Israel urged to release Palestinian detainees

Amnesty International on May 5 urged Israel to release all prisoners of conscience and administrative detainees or immediately try them under international fair trial standards. In a new report, "Starved of Justice: Palestinians detained without trial by Israel," Amnesty states that Israel has been using a number of measures—such as Military Order 1651 of 2010, the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law of 2002, and the Emergency Powers (Detention) Law of 1979—against Palestinian residents in the West Bank. Although the laws officially apply to everyone, AI reported that the laws are being used to detain only Palestinians. Additionally, AI found that most of the detainees were never informed of the evidence presented against them although they have the right to appeal and are entitled to legal counsel of their choice. With its report, AI concluded that injustice against detainees is still ongoing.

During past few months, numerous administrative detainees initiated or participated in several non-violent protests, such as a hunger strike, against their detention without charge or fair trial. However, after most of the strikes ended in May, AI discovered that Israel did not cease the heavily-criticized practice. Rather, it was reported that those who went on hunger strike were subject to ill-treatments and punishments:

Some hunger-striking detainees have reported that Israeli Prison Services (IPS) officials placed them in solitary confinement as punishment for their hunger strikes, on the basis that launching a hunger strike is against prison regulations. IPS officials have also delayed the hunger strikers' access to medical examinations and treatment, apparently to further pressure them to end their strikes. Some hunger strikers have also reported physical assaults and verbal abuse by the IPS, while others have reported that IPS personnel forcibly administered treatment such as injections against their will. Since the beginning of the hunger strikes in late 2011, the IPS has limited hunger-striking detainees' access to independent lawyers of their choice.

AI pointed out that Israel has ratified universal human rights treaties and that it must comply with these standards. With the report, AI mentioned several issues the Israeli government had to address immediately or in the near future such as ending the practice of administrative detention, investigating allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and allowing family visits to Palestinian detainees.

Israel has been continuously criticized for its treatment of Palestinian detainees. Last month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to try or release more than 1,000 prisoners who had been on hunger strike, to avoid risks to their health.

From Jurist, June 6. Used with permission.

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Two Palestinian hunger strikers remain

The Palestinian detainees remain on hunger strike, despite an agreement with Israel last month under which hundreds of other prisoners agreed to lift their fast. Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, a former player with the Palestinian national football team, has not eaten for 79 days. The Gaza man has been held without charge since 2009 and is demanding to be released. The second, Akram Rikhawi, says Israel violated a pledge to release him when it extended his detention May 21. He has been on strike for 56 days. Anat Litvin of Physicians for Human Rights Israel said the men are in "very severe" condition. (AP, June 7)

Israeli refusenik joins Palestinian hunger strikers

Yaniv Mazor, a 31-year-old Jerusalem resident, was sentenced to 20 days in jail over his refusal to serve in what he said was the occupying army. Interned at the IDF's Tzrifin prison June 11, he announced he is beginning a hunger strike in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. (Haaretz, June 17)

Al-Rekhawi ends 102-day hunger strike

Akram al-Rekhawi has ended a 102-day hunger strike in an Israeli prison after reaching a release deal. Israeli prison services spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told Ma'an that al-Rekhawi ended the strike on July 22. Mona Nadaf, a lawyer for prisoner rights group Addameer, visited al-Rekhawi on Monday in Ramle prison clinic. She confirmed he ended the strike after Israel's Prison Service agreed to release him on Jan. 25, 2013, six months earlier than his original release date, Addameer said in a statement. (Maan News Agency, July 23)

Amnesty: probe ill-treatment of Palestinian hunger-strikers

Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli authorities to investigate allegations that two Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in protest of their "administrative detention" have been ill-treated..The two men—Hassan Safadi and Samer al-Barq—have been on hunger strike since June 21 and May 22 respectively. (Asian Image, Aug. 13)

Mahmoud Sarsak was freed by Israelis last month after three years of detention and over three months on hunger strike. Israel accused Sarsak, a Gaza star football playing, of being active in Islamic Jihad—a claim he has denied. During his hunger strike, the 25-year-old athlete shed nearly half his weight. (The Guardian, July 10)

New Palestinian hunger striker in critical condition

Former Palestinian militant turned cultural activist Zakariya Zubeidi is in critical condition after having refused water for three days and food for more than 10, according to his supporters. Zubeidi announced his hunger strike on Sept. 9 to protest his detention by the Palestinian Authority without charges or trial. He stopped drinking on Sept. 17 after a Palestinian judge extended his detention for another 19 days.

Zubeidi, a co-founder of the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre, was arrested, along with some 150 others, after unidentified assailants shot at the home of Jenin's governor on May 2.

Zubeidi was a leading commander of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, armed wing of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising 10 years ago. But in 2006 he turned to "cultural resistance," as part of an Israeli-PA agreement under which Israel removed gunmen off its list of wanted militants, if they signed documents pledging to cease armed attacks. (DPA, Sept. 19)

Palestinian ex-hunger striker boycotts Barcelona football match

Palestinian soccer star and former hunger striker Mahmoud Sarsak is refusing an invitation by the legendary team FC Barcelona to attend its October Clasico match against Real Madrid. Sarsak said he turned down the invitation because FC Barcelona wants him there to mute planned protests against the presence of another person invited to attend the match—former Israeli Defense Forces soldier Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who spent five years in the hands of Hamas as a "prisoner of war." One of the many petitions protesting the Shalit invite was written and signed by Palestinian soccer players and endorsed by their clubs. It read:

We, Palestinian footballers, athletes and sporting organizations and officials, are dismayed to learn the great team of Barcelona will host Gilad Shalit to the Clasico, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, on October 7th, while more than 5000 Palestinian political prisoners remain rotting, many in isolation, many with no visits, many on hunger strike with no attention or care for them to be released….Just as the effective boycott of sports teams from the South African apartheid regime showed, sporting and political life cannot be separated. We ask you to not show solidarity with the army that oppresses, imprisons and kills Palestinian sportsmen and women in Palestine.

FC Barcelona, in a statement responding to the torrent of criticism on its website, said that contrary to reports it did not actually invite Shalit, but "accepted a request" from Israeli authorities to have Shalit "watch a match during his visit to Barcelona." In the same press release, Barcelona announced its intent to unite Shalit and Sarsak as a symbol of efforts to bring "peace and harmony" to the Middle East.

But Sarsak charged that the decision to invite him wasn’t a desire for "peace and harmony" but a response to protest. “I know that the invitation was issued after heavy pressure on FC Barcelona so that it could get out of its dilemma, but the Palestinian people are not and will not be a means for [others] to get out of their dilemmas.” (Middle East Online, Oct. 2)

UN rights experts concerned over Palestinian hunger strikers

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern Feb. 13 over reports that three Palestinians being held in Israeli custody are in poor health. Tarek Qa'adan and Jafar Azzidine have been on hunger strike for 78 days and Samer al-Issawi has been on partial hunger strike for 200 days to protest Israel's use of administrative detention. Pillay also expressed her own concerns as to Israel's use of administrative detention: "Persons detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees in accordance with international standards, or be promptly released." UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk went further and called for the immediate release of the three men. Falk called the conditions that the three men were being held under as "inhumane" and demanded that Israel either produce evidence against the men to bring charges or release them. Qa'adan and Azzidine are reportedly near death.

From Jurist, Feb. 13. Used with permission.

Israeli refusenik gets seventh term

Natan Blanc, 19, from Haifa, arrived Feb. 28 at the Induction Base in Tal-hashomer, where he again declared his refusal to serve in the Israeli army. He was sentenced to 20 days in the Military Prison No. 6 near Atlit. (New Profile, Feb. 28)