Since April 24, 120 out of the 189 Palestinians held without charge or trial have refused taking any food. Hundreds, and on some days thousands, of fellow prisoners also joined them.
The usefulness of the protest was made clear by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’scall on Israel to either charge or release the Palestinian detainees.
Among the Palestinians held without charge or trial are doctors, legislators, university professors and teenagers.
Israel adopted the 1945 British emergency regulation and extended it to apply to anyone it wants in jail but is unable to prove anything against.
The sheer injustice of being held without charge and for an indefinite period takes on an even wider dimension when knowing that it is practiced by, allegedly, the only democracy in the Middle East, which for an unbelievable 48 years has been holding an entire population under a military occupation that is also supporting and protecting the colonial Jewish-only settlement campaign.
The number of those on hunger strike that are hospitalised tends to grow with each additional day. The past week witnessed an unprecedented transfer of 13 Palestinian hunger striking prisoners to various Israeli hospitals, bringing the total of Palestinians hospitalised to 80.
These are the ones whose lives, Israel’s prison authority feel, are at risk. Many others are kept in jail despite their deteriorating condition.
Israeli officials are debating whether to force feed hunger striking prisoners, which is considered a “cruel act”, an inhuman and degrading punishment.
The World Medical Association holds that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in force feeding.
Israel’s medical association is on the record as being opposed to carrying out force feeding.
Israel’s intelligence service, the Shin Bet, is said to be against any compromise with the striking prisoners, noting that it lost its edge when it released Adnan Khader after the 2012 hunger strike.
Israeli daily Haaretz quoted sources close to Shin Bet Director Yoram Cohen as saying that he believes the negotiations with Palestinian hunger strikers in 2012 was a mistake, and that such negotiations should not be repeated.
A Palestinian organisation focused on human rights says detentions are a form of punishment.
Addameer Association said in a report that the frequency of the use of administrative detention has fluctuated throughout Israel’s occupation, but it was specifically used as a means of “collective punishment” against Palestinians who oppose the 48-year-old occupation.
Holding Palestinians without charge or trial has no discernable direct security justification.
The hunger striking prisoners are fighting an uphill battle. The absence of a peace process, the controversy over the Palestinian reconciliation, the Pope’s visit, the elections in Iraq, Egypt and Syria, as well as the crisis in Ukraine have taken the attention of media and the focus of international politicians away from the Palestinians.
Absence of a concerted international will to press Israel to stop its undemocratic acts should not alter the view of its severity.
Action on this clear human rights demand is needed now more than ever precisely because the peace process is stalled.
Without hope and in the absence of a political horizon, the potential death of any prisoner is bound to inflame an already angry and hopeless Palestinian population.
Releasing detainees held without charge or trial will not weaken Israel’s grip on the occupied territories, nor will it affect its tranquility and security. If anything, the opposite is true.
If the Israeli leadership thinks it will be able to keep the occupied Palestinian areas quiet, it is playing with fire.