Jewish and Arab demonstrators clashed in Ashkelon in front of the Barzilai Medical Center as Palestinian hunger-striker Bilal Kayyid entered the 57th day of his campaign on Tuesday.
Ten Jews and three Arabs were arrested Tuesday night. Among those were six juveniles and two adults who allegedly assaulted police officers.
Dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including Joint List MKs Haneen Zoabi, Taleb Abu Arar, and Ahmad Tibi were present with a few Jewish supporters in order to show support for Kayyid, who was placed under administrative detention on June 15.
Under administrative detention, Palestinians are detained based on undisclosed evidence without charge or trial. According to the IDF, administrative detention is only used when necessary for imperative security reasons, while Palestinians and human rights groups criticize the policy as illegal and inhumane.
Jewish residents of Ashkelon organized a counter-protest, which included members of the far-right Lehava organization and its director, Ben-Zion Gopstein.
Large police forces were deployed and police created a buffer zone in order to prevent contact between the protests camps. However, police attempts were unsuccessful as protesters on both sides left their designated protest zones and some Jewish demonstrators threw rocks at police.
Zoabi criticized the police treatment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. She told The Jerusalem Post that demonstrators were “imprisoned” behind fences, while counter-protesters “who came to attack and to incite against the demonstrators were allowed to demonstrate at the intersection near the main street with no fences and no restrictions on movement.”
A police spokesperson said the police actions at the event were impartial and without political consideration.
“Standing in front of our eyes is only the public interests, while finding the correct balance between the fundamental right of freedom of expression and protest and maintaining public safety.”
Vlad Roitberg, an Ashkelon resident, said the counter-protest served to “help us maintain our dignity as citizens of the State of Israel and our status as Jews in Israel.”
Roitberg did not call for violence, however, he stated, “it is very possible that there will be more tough resistance, difficult both physically and mentally.”
Head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society Qadura Fares said Kayyid will continue his hunger strike “until some sort of agreement or negotiation is reached with the Israelis.”
Fares said Kayyid is in critical condition, stating, “if the Israelis continue to be close-minded he will soon die.”
Kayyid was sentenced in 2002 to 14 and a half years in prison for his affiliation with the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel, the European Union and United States have labeled a terrorist group.
He was to be released on June 15, but Israeli authorities immediately placed him under administrative detention.
As Kayyid enters the 57th day of his hunger strike his health has significantly deteriorated. According to an AFP report, Kayyid’s vision is failing and doctors warned that he is at risk of stroke.
Palestinian prisoners regularly undertake hunger strikes to protest their detentions. In May, Muhammad al-Qiq was released on the 94th day of his hunger strike.
According to Addameer, a Jerusalem- based Palestinian NGO focusing on Palestinian prisoner issues, as of May, there were some 7,000 Palestinian in Israeli prisons, including 715 being held under administrative detention.