Palestinian prisoners ready for mass hunger strike
April 24, 2014
Nearly two hundred Palestinian administrative detainees, held indefinitely without charge or trial on Israeli military court orders, have announced plans to launch a mass hunger strikefor their freedom this Thursday.
The news came as demonstrations across Palestine and events worldwide commemorated the 40th annual Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
Thousands marched from an exhibition at Saraya square, the former site of Israel’s Gaza central prison, to rally outside the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Gaza office.
After the demonstrations, Ibrahim Baroud, freed from Israeli captivity a year ago, spoke with The Electronic Intifada at his home in the northern Gaza Strip’s Jabaliya refugee camp.
Among hundreds of thousands of former Palestinian prisoners in the Gaza Strip, Baroud is notable not only because of his 27-year detention, which makes him one of the longest-held Palestinians, but also because of his mother’s efforts during his absence.
In 1995, nine years after her son’s capture by Israeli forces, Ghalia — also known as Um Ibrahim — held a sit-in at the courtyard of the International Committee of the Red Cross office with Handoumeh Wishah, or Um Jaber, who had four sons in prison at the time.
Initially small, their presence persisted week after week, year after year, persevering through political transitions and military offensives, and growing into the core of prisoner support activities in Gaza. The sit-ins have now become a local focus of political unity.
Over the years, Um Ibrahim led women from the courtyard in a series of protests, many of them confrontational, to highlight the prisoners’ issue. These ranged from disrupting Palestinian Authority Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Al Qidwa with a fiery speech in 2005 to pelting United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s convoy with shoes and stones as he entered the Gaza Strip in 2012.
The sit-ins continue today as relatives and supporters of prisoners, many of them mothers and wives of detainees, pack the Red Cross courtyard every Monday morning. Their numbers swell with efforts to free prisoners — whether through political negotiations, hunger strikes or prisoner exchanges — or offenses against them by the Israeli Prison Service.
Um Ibrahim remains a constant presence, sitting in the front row and often leading the crowd in chants.
“Prisoners were never mentioned in the Oslo accords,” Ibrahim Baroud said Saturday, referring to the peace agreement signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization twenty years ago. “This was a disappointment to us, and a failure of the Palestinian leadership.”
Now 51, Ibrahim, a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, was freed on 8 April 2013 after completing an Israeli military court’s 27-year sentence for armed resistance to the occupation.
“According to the Geneva conventions, when a conflict ends, the first thing that should happen is the release of prisoners by both sides,” he said.
“In the prisons, we knew this, so we expected to be freed. How can a leader leave his soldiers in the prisons of the enemy?”
Sit-ins and strikes
The exclusion of the rights of prisoners from the Oslo accords sparked a rise in activities to support them, including the launch of the sit-ins in 1995, he said.
Additionally, Israeli forces had blocked his mother from visiting him earlier that year, Ma’an News Agency reported in 2010.
The prohibition, which cited unspecified “security concerns,” ended only after the massKarameh (“Dignity”) hunger strike in 2012.
To settle the strike, Israel agreed to allow the resumption of prison visits by families of Palestinian prisoners from the Gaza Strip, all of them banned for more than six years.
“Me and my fellow prisoners would follow the sit-ins every Monday,” Baroud said. “We would watch for our families on television.”
“The sit-in was a tool for communication between prisoners and our families, especially during the six years we were deprived of seeing them.”
Because of his mother’s long absence, he said, “I was more curious than the others to see her.”
Baroud’s father died three years before his release, during the ban on visits from the Gaza Strip.