The two-month hunger strike by Palestinian administrative detainees in Israel has come to an end, the Israel Prisons Service confirmed Wednesday. At the moment 75 hunger strikers remain at nine hospitals in Israel, where they had been brought a month ago for observation.
According to the Prisons Service, the hunger strikers received no significant concessions to induce them to bring their action to an end, other than an assurance that they would not face disciplinary action for the protest. Prison conditions will not be improved beyond what is required by law, and punitive measures enacted following the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank earlier this month will not be rescinded.
There are three major assessments as to why the prisoners called off the strike.
One is the expected passing of a law allowing the force-feeding
of hunger-strikers. Another is the day-long fasting of the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Saturday. The third is the belief that following the abduction of the teenagers and amid the IDF operation in the West Bank – which has seen hundreds more Palestinians arrested and placed in administrative detention – the strikers saw no likelihood that Israel would examine the issue of administrative detention in the near future.
“They realized that no one’s going to talk to them about administrative detentions right now and they’re not going to get anything,” a Prisons Service official said Wednesday.
Since the June 12 abductions, the Prisons Service has adopted a package of punitive measures against security prisoners, including new limits on their monthly commissary privileges, TV viewing and family visits. It said the steps were taken following instructions from the government.
The agreement to end the strike came two days after the Knesset delayed a second vote on the force-feeding bill, as per the demand of Yesh Atid and its leader, Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Two weeks ago, the Knesset passed the first reading of the legislation, which would allow force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners on an individual basis only with the approval of a district judge and only if a doctor says the prisoner’s life is in danger.
The hunger strike that ended Wednesday began on April 24 among a group of 90 prisoners in administrative detention, a controversial practice in which people can be held for suspicion of involvement in security offenses without actually being charged. Potentially, they can be held indefinitely without seeing the charges or evidence against them. Prior to the West Bank abductions and resulting security operation there were about 200 prisoners in administrative detention in Israel.
The hunger strike swelled in the ensuing weeks, with other security prisoners joining intermittently. At times their numbers reached into the hundreds, but with the abductions they steadily declined.
Hunger strikes are a common method of protest by Palestinian security prisoners.
They have the tendency to spark solidarity protests among Palestinians outside prison walls.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, whose ministry oversees the Prisons Service, said the hunger strike had been given top priority and that from the beginning the strategy had been “to preserve human life and strengthen our determined stance of not compromising and not allowing the prisoners to achieve their goals through the pressure of a hunger strike.”
He added that the end of the strike was an important “milestone” for the State of Israel in terms of its application of administrative detention, which he called “one of Israel’s tools for defending itself.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday welcomed the end of the hunger strike, praising Aharonovitch and Prisons Services Commissioner Aharon Franco for the “determined and professional way” in which they ended the strike.
Before a meeting with Italian Senate president Pietro Grasso, Netanyahu said: “We staked out a clear policy that brought about this important result, and we will continue now to add additional measures that will ensure fewer prisoner strikes in the future.”
Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu), however, said the Prisons Service should not have made an agreement with the prisoners.
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” the MK said. “If they want to die, they can die. The Prisons Service’s job is to stop being afraid of security detainees and start treating them harshly, like in any other country in the world.”Herb Keinon and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.