners' access to families and educational materials as punishment for Hamas' capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Whilst Shalit was released in October 2011, the restrictions remain in place. Now the inmates are fighting back.

Palestinian prisoner's rights group Adameer estimates there are currently 2,000 detainees engaged in hunger strike, with the figure expected to rise beyond 3,000 during the coming weeks. All bar one of Israeli prisons are within Israel itself, which violates international law as Palestinian detainees are transferred to locations inside the occupying power's territory. Adameer say this also constitutes a war crime.

There needs to be a targeted and concerted campaign from international activists to ensure the issue of both Palestinian hunger strikers and the ill-treatment of detainees by the Israeli Prison Service does not go unheard, and that the amazing sacrifices of these prisoners are not in vain.

For more information visit: http://www.addameer.org

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Twitter: @SchNEWS