Palestinian Prisoners End Hunger Strike With Deal


palestinians1 Hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails ended a hunger strike today that had lasted weeks, signing an agreement with the Israeli authorities that promises improved conditions, according to officials. The end of the strike averted fears of widespread unrest in the event of a prisoner’s death.

“There is an agreement – the strike is over,” Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Service, said by telephone on Monday evening.

Israeli officials said that Egypt and Jordan had played roles in bringing the strike to an end.

Qadura Fares, the president of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, based in Ramallah in the West Bank, said that the agreement was reached by prison leaders on behalf of all the Palestinian factions.

The Israeli authorities said that among other provisions, the agreement calls for prisoners now in solitary confinement to be returned to ordinary sections of prisons and for family visits to resume for prisoners from Gaza, which is under the control of Hamas, the more radical of the major Palestinian factions.

Israeli officials said they had made no commitment to end the practice of incarceration without formal charges or a trial, known as administrative detention, and that current administrative detainees would serve out their terms.

But Issa Qaraqe, the minister of prisoner affairs for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, said earlier on Monday that there were understandings that the terms of the roughly 300 prisoners being held without charges would not be extended.

Most of the 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have been tried and convicted of security offenses.

Israel’s internal security agency, known as the Shin Bet, said in a statement on Monday that the agreement became possible after the prisoners made a commitment “to completely halt terrorist activity inside Israeli prisons,” and “to refrain from all activity that constitutes practical support for terrorism, including recruiting people for terrorist activity, guidance, financing, coordinating among recruits, aiding recruits,” and related activities.

The two sides had seemed intent on reaching a deal before Tuesday, when the Palestinians commemorate “the nakba,” or catastrophe, of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. The war that followed the declaration led to the flight or expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and the day is traditionally marked with protest marches.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said over the weekend that the death of a hunger striker could be “disastrous,” and could lead to the collapse of the security system in the West Bank.

Representatives of Mr. Abbas’s mainstream Fatah Party and of Hamas, the rival Islamic group that controls Gaza, have been in Cairo in recent days for talks with Egyptian officials. Outside mediation was necessary because many of the striking prisoners were associated with groups with which Israel has no direct contact, including Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, and the even more militant Islamic Jihad. Complicating matters further, direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Fatah-dominated West Bank leadership have been suspended for more than 18 months.

The two hunger strikers who have fasted the longest, Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahleh, 33, are both accused of working with Islamic Jihad in the West Bank. The group was the main force behind the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza in recent months.

Although only a minority of the hunger strikers were identified with Mr. Abbas’s secularist Fatah Party, Mr. Abbas has taken the lead in pressing for a resolution. Israeli officials preferred to give Mr. Abbas the credit, and presented the deal as a goodwill gesture.

“In response to the request of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, Israel has negotiated the end of the strike,” said Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman. “It is our hope that this decision will serve to build confidence between the parties and further peace.”

Mr. Diab and Mr. Halahleh went without food for 76 days to protest their incarceration without formal charges. More than 1,600 prisoners had joined the strike since mid-April, posing an acute problem for Israel.

Most prisoners demanded improved conditions and the restoration of rights that were suspended while an Israeli soldier was held captive in Gaza. That soldier, Gilad Shalit, was released last October in a prisoner exchange brokered by Egypt. Challenging the practice of administrative detention, which has been used against thousands of Palestinians over time, was a more fundamental goal.

Israel says that administrative detention is essential for security, particularly in cases where exposing evidence would compromise intelligence sources. The detention orders are technically limited to six months, but they can be renewed repeatedly, and some Palestinians have been held on secret evidence for years.

Under pressure, though, Israeli authorities have shown some flexibility in individual cases. Khader Adnan, the Palestinian administrative detainee from Islamic Jihad who inspired the mass hunger strike, ended a 66-day fast this year after the authorities agreed to release him a few weeks early and pledged not to detain him further in the absence of any new evidence against him. Another hunger striker from the West Bank, Hana Shalabi, 30, was released early after more than 40 days without eating and was sent into temporary exile in Gaza.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected appeals for the immediate release of Mr. Diab and Mr. Halahleh, but the judges expressed reservations about any extension of their terms without further investigation and better judicial oversight.

The prisoners and their struggle occupy a special place in Palestinian society, and solidarity protests had been growing.

Before noon on Monday, thousands of Palestinians marched through Omar Mukhtar Street in Gaza City and into the square of the Unknown Soldier, carrying green Hamas flags and pictures of hunger-striking prisoners as they chanted revolutionary slogans. They marched in three groups: first the men, many of them police officers in uniform with guns and red and green berets; then the women, led by a phalanx who wore fluorescent yellow security vests over their black abayas, holding hands; and finally schoolboys shouting, “With the blood and with our soul we are ready to ransom the prisoners.”

The rally surrounded a tent that has stood in the square for several weeks, and was filled on Monday with scores of men and women on sympathy hunger strikes, lying in cots.

{NY Times/ Newscenter}


  1. it all makes no sense to me, maybe to all those who feel we somehow need to garnor favor with others all of the sudden. But to my naive understanding, if the prispners want to stop eating, gezuntehait! Kol hakavod! It just saved Isreali prison system some money. And thats all it really shohld be.

  2. It makes no sense, but it’s typical of the Israeli Government dreaming it could gain some liking from the wider world through doing “humanitarian” acts. Sorry but it just doesn’t work like that. Just like at the Gaza, Lebanon, Rabin peace initiatives. The more you give for peace the more the world thinks it could just dictate and demand more, without ever acknowledging your good deeds. We willalways remain a
    ?? ???? ?????
    It won’t help even if we decide to look and act and hate frum yiden like a ???