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Israel suspends family visits for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners

April 18, 2017 11:42 A.M. (Updated: April 19, 2017 2:28 P.M.)
A graphic for the "Freedom and Dignity" hunger strike, depicting some of Palestine's most high profile prisoners. From right to left: Marwan Barghouthi, Ahmad Saadat, Karim Yunis, Nael Barghouthi, Fouad Shubaki
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israel Prison Service (IPS) has suspended family visitation rights to Palestinian prisoners, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told Ma’an on Tuesday, continuing its crackdown on prisoners as the large-scale "Freedom and Dignity" prisoner hunger strike entered its second day.

A source from the ICRC told Ma’an the international organization had been notified that visits for Palestinian prisoners would be forbidden until further notice in response to the hunger strike, which official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on Tuesday was being carried out by some 1,500 prisoners.

A spokesperson for IPS confirmed the information to Ma’an, specifying that visitations had been suspended “only for national security prisoners on hunger strike.”

Amnesty International said in a statement ahead of the hunger strike last week that "Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law."

Meanwhile, Palestinian Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs head Issa Qaraqe told Ma’an that Israeli authorities had prevented lawyers from visiting hunger-striking prisoners on Tuesday, and that IPS had declared a state of emergency in detention facilities holding Palestinian prisoners.

Palestinian Prisoner's Society (PPS) chairman Qaddura Fares told Ma'an that the measures were a "punitive" procedure by Israeli authorities, adding that IPS had moved hunger-striking prisoners around in its detention facilities in order to separate them from Palestinian prisoners who were not participating in the hunger strike.

Sawt al-Asra (Voice of Prisoners) radio station reported on Tuesday morning that 35 Palestinians had been transferred from Section 11 to Section 13 in Nafha prison, after the prisoners took unspecified measures to support hunger strikers.

Sawt al-Asra added that the transferred prisoners were affiliated to the Fatah movement and had expressed their decision to join the hunger strike on April 24.

IPS cracked down on the hunger strike on Monday -- which marks Palestinian Prisoners’ Day -- when hundreds of Palestinian detainees under the aegis of imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi began forgoing food.

Initially called for by Fatah-affiliated prisoners, Palestinian prisoners from across the political spectrum have since pledged their commitment to undertake the strike, which by some estimates exceeded 2,000 participants when it began at midnight on Monday.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement on Monday that Palestinians detained by Israel were “not political prisoners,” but “convicted terrorists and murderers,” claiming that “they are treated properly under international law.”

However, the hunger strikers have denounced the torture, ill-treatment, and medical neglect of Palestinian prisoners at the hands of Israeli authorities, as well as Israel’s widespread use of administrative detention -- internment without trial or charges -- which is only permitted under international law in extremely limited circumstances.

On Monday evening, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs released a statement saying that IPS officials had transferred a number of prisoners -- including Barghouthi and Karim Yunis -- into solitary confinement, confiscated hunger-striking prisoners’ personal belongings and clothes, and banned the prisoners from watching TV.

The committee also reported that Barghouthi would be “prosecuted in a discipline court” as punishment for his op-ed published by the New York Times on Monday, which detailed the struggle of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and the demands of the hunger strikers.

Israeli authorities have slammed the New York Times for not initially referring to Barghouthi -- who is one of the most popular political figures among Palestinians -- as a “terrorist” and “murderer of Israeli civilians,” although the American newspaper later amended the article to include the charges of which Barghouthi was found guilty by Israel.

"The paper recanted after we pointed it out to them," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, saying that referring to "arch-terrorist" Barghouthi "is like calling Assad a 'pediatrician'" -- referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a former doctor who has been accused of overseeing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Syrian civilians.

"We will never lose our sense of clarity because we are on the side of justice and they are on the side that is neither just nor moral," Netanyahu stated.

Meanwhile, according to the Committee of Prisoners' Affairs, IPS authorities established a field hospital in the Ktziot prison especially for hunger strikers, while simultaneously banning the future transfer of hunger strikers with deteriorated health conditions to any Israeli civilian hospitals -- which have so far refused to force feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners following an Israeli Supreme Court decision ruling that the measure was constitutional, in contravention of international medical ethics.

Palestinian prisoners’ solidarity network Samidoun warned that it was “highly possible” that Erdan’s field hospital proposal was “an attempt to impose mass force feeding on striking Palestinian prisoners outside the civilian medical framework."

Thousands of Palestinians marched to mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day across the occupied Palestinian territory on Monday, with Israeli forces notably suppressing a demonstration in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, and detaining four young Palestinians at another demonstration in the central West Bank district of Ramallah.

Israeli authorities have detained approximately one million Palestinians since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, according to a joint statement released on Saturday by Palestinian organizations.
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