EU to support detained Palestinian hunger strikers

As Palestinian prisoners enter the fourth week of their hunger strike, EuroMed Rights calls on the European Union to support the legitimate human rights grievances of the hunger strikers and to denounce the punitive measures employed against them by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).

On 17 April 2017, some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners announced the start of an indefinite hunger strike to protest the conditions of their detention. Indeed, Israel holds some 6,300 Palestinians including 61 women and 300 children in Israeli prisons and detention centres, which in itself contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Classified by Israel as “security prisoners”, Palestinian detainees are subject to a wide range of human rights violations from the moment of arrest, through interrogation and remand detention, to trial and imprisonment. This is reflected in the demands of the hunger strikers which include the call to end torture and ill-treatment, the use of administrative detention, unfair trials, the detention of children, demeaning detention conditions including sleep and food deprivation, insufficient medical care, solitary confinement and the denial of the right to education.

Israel’s policy of administrative detention and detention under the ‘Unlawful Combatants’ law has been used to detain hundreds of Palestinians without charge or trial for unlimited renewable periods of one to six months. This allows Israel to detain people for political rather than security-related purposes as illustrated by the administrative detention of children, human rights defenders, journalists and Palestinian Legislative Council members. The use of torture and ill-treatment against Palestinian detainees is also widespread and systematic.

Rather than addressing the strikers’ human rights concerns, the IPS has adopted a series of punitive measures aimed at quelling this peaceful form of protest. Such measures include the isolation of the hunger strikers, the confiscation of salt from the prison cells, the denial of the strikers’ right to meet with their lawyers and further restrictions on family visits. Amidst these measures, there is increasing concern that the IPS will resort to force feeding the hunger strikers in order to stifle their resistance, a practice endorsed by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2016. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health has stated, “under no circumstance will force-feeding of prisoners and detainees on hunger strike comply with human rights standards” and, according to the UN Committee Against Torture, it may amount to torture or ill-treatment. Under the Statute of Rome, torture and inhuman treatment may be considered a war crime.

All these violations are facilitated by the military law regime that allows Israel to administer control, rather than justice, over the Palestinian population. These practices are part and parcel to the 50-year long prolonged occupation and must be addressed in the pursuit of long-term peace and reconciliation.

In light of this, EuroMed Rights calls on the EU and its Member States to:

  • Issue statements addressing the legitimate human rights grievances of the hunger strikers and condemning the punitive measures employed against them for exercising the right to peaceful protests;
  • Urge Israel to meet Palestinian prisoners’ demands and lift the severe restrictions on family visits, ensure an adequate level of medical and educational services;
  • Call on Israel to refrain from taking measures aimed at breaking the strike, notably the force-feeding of hunger strikers;
  • Call on Israel to end its illegal use of administrative detention and repeal the Unlawful Combatants law;
  • Urge Israel to implement the May 2016 recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture.
Watch as well our video on Palestinian hunger strikers with Rachel Stroumsa, Executive Director at the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Member of EuroMed Rights.