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Palestinians seek UN, EU action against Israel over detainees

Published time: June 11, 2014 19:59
Palestinians hold pictures of detainees being held in Israeli prisons since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords as they protest against the postponement of the release of the prisoners outside the gates of Ofer prison, near the West Bank town of Betunia (AFP Photo / Abbas Momani)

Palestinians hold pictures of detainees being held in Israeli prisons since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords as they protest against the postponement of the release of the prisoners outside the gates of Ofer prison, near the West Bank town of Betunia (AFP Photo / Abbas Momani)

A senior Palestinian politician has sent letters to the EU and UN Security Council calling for international action against Israel over the detention without charge of Palestinian prisoners, 130 of whom are taking part in a long-term hunger strike.

The call was made through a letter issued on Tuesday, which was sent to all members of the European Union, Brazil, South Africa, and India, as well as to all UN Security Council members with the exception of permanent member Australia, which recently stopped referring to east Jerusalem as “occupied” – a move that infuriated Palestinian leadership.

“I am writing on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President Mahmud Abbas to request your immediate intervention on behalf of the approximately 130 Palestinian detainees and prisoners currently on hunger strike in Israeli prisons,” Saeb Erakat, head of the Negotiations Division of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and chief negotiator with Israel in the failed peace talks, said in the letter, as quoted by AFP.

“We call on you to call on Israel to annul the policy of administrative detention and to condition deepening your bilateral ties with Israel pending fulfillment of all its obligations,” he continued.

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) said there are 250 inmates refusing food, 90 of whom have refused for over six weeks. Seventy-five of those have been hospitalized. This is the longest ever mass hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, according to IPS spokeswoman Sivan Weizman.

Haaretz reported on Monday that the Israeli Health Ministry is taking a particularly tough stance on the hunger strikers.

Last week, stringent restrictions were placed on visits to the hospitals where strikers are being held. Dozens of requests for visits by Doctors for Human Rights, the strikers’ lawyers, and even their families were rejected.

As many as 5,000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails. Nearly 200 of them are in what is known as administrative detention.

Administrative detention is the process where military courts can hold suspects without charge for up to six months – a period which can also be renewed indefinitely. The procedure – which is reminiscent to the way inmates are held at Guantanamo Bay – dates back to the pre-1948 British mandate.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for the striking prisoners to either be charged or released immediately.

But in Israel, a bill is working its way through the legislature to enable doctors to force-feed hunger strikers against their will – just like what happened at Guantanamo Bay last year during a hunger strike which lasted several months.

The Israeli parliament Monday approved the bill for its first reading, but it still has to go through a series of debates at the committee stage and two further plenum votes before it can become law.

The draft law is already kicking up a lot of opposition – not only among Arab, liberal, and left-wing lawmakers, but from the Israel Medical Association (IMA), which has already urged Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to block it.

The association warned in a letter to him that the bill is “in total contradiction to internationally accepted medical ethics,” as well as Israel’s medical code.

It added that “we can’t accept a law that places doctors in a battle they should have no part of, in total contrast to their professional and ethical duties.”

“The proposed law is wrong ethically and professionally, it won’t only damage the patients and their medical condition, but also Israel’s world standing,” said the letter. The document was signed by Doctor Leonid Edelman, head of the IMA, and Professor Avionam Reches, chairman of the association's ethics bureau.