Palestinian prisoners in hunger strike

Bilal Kayed’s hunger strike has unified and reinvigorated Palestinian and Arab demands for radical justice in Palestine.

On June 13th, Israeli occupation authorities transferred Palestinian political prisoner Bilal Kayed to six months of administrative detention upon the completion of his 14-year sentence to Israeli prison. Two days later, Kayed launched an open-ended hunger strike in protest of his successive detainment.

Though Kayed’s administrative detention order was slated to expire in six months, Israeli authorities can renew it indefinitely. The Israeli legal system sanctions the renewal of an administrative detention order the same way that it grants its initial approval : without evidence, charges, or trial. Administrative detention orders are based on secret evidence provided by Israeli intelligence. Though there are at least 750 administrative detainees in Israeli prison, Kayed’s case marks the first time that Israel has used this draconian measure against a prisoner immediately after he or she completed a lengthily prison term.

Kayed’s struggle for freedom gained momentum recently when Ahmad Saadat, the general secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), joined Kayed’s hunger strike on July 31st. Saadat’s participation in the prisoners’ movement marks the first time that an official from a Palestinian party participated in a hunger strike in Israeli prison. Many in Palestine are describing his decision as reflective of a true leader.

Following Saadat’s participation in the hunger strike, hundreds of other PFLP prisoners committed to hunger striking with Kayed. Israeli authorities quickly transferred Saadat to solitary confinement, but their attempt to silence him only galvanized the prisoners’ movement. Even now, the number of participants in the hunger strike increases every day.

Saadat’s participation in Kayed’s hunger strike also prompted solidarity hunger strikes by political prisoners in other countries. In France, George Abdallah, a Lebanese political prisoner, went on a three-day hunger strike in solidarity with Kayed and all Palestinian political prisoners.

Leaders of the Tunisian Popular Front (TPF) initiated a hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners too. TPF Leader Zuhair Hamdi told al-Mayadeen TV : “we are striking to announce, as usual, our solidarity with Palestine and with the detainees, as we would like to send a message to Israel that your war is not only with the Palestinians but with all Arab peoples.” He added, « it is our message to the peoples of the world that the Palestinian issue is a humanitarian issue that stands as a justice issue. »

In Palestine, popular and political solidarity networks for the prisoners are increasing everyday – solidarity tents in all Palestinian cities are packed with Palestinians and international activists. Across the West Bank, pictures of detainees, especially of Kayed and Saadat, line the streets.

A youth standing next to a large poster of Kayed and Saadat in the West Bank city of Hebron said, « we have to see all the people struggling. The detainees must be a symbol of struggle, a confirmation of the heated conflict with the occupation, a reminder that Oslo has failed, and that Israel, which detains 7,000 Palestinians, does not want peace. » He added that the Palestinian Authority’s leadership “should support the people’s choice and abandon the failed illusion of peace.”

It is well known the plight of Palestinian political prisoners is a central concern of the Palestinian cause. Palestinians’ ongoing, unjust incarceration in Israeli prisons is like a ticking time bomb – occasionally the issue fades into the background of Palestinian politics, but it always remerges to restore Palestinian, Arab and international awareness of the reality in Palestine : the occupation, repression, killings, arrests, confiscation of lands, settlement expansion, and the people struggling for their freedom.

In the words of the PFLP, Kayed’s hunger strike constitutes a « revolution of consciousness in the face of a defeat of awareness. »

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Fondation Frantz Fanon