Hundreds of Palestinians Begin Mass Hunger Strike in Israeli Prison

A group of 250 Palestinians held in an Israeli prison without charge or trial began a mass hunger strike on Tuesday to protest their detention, a representative of the prisoners confirmed to the Palestinian news agency Maan.

The prisoners are being held in Israel's Negev prison under the administrative detention procedure, a controversial detention tactic that allows the Israeli defence minister or law enforcement authorities to sentence suspects to jail time without trial, approved by a military judge in a secret hearing. The detention orders can be appealed to the District Court and, if denied, the Supreme Court of Israel.

The representative of the prisoners, speaking on condition of anonymity to Palestinian Maan News agency, said that the hunger-strike will be indefinite "until Israel's policy of administrative detention comes to an end."

He added that the prisoners want the "world and the Palestinian community in particular" to support the opposition to their detention without charge or trial as Israel is using the controversial detention policy "to coerce the Palestinians and deprive them of their life."

However, Sivan Weizman, spokesman for the Israeli Prison Service, denied that a hunger strike had started at the Negev prison.

"There is no hunger strike. It is not happening. Maybe in the future but they ate today," Weizman told Newsweek by phone.

Some 1,500 Palestinians prisoners are being held in the prison facility, with 250 in administrative detention. The representative said that among the detainees were Palestinian community leaders, lecturers, doctors, lawyers and students.

Israel justifies the use of the administrative detention tactic on the grounds of preserving the security of the state in the face of both Palestinian and Israeli violence, where no other legal means are deemed sufficient to achieve this aim.

"As part of the uncompromising struggle against terrorism, the state of Israel exercises administrative detention designed to prevent attacks on Israeli territory," Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote in a Facebook post last week.

"Israel is not the only country using it. Even in Britain, the United States, Australia and Ireland, which do not face the same security challenges as us, they are also taking this step."

Issa Qaraqe, Head of the PLO Commission for Prisoners Affairs, called on the world to stand with the prisoners and put an end to Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinian people.

"This hunger strike expresses the state of oppression and injustice suffered by the Palestinian administrative detainees in the Israeli prisons," he says.

"It's a message to the International community and the International human rights organisations to immediately intervene to stop the Israeli policies which violates the rights of the Palestinian people as a whole, and particularly the prisoners," Qaraqe adds.

The mass hunger strike began on the same day that Palestinian detainee Mohammed Allan awoke from a coma caused by a 64-day hunger strike in protest at his detention. Israel suspects Allan of having ties to the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

Israel has offered to release Allan, a 31-year-old lawyer, at the end of his detention period in November if he ends his hunger strike immediately while the detainee's lawyers demanded his release immediately because of his deteriorating condition, The Times of Israel reported.

According to figures released by the Israel Prison Service earlier this year, 396 Palestinians, including one woman, were still being held in administrative detention at the end of March. In April last year, approximately 300 Palestinian prisoners launched a mass hunger strike in protest against Israel's system of administrative detention, which lasted for two months and became the longest mass hunger strike in Palestinian history.

Dr. Leonid Eidelman, head of the Israel Medical Association (IMA), would not be drawn on whether the mass hunger strike would pose the first test of Israel's force-feeding law, which allows doctors to feed hunger strikers against their will to keep them alive and came into effect last month, but confirmed that Israeli doctors would refuse to force-feed any of the 250 prisoners in the Negev prison.

"Maybe. I am not a prophet whether they will do it in the case of a massive hunger strike," he says in an email to Newsweek. "But the position of the IMA is the same position, it doesn't matter if we are talking about one or two or hundreds, our doctors know that we consider force-feeding as torture and there is no place for doctors to take part in torture."

Earlier this month, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon sanctioned the first administrative detention order against a suspected Jewish extremist. The measure was introduced as the government attempts to clamp down on right-wing Jewish extremism believed to be behind a spate of recent attacks, including the stabbing of a 16-year-old girl at a Pride parade in Jerusalem by an ultra-Orthodox Jew and the arson murder of 18-month-old Palestinian baby Ali Dawabsha and his father, Sa'ed, who succumbed to his burns suffered in the attack days later.

A spokesman from the Israeli Prime Minister's Office was not immediately available for comment.