When Khader Adnan is finally allowed to return to his home village of Arrabeh, just outside of Jenin, he will return to a resurged prisoners’ movement that he very well may have sparked.
Palestinian prisoners are reinstating their integral role in the national struggle, notably without the help – or interference – of political parties and leaders. Adnan’s solitary bravery and commitment restored a sense of agency and power to prisoners.
Without directives from political organizations, individual prisoners have been steadily enlisting in a battle against the policy of administrative detention by refusing their meals. The final outcome of this movement is still unknown, but its recession does not appear imminent. On the contrary, the prisoners’ movement is gaining momentum as today hundreds more launched an open-ended hunger strike.
In recognition of Khader’s impact on the strength of the prisoners’ movement, the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners Affairs held its annual Prisoners Day commemoration in Arrabeh yesterday evening.
While driving to the ceremony, Abdel Aal, the General Director of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, received a phone call from a prisoner in Ofer jail, Muhammed Dawood Abu Ajaj. Abu Ajaj has been held in administrative detention for the last 20 months and had received notice that his incarceration was extended another four months.
He called Abdel Aal to announce that he too will go on hunger strike.
So, as of yesterday there were at least 11 prisoners fasting in protest of administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge.
In a significant development today, coinciding with Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, over 1,200 prisoners – of the 4,610 currently held – began an open-ended hunger strike, thus broadening the struggle from administrative detention to a more general demand for rights that are denied to Palestinians in Israeli jails.
While the repercussions of Khader’s example are undeniable, some have argued that the seeds of this fertile movement may have been planted before last December’s arrest of Khader.
On 27 September 2011, prisoners affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine began a hunger strike to protest what was called the “Shalit laws.”
“These were not laws, but punitive measures that had been inflicted on Palestinians prisoners in retribution for Hamas holding Gilad Shalit,” a representative from Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner rights group, explains.
Small solidarity tents were quickly erected in West Bank cities. By October 6 Addameer approximated that about 400 prisoners had joined the strike.
But just as the strike was finding its stride, Israel announced the punitive measures would be reversed.
“The prison authorities told the strikers that soon there would be an ‘event’ that would change everything,” said Addameer.
The “event” was the prisoner exchange deal Hamas brokered with Israel wherein 1,027 Palestinians would be released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the sole Israeli held by Palestinians.
Shalit was released, the prisoners ended their hunger strike, but the punitive measures did not end.
“Following the deal, the measures were altered but not reversed,” says Addameer. “The deal significantly overshadowed the hunger strike that was started in September.”
The large-scale strike that was launched today is a continuation of what prisoners began in September. But this time the strike will not be characterized by any one political faction.
In order to emphasize the unified nature of the strike, the prisoners are forming a committee with representatives from Hamas, Fatah, PFLP, and Islamic Jihad.
This committee will be responsible with setting and communicating their demands with the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).
The strike seeks to fully reverse all punitive measures that were taken in connection with Shalit, including arbitrarily denying or humiliating visitors to prisoners and humiliating and abusing prisoners during transfers.
Prisoners are also seeking an end to solitary confinement and the prohibition against residents of the Gaza Strip from visiting family members in prison. There are currently 456 Gazan prisoners who have been denied family visits since 2007.
Outside the prison walls, the national unity that prisoners are fostering is still limited to political rhetoric. With both Fatah and Hamas being accused of trying to manipulate the hunger strike for political gains, this enduring political rivalry threatens fissures within the prisoners’ movement as well. However, prisoners, no matter their party affiliation, are united by a common experience inside Israeli jails that may allow the movement to surmount looming divisions.