Palestinians are marking Prisoners’ Day to highlight the plight of thousands being held in Israeli jails.
Bethlehem, occupied West Bank – At least 100 Palestinian political prisoners have now joined a mass hunger strike in support of Bilal Kayed, as he nears 50 days without food in protest against his detention by Israel.
Kayed began his strike when he was placed under administrative detention without charge or trial on June 15, the day he was supposed to be released after serving more than 14 years for his affiliation with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Kayed’s brother, Mahmoud, told Al Jazeera that his family was “sad and shocked” at the turn of events.
“They [Israeli authorities] kidnapped our happiness. We had already started celebrating that he would be released, but they kept him,” Mahmoud said.
Lawyer Farah Bayadsi, who is with the prisoners’ rights group Addameer and has followed Kayed’s case since he was initially jailed in 2001, told Al Jazeera that Israel’s military court last week denied an appeal for his release. The court said that Kayed would pose a security threat if released, basing the decision on secret evidence gathered about his activities before his initial arrest and his “intentions upon release”.
Administrative detention is permitted under international law under narrowly defined states of emergency, but Addameer has long argued that Israel uses the practice as a widespread and systematic tool of oppression against Palestinians under occupation, in contravention of international law.
must be matched with ongoing support nationally and internationally to pressure the Israeli government to heed the prisoners’ demands. It is here where I think the PA must also do more work.”]
Among those to join the mass strike in solidarity with Kayed was PFLP Secretary-General Ahmad Saadat, currently serving a 30-year sentence, and Palestinian circus performer Mohammed Abu Sakha, held under administrative detention since December.
Prisoners who have joined the strike, the majority comprising PFLP members, have come under harsh punitive measures by the Israel Prison Service, including isolation, violent raids on cells, and revocation of family visits, according to Addameer.
Hana Herbst of the Israel Prison Service denied that a mass hunger strike by “national security prisoners” was taking place, telling Al Jazeera: “The few hunger strike attempts that have taken place were treated by deprivation of privileges, as IPS handles any other prisoners’ disciplinary violation. Routine operations are maintained but as far as I know, no violent raids occurred.”
Solidarity from other Palestinian prisoners comes as analysts and former prisoners say that international and national influence far exceeds the potential influence of the Palestinian government in pushing Israel for Kayed’s release.
According to Bayadsi, Kayed has refused legal assistance from the Palestinian Authority (PA), relying solely on legal support from Addameer.
“He is afraid that if others work on the case, it will damage that work that’s been done so far,” Bayadsi said. “I know that the PA is supportive of the prisoners […] But in the past, in reality, they usually don’t promote struggle through hunger strike.” Bayadsi cited a number of cases in the past where the PA encouraged hunger strikers to accept Israeli negotiations for their release, in an effort to avoid escalating tensions.
Kayed rejected negotiations with Israeli authorities after Israel conditioned his release on his deportation to Jordan for four years, along with a pledge to refrain from political activity.
Former Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan has been held under administrative detention 10 times by Israel and twice launched hunger strikes that eventually brought his release. While Adnan relied on legal support from the PA during his strikes, he told Al Jazeera that the PA could do little directly towards the release of hunger strikers due to its security coordination with Israel. The body could do more in its capacity to raise awareness via international and diplomatic avenues, he added.
“It’s sad for me as a Palestinian to see an Israeli government official talking about a prisoner on strike before someone from the Palestinian government talks about that prisoner,” Adnan said. “They [the PA] should be more involved in the media.”
Al Jazeera could not immediately reach PA officials for comment.
Palestinian political analyst Basil Faraj told Al Jazeera that Kayed’s decision not to receive legal help from the government reflected a growing dissatisfaction with the way the PA has dealt with current and previous hunger strikes.
“[Strikes] must be matched with ongoing support nationally and internationally to pressure the Israeli government to heed the prisoners’ demands,” Faraj said. “It is here where I think the PA must also do more work.”
Lack of support both from the PA and the international community, coupled with Israel’s violence against hunger strikers, leads to prolonged strikes that may cause irreversible damage to prisoners’ health, Faraj added.
Bayadsi, who visited Kayed on Sunday at the Israeli hospital where he is being held, said that his health was continuing to deteriorate as he remained shackled to the bed under the constant watch of Israeli guards.
Kayed’s brother said that Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Monday paid the family a visit, pledging that the PA would press Israel for Kayed’s release. Mahmoud expressed hope that continuing pressure from the international community and fellow political prisoners would ultimately lead to his brother’s freedom.
“I’m hoping this is the beginning of a revolution to empty Israeli prisons of Palestinians who didn’t do anything wrong,” Mahmoud said.