With their right to visit their relatives in prisons denied, families of Palestinian prisoners have to endure only a hazy information supply on the conditions of their relatives. Due to the ongoing siege of the Gaza strip, the only way for families to express their concerns is a weekly protest before the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza, and more recently, a solidarity tent, erected after the series of hunger strikes took off in Israeli prisons.
For over 82 days, Mahmoud Al Sarsak ↑ , a member of the Palestinian national football team, has been on hunger strike in protest at his 3-year detention in Israeli prisons. The Palestinian footballer was heading to Balata Refugee camp in the West Bank after obtaining an Israeli Permit to cross the Erez checkpoint when he was transferred by the Israeli authorities to Ashkelon prison instead of being allowed as he expected to cross to the West Bank to join the Palestinian national team there. He has since been detained under Israel’s ‘Unlawful Combatants Law’, which permits the detention of Palestinians from the Gaza strip for unlimited periods of time and with no charges or trials. Those detained under the law are provided with no legal protection and their legal status is even worse than those detained under administrative detention in the West Bank.
Sarsak’s health is deteriorating as he’s now lost over one third of his body weight to weigh less than a hundred pounds, turning his dream of pursuing his career in football into a much more nightmarish possibility. Despite his rapid deterioration, Israel still refuses to transform Sarsak to a civilian hospital for proper treatment in response to the calls of over 12 human rights organizations. Sarsak, along with Akram Rikhawi ↑ who has been on hunger strike for over sixty days, issued an appeal from Israel’s Ramle Prison where they are detained at the moment, which was published by the Addameer human rights organization. Sarsak pleads for immediate action:
“There is still enough time to act. Solidarity which comes late is better than that which never comes. It is better to receive us alive and victorious now than dead in black bags later.”
The determination of Sarsak to go on with his hunger strike reflects his desperation at such prolonged and unjustifiable incarceration, after his detention was renewed six times with no charges filed against him.
Sarsak’s struggle runs in parallel with the first Palestinian mass prisoner’s hunger strike which began on April 17 as an outcry against the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Israeli Prison Service against Palestinian prisoners. On May 14, an agreement was reached between the Israeli Prison Service ↑ and the Higher Committee for Prisoners: the mass hunger strike would end in return for meeting their demands, including the end of administrative detention. The failure of Israel to comply with this agreement has resulted in the continuation of individual hunger strikes, including that of Sarsak.
The issues regarding Palestinian prisoners and the grave violations of their rights are hardly ever brought to the attention of the media. It is hard to convey the intensity of Israel’s daily practices against the entirety of the Palestinians. Only through unrelenting hunger strikes have Palestinian prisoners somehow found a voice that might reach out to the world to speak of their suffering. They have nothing but their frail bodies to speak of this injustice.