Israel punishes hunger striking prisoners by transferring them to other end of country
Approximately 80 political prisoners have been transferred from Gilboa prison to Nafha prison in the Naqab [Negev] desert, according to the news site Arabs48. The transfer follows a solidarity hunger strike undertaken by the prisoners, which I reported in my blog of 28 February. I wrote that the prisoners in Gilboa prison welcomed the call for an international day of action on 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. The prisoners in sections 2, 4 and 5 participated in a one-day hunger strike on 13 February for which they were immediately punished by the prison authorities.
The political prisoners from section 4 were transferred to Nafha prison this week. They are residents from Jerusalem, Israel and the occupied Golan Heights. Nafha prison is located in the south of Israel — a large distance from Gilboa prison in the north.
I asked Sahar Francis, director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, to comment on the prisoners transfer. “Actually we don’t know exactly why the prisoners were transferred. This is the usual behavior of the Israeli Prison Service, to transfer prisoners far away from home. To make it more difficult for the families to visit their relatives in prison as an act of punishment, an act of collective punishment. Although sometimes they [the Israeli Prison Service] claim the transfer was needed for reconstruction activities. At times of hunger strikes they transfer the leaders a lot – even on a daily basis – in order not to encourage, empower people to join in the hunger strike.”
Fouad Sultani, father of one of the transferred prisoners, told the news site Arabs48 that the transfer increases the suffering of the prisoners because of the conditions in Nafha prison and the desert environment. It also means an increase in the suffering of the families who visit the prisoners. The majority live in the north and they will have to travel long hours to visit their imprisoned loved ones. According to the news site, the prisoners have protested their transfer by trying to prevent the execution of the transfer.
In an interview with me published on The Electronic Intifada last week, Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, describing Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinian political prisoners:
The punishment mentality is guiding the Israeli practices and policies. Every day new rules are created, [prisoners] have to take off their clothes while the rooms are searched, [the prison authorities] are transferring prisoners, isolating them for years. It is psychological torture. It is part of a revenge, a punishment mentality. To restrict [Palestinians] from their freedom is not enough.
And in a letter to me that I published on my blog last week, political prisoner Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and civil society leader currently held in Gilboa prison, described the actions preceding the transfer of prisoners:
The message of the prisoners was clear: (..) that Palestinian political prisoners are in solidarity, united and one voice. In addition, [the message was] that the case of Khader Adnan is not an individual case but it is matter to all Palestinian prisoners with all consequences and responsibility. On the other side, it was an act that strengthened the Palestinian prisoners internally, because this act was not for any service provision or benefit. It was for the solidarity with [a] fighter for freedom. It is a great moment. The motto of our action was that if we Palestinian political prisoners request others to express solidarity with us and to campaign for us, we should be in solidarity among ourselves.
Meanwhile, the support for the Palestinian political prisoners is growing. The call to make Palestinian Political Prisoners day – 17 April – a day of international action has been endorsed by more than sixty organizations. Mireille Fanon Mendès-France, member of the UN Working Group on People of African Descent, and Jan J. Wijenberg, Former Ambassador for the Kingdom of The Netherlands, have joined Richard Falk and Ahmed Kathrada in adding weight to the international campaign. The call has been published in several languages and can be endorsed online.