A Hebron man demonstrates in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in protest at being held in administrative detention.
(photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)
The state on Wednesday folded before the High Court of Justice, speedily reinstating Palestinian security prisoner hunger strikers’ access to their lawyers.
After ignoring a letter from an NGO last Wednesday demanding that lawyer visiting privileges be reinstated for hunger striking prisoners lest the NGO petition the High Court, the state gave in without a High Court ruling.
The NGO, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said that Justice Hanan Melcer at the outset of Wednesday’s hearing asked the state if there was any basis for avoiding an interim conditional order against it, and how it could justify blocking legal consultations only against hunger- striking prisoners and not against non-hunger striking prisoners.
Rather than presenting defenses to these questions, the state essentially agreed to reinstate access to legal counsel to the hunger-strikers, although with conditions that the consultations be only for professional legal needs and not political purposes.
Asked to explain the rapid turn of events, neither the Justice Ministry nor Public Security Gilad Erdan, who had publicly pushed the cutting of access to lawyers, accounted for the fast swing, but the provision about not using legal consultations for political purposes seemed to be key to their agreement.
In the April 26 Adalah letter to Solicitor-General Osnat Mendel, the NGO said that since the hunger strike started on April 17, that the prisoners’ lawyers’ requests to visits clients have been systematically blocked: either formally or by a string of seemingly planned logistical “oversights.”
On April 17, 1,500 Palestinian security prisoners started a hunger strike to protest what they called inhumane treatment and restrictions in the prisons, including denial of the right to use the prison telephones, as well as the justice system’s treatment of them in general.
Adalah stated that even where lawyers have followed all proper procedures and obtained Prisons Service approvals for their visits in advance, that upon their arrival to a prison to visit their clients, Prisons Service personnel have blocked them from visiting, essentially to punish the hunger strikers.
It said that such a punitive policy is illegal.
Further, Adalah said that “the job of lawyers is to defend the rights of the prisoners, and therefore, preventing meetings takes away from the prisoners the guarantors who defend their constitutional rights, including defense of their bodies, the right to dignity and access to judicial oversight.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians including a number of officials took to Ramallah’s al-Tira district on Wednesday, to support the hunger strikers.
The protesters, standing beside a tall statute of former South African president Nelson Mandela and holding flags featuring the face of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who was convicted of and is in prison for the murders of four Israelis and a Greek monk, and for an additional attempted murder, called on Israel to accept the prisoners’ demands.
The hunger strikers are demanding that the Prisons Service end detention without trial and solitary confinement, increase visitation rights, and improve amenities.