UN officials say hunger strike is “non-violent form of protest” and “fundamental human right” of Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have threatened to launch a mass hunger strike next month if prison authorities do not release them and end the use of administrative detention, according to a Palestinian minister.
A total of 17 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike, at least six of whom have been refusing food for 36 days.
They are being held in solitary confinement.
The men are being held as administrative detainees, a practice in which Israel detains Palestinians without charges for renewable six-month intervals.
More than 100 additional prisoners have pledged to join the hunger strike if Israeli authorities do not meet these conditions by October 10, according to Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Prisoner Affairs.
For nearly three weeks, an estimated 250 prisoners have refused meals for three days a week “in solidarity with the administrative detainees”, he told Al Jazeera.
“We are scared that the six long-term hunger strikers could die if this goes on,” Qaraqe said. “All of them have lost significant weight, and a few of the prisoners cannot even stand or walk on their own.”
“In some cases, prison authorities have denied prisoners access to doctors,” he said.
Earlier this week the detainees rejected an Israeli offer to be released and deported abroad in exchange for abandoning their fasts, according to local media. A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Authorities (IPA) was not immediately available for comment.
In June, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan lashed out at hunger strikers: “Security prisoners would like to see hunger strikes become a new sort of suicide bombing to threaten the state of Israel.”
There are currently more than 5,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including 350 administrative detainees, according to Addameer Prisoner Support Network.
Addameer lawyer Farah Bayadsi accused the IPA of using “punitive measures” against the hunger strikers.
“They were put in solitary confinement on September 1 as punishment [for their hunger strikes],” she told Al Jazeera. “Other punitive measures include being denied access to books, clothes, blankets and pillows.”
Nidal Abu Aker, a 47-year-old journalist who has been on hunger strike for 36 days, has lost around 15 kilos (33 pounds) since beginning his strike, the lawyer said.
In a letter he wrote from behind bars, Abu Aker called for the PA and the international community to pressure Israel to release administrative detainees.
He also urged other hunger strikers not to strike an agreement with Israel that does not put an end to administrative detention. “Let us all be freed or continue our hunger strike until death,” the letter reads.
Last month, Israel released administrative detainee Muhammad Allan after striking a deal that ended his 66-day hunger strike. Yet, he was rearrested on September 16 and his original administrative detention order, which expires on November 4, was reinstated.
Bill Van Esveld, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa programme, explained that international law allows the use of administrative detention “in exceptional cases and for imperative security concerns”.
“Israel’s use of administrative detention is excessive and arbitrary,” he told Al Jazeera. “It shouldn’t need prisoners to starve themselves in order for Israel to end such gross due process violations.”