Thousands took to the streets today in Palestinian cities and villages across the West Bank, in solidarity with over 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike.
Hundreds protested in the town of Beitunia, adjacent to Ramallah, in front of the Israeli Ofer prison and military court, which have become a recent flashpoint with nearly daily demonstrations. Several moderate injuries from rubber-coated bullets and tear-gas projectiles were recorded, including one to the head.
Twenty year-old Majd Barghouti was injured in the eye by a rubber-coated bullet shot by Israeli soldiers who tried to suppress another demonstration, in the village of Aboud, north-east of Ramallah. He was evacuated to the Ramallah hospital, where he is expected to undergo surgery.
In the village of Kufer Qaddoum, south-east of Nablus, hundreds went out to demonstrate despite a tight siege laid over the town from all sides. In their attempt to quell the protest, Israeli forces used tear-gas, rubber-coated bullets and a high-pressure water cannon hosing a foul-smelling liquid, which Israel calls the Skunk. About an hour into the demonstration, a group of soldiers shot live ammunition towards the protesters from a fairly short range, but did not manage to hit anyone.
Some 300 demonstrators gathered in the village of al-Walajeh, east of Bethlehem, which will soon be encircled by Israel's Wall from all sides. The march advanced towards a nearby settler-road, and for a short time, protesters managed to re-take a house whose residents were expelled by Israel in 1948. As they pushed the protesters back into the village, soldiers used mass amounts of tear-gas and shot rubber-coated bullets.
Additionally, thousands of people marched through the cities of Hebron, Ramallah and Nablus.
25 days ago, on April 17, some 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails launched an open-ended hunger. Their demands are simple and the strike's slogan, echoing through the prison walls, is just as plain - liberty or death. The lives of all prisoners on strike are currently in danger, but among them is a smaller group, which has been striking for a longer period and whose lives are under immediate threat.
Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab have not eaten for well over 70 days - since the 29th of February. Israeli courts have rejected their appeals and refused to free them from administrative detention where they remain without charge or trial, subject to secret evidence and secret allegations. They are in critical condition.
Hassan Safadi has been refusing food since the 2nd of March, Omar Abu Shalal, 54, since the 4th of March, Mahmoud Sarsak, the only Gazan to have been incarcerated under Israel's Illegal Combatants Law, since the 24th of March, Mohammed al-Taj, 40, also since the 24th of March and Ja'afar Ezzadeen, 41, since the 27th of march.
The Prisoners' key demands include:
- Ending the policy of solitary confinement and isolation;
- End to the use of administrative detentions;
- The restoration of visitation rights to families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip, a right that has been denied to all families for more than 6 years;
- Canceling ‘Shalit’ law, which restricts prisoners' access to educational materials as punitive measure. The law remains intact despite a prisoner swap deal last October.
- Ending systematic humiliation, including arbitrary strip searches, nightly raids and collective punishment.
Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike have been hit hard with retaliation from Israel Prison Services, including beatings, transferring from one prison to another, confiscation of salt (an act that could have severe health consequences for hunger strikers), denial of family and lawyer visits, and isolation and solitary confinement of hunger strikers.