Why we are on hunger strike inside Israel's prisons, by Marwan Barghouti (New York Times (International Edition), 16/4/17)
"Hadarim Prison - Israel - Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel's illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no other choice but to resist these abuses by going on hunger strike.
"Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners' Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.
"Decades of experience have proved that Israel's inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their communities and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.
"Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions. It has committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people; the prisoners, including men, women and children, are no exception.
"I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.
"A few years later I was again in an Israeli prison, leading a hunger strike, when my first son was born. Instead of the sweets we usually distribute to celebrate such news, I handed out salt to the other prisoners. When he was barely 18, he in turn was arrested and spent four years in Israeli prisons.
"The eldest of my four children is now a man of 31. Yet here I still am, pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world. What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.
"Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law - including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes - into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.
"Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel's policy of imposing collective punishments.
"Through our hunger strike we seek an end to these abuses.
"Over the past five decades, according the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel - equivalent to about 40% of the Palestinian territory's male population. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.
"How to account for this unbelievable state of affairs?
"Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel's courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly. 90%.
"Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, and family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.
"Instead, though, Israel's prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners' movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the Struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.
"Israel has tried to brand us as terrorists to legitimize its violations, including mass arbitrary arrests, torture, punitive measures and severe restrictions. As part of Israel's effort to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, an Israeli court sentenced me to 5 life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers.
"Israel is not the first occupying or colonial power to resort to such expedients. Every national liberation movement in history can recall similar practices. This is why so many people who have fought against oppression, colonialism and apartheid stand with us. The International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners that the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada and my wife, Fadwa, inaugurated in 2013 from Nelson Mandela's former cell on Robben Island has enjoyed the support of eight Nobel Prize laureates, 120 governments and hundreds of leaders, parliamentarians, artists and academics around the world.
"Their solidarity exposes Israel's moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace."
The New York Times, of course, just had to add the following 'Editor's note: April 17, 2017': This article explained the writer's prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were 5 counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court's jurisdiction and legitimacy. Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.
The demands of the Freedom & Dignity campaign are:
1. Instal a public telephone for Palestinian detainees in all prisons and sections in order to communicate with their families.
2. Visits: a) Resume the second visit stopped by the Red Cross; b) Regularity of visits every two weeks without being disabled by any side; c) No relative of the first and second level shall be prevented from visiting a detainee; d) Increase the duration of the visit from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half; e) Allow detainees to take pictures with their families every 3 months; f) Construct facilities for the comfort of visiting families; g) Allow children and grandchildren under the age of 16 to visit detainees.
3. The medical file: a) Close the so-called Ramle prison hospital because it does not provide the necessary treatment; b) End the policy of medical negligence; c) Conduct periodic medical examinations; d) Perform surgeries whenever needed; e) Allow specialized physicians from outside the prison; f) Releasing sick detainees, especially those who have disabilities and incurable diseases; g) Medical treatment should not be at the expense of detainees.
4. Respond to the [special] needs and demands of Palestinian women detainees, whether by special transport or direct meeting without a barrier during visits.
5. Transportation: a) Accord humanitarian treatment for detainees during their transport; b) Return detainees to jails after attending clinics and courts and do not keep them waiting at crossings; c) Prepare crossings for human use and provide meals for detainees.
6. Add satellite channels that suit the needs of detainees.
7. Install air conditioners in prisons, especially in Megiddo and Gilboa.
8. Restore kitchens to all prisons and place them under the supervision of detainees.
9. Allow detainees books, newspapers, clothes and food.
10. End the policy of solitary confinement.
11. End the policy of administrative detention.
12. Allow detainees to study at the Hebrew Open University.
13. Allow detainees to take the Tawjihi matriculation exams in an official and agreed manner.
PS: "Tens of thousands of Palestinians from throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip marched and attended rallies to show their support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. Marwan Barghouti, who is leading the strike, was placed in solitary confinement." (Israel places Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti in solitary over prisoners' hunger strike, Jack Khoury, Haaretz, 17/4/17)