Concern Grows for Prisoners on 63-day Hunger Strike

After 63 days on hunger-strike, two Palestinian prisoners face severe health deterioration and are at risk of death, lawyers said Tuesday.

Bilal Diab, 27, from Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, from Hebron, have been transferred to an Israeli hospital in a serious condition, their lawyer Jamal Khatib told Ma’an.

Israel’s Supreme Court will hear their case on Thursday, he said, after an appeal against their detention without charge was rejected by an Israeli military court last week.

Meanwhile, negotiations with Israeli authorities are ongoing, but Khatib has received no response to his demand they are freed immediately, he added.

Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said Tuesday the group will break a truce with Israel if any of the hunger-strikers dies.

He called Israel’s treatment of Diab and Halaha — who he claims as group members — "equal to political assassination."

"If any of the Mujahedeen (fighters) die, the truce will be gone with the wind and the enemy will bear the results of what could happen," Habib said at a press conference in Gaza City.

Eight other hunger-strikers have been transferred to hospital, including the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Ahmad Saadat.

Prisoners Society chief Qadura Fares, calling the situation "catastrophic", appealed for their immediate release.

Lawyers warn that despite earlier deals to free hunger-strikers, Israeli authorities are now reluctant to compromise since prisoners joined a mass strike, risking Israel’s detention policy as a whole.

‘Hunger the Only Weapon’

Meanwhile, Diab’s family spoke out in solidarity with the young hunger-striker.

"In prison, hunger is the only weapon … my brother is defending not just his own rights and honor, but those of the whole Palestinian people," said Bassam Diab, a former detainee and brother of jailed hunger strikers Bilal and Azzam Diab.

Sparked by recent high-profile hunger-strikers Khader Adnan, who reached a deal for release after 66 days, and Hana Shalabi, who refused for 43 days before being deported to Gaza, detainees began a mass hunger-strike on Palestinian Prisoners Day two weeks ago.

Prisoners groups estimate 2,000 detainees are refusing food in a bid to improve their conditions.

"In prison, there are no factions, we’re just flesh. God willing this will lead to a unified, national movement," Diab said from the family’s modest home in the northern village of Kufr Rai.

"God holds the decision: sometimes we are called to resist with stones, sometimes with guns, and other times through hunger and perseverance," Khader Adnan told Reuters from a Jenin refugee camp.

"I didn’t realize my actions would lead to (a hunger strike) of this scale. But naturally people saw what I accomplished and took notice," he said.

Grievances

The hunger-strikes began in protest of Israel’s policy of administrative detention — under which around 320 Palestinians are currently held without charge for renewable terms without charge.

The mass strike also protests Israel’s treatment of over 4,000 Palestinians jailed in Israel, in particular the use of solitary confinement and ban on family visits for prisoners from the Gaza Strip.

Prisoners especially resent Israel’s "Shalit law," restricting prisoners’ access to families and to educational materials as punishment for the five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The law remains in force despite a prisoner swap deal which saw hundreds of Palestinian detainees released in October in exchange for the soldier’s freedom.

"Dialogue with them is not possible, there’s no alternative (to the hunger strike)," said Qahira Saadi, a mother of four sentenced to life in prison by Israel in 2002 for her alleged role in a suicide bombing, but released in exchange for Shalit.

"This is a battle, and hopefully it will come to a good end," she said.

(Ma’an)

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