The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) today expressed grave concern about the health of hundreds of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention, and the rapidly deteriorating condition of several of the detainees. The Task Force noted that the crisis is adding to tensions in an already volatile atmosphere on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, and calls for urgent measures to defuse the situation.
Many of the hunger strikers are being held by Israeli Civil Administration authorities in the occupied territories under “administrative detention,” without charge or due process. The hunger strikers are protesting detention without trial, restrictive visiting rights and limited access to educational materials. Israeli prison authorities have reportedly ruled that prisoners who can no longer physically stand on their feet to receive their attorneys are no longer eligible for legal counsel. Israel's Supreme Court has reportedly postponed issuing a decision on appeals for the release of some hunger-striking prisoners in "administrative detention."
Two of the hunger strikers, Bilal Diab, 27, from Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, from Hebron, have refused food since Feb. 29. A doctor who recently visited him warned that Diab is in imminent risk of death.
At a public event on Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government are accountable for the health of the approximately 2,000 prisoners on hunger strike, and called on the international community to intervene. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he intends to raise the issue at the United Nations in the near future. UN Envoy Robert Serry said the UN "is deeply troubled in particular, by reports about the critical condition of at least two Palestinian prisoners being held in administrative detention by the Israeli Authorities, who have been on hunger strike for more than two months." In a statement earlier this week, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to "immediately charge or release people jailed without charge or trial under so-called administrative detention."
Israel's Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, defended the practice but “stressed that the use of administrative detention needed to be reduced to a minimum.” ATFP said that Israel must abide by international law and norms regarding the treatment of prisoners and basic due process rights.
ATFP President Ziad J. Asali warned that, "given the impasse in negotiations, Israel's increased settlement activity including the creation of several new outposts and the retroactive recognition of 'unauthorized' outposts, the financial crisis in the West Bank and other sources of tensions, the fate of hunger striking prisoners is aggravating an already volatile situation on the ground. We urge the US government to use its good offices to ensure Israeli authorities improve conditions for Palestinian prisoners and end the practice of 'administrative detention' without charge or due process. The emotional and political impact of the prisoner issue on the detainees, their families and Palestinian society at large should be fully comprehended and dealt with."