President Abbas’ Letter Delivered As Prisoners Begin Hunger Strike – OpEd

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President Mahmoud Abbas’ letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlining the Palestinian conditions for a return to negotiations was handed in on April 7. The Palestinian delegation was headed by PLO executive committee member and negotiator Saeb Erekat in a reported last-minute change in the delegation’s makeup. Reports had previously circulated about Prime Minister Salam Fayyad heading it. The leadership remained mum on the reasons behind the change, saying Fayyad was busy with Prisoners’ Day activities, with Netanyahu also reportedly saying “the letter, and not the messenger is what’s important.”

Israel received the letter and said it would respond in two weeks’ time. The Palestinians, who are not expecting any positive response from Netanyahu or his right-wing government, have warned that they have devised an alternative plan to negotiations with Israel, including a return to their UN bid for recognition.

On April 21, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad are scheduled to meet with US envoy David Hale in Ramallah to discuss the stalled peace talks and other developments.

Hamas, however, has plans other than reaching a comprehensive peace with Israel. While the PA continues to maintain that it is committed to peace with Israel and negotiations on fair grounds, on April 20th, Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouq said any future Hamas government would not be bound by any peace treaty between President Abbas and Israel. Speaking to the US newspaper “The Forward”, Abu Marzouk rather proposed a “hudna” or truce between Israel and Palestine, similar to Israel’s arrangement with Lebanon and Syria.

“It’s better than war and better than the continuous resistance against the occupation. And better than Israel occupying the West Bank and Gaza, making all these difficulties and problems on both sides.”

The President’s letter was delivered on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, which Palestinians mark every April 17. This year was unique in that 1,600 prisoners marked the day with an open hunger strike protesting prison conditions and administrative detention. Israeli Prison Services have said 1,200 prisoners were on strike but Palestinians put the number higher, with more scheduled to join gradually.

On April 18, the Ministry of Prisoner Affairs said Israel had tightened procedures against prisoners on hunger-strike including putting detainees in solitary confinement without electricity. Prisoners in Ashkelon jail said detainees were threatened with transfer to a new section, and banned family visits.

Amnesty International expressed concern with the punitive measures Israel has taken against the hunger strikers. “We remain very concerned about reports that detainees have been denied access to independent doctors, and that some have been punished because of their decision to go on hunger strike — including by being placed in isolation, fined, or otherwise ill-treated by Israel Prison Services officers,” Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Ann Harrison said.

Two prisoners, Bilal Thiab and Thaer Halahleh have been on hunger strike for 54 days and are in the Ramleh Prison Hospital, in isolation. Rights groups and the men’s attorneys have demanded that they be transferred to a civilian hospital for treatment, a demand that has been refused by Israel.

Also on April 17, Khader Adnan, the famed hunger striker who went without food for 66 days returned home after his long battle ended in a deal for his release on this day. Adnan first visited homes of other prisoners on hunger strike before returning to his hometown of Arrabeh, near Jenin.

In Jerusalem, Israel has taken a number of measures that have angered Palestinians. On April 19, Israeli authorities banned the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem entry into the Aqsa Mosque compound under the pretext that his sermons were ‘incitement’. Sabri said the decision was “arbitrary and illegal,” and made under pressure from extremist Jewish groups.

The decision came a day after Egypt’s Mufti Ali Gomaa’ visited the Aqsa in a move that has split Palestinians down the middle. While the PA and leadership have welcomed the visit, saying it showed support for Jerusalem and its people in the face of Israel’s judaization attempts, others including the Islamic Jihad and Hamas criticized it, saying it was “normalization’ with the occupation. Gomaa’ himself, said the visit was personal and that he entered the West Bank through Jordan, adding that Israel did not even stamp his passport.

Also on the 18th Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family from their home in Beit Hanina, a suburb of Jerusalem, shortly before Jewish settlers moved in. Family member Khaled Natsheh said Israeli police ordered him and his 10-member family to leave their home after which he was taken to a police station while officers removed furniture and the family’s belongings from the house. Ten Jewish settlers have since occupied the home.

UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard condemned Israel’s eviction in a statement. “Evictions of Palestinians from their homes and properties in occupied territory contravene international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, and should cease,” he said.

In the West Bank on April 19, Israeli soldiers shot 18-year-old shepherd Yasir Kaabnah in the chest during military training exercises in the northern Jordan Valley near Wadi al-Maleh. Palestinian medical officials said soldiers refused to help the wounded teenager, who was taken in a private car to hospital. He is now at the Rafadea Hospital in Nablus, where he is in a critical condition.

On April 18, 27-year-old Rinad Qudeih was shot and wounded in the southern Gaza Strip after being hit in the head by shots fired from Israeli soldiers stationed in a military tower. Qudeih was working in her family’s field when she was shot.

Another video surfaced on April 20 of the Israeli officer who slammed an M-16 in the face of a Danish protester. The original video showed Shalom Eisner, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli army violently hitting Andreas Ias with his gun during a bike tour on April 14 in the Jordan Valley. This video shows the officer hitting at least five other foreign activists in the same event.

“We were just walking slowly towards the soldiers, we were chanting Palestinian songs calling for the liberation of Palestine. I don’t believe that is a provocation,” Ias told Israel’s Channel 10 television, which originally aired the video. The officer was dismissed from his post as damage control to protect the army’s image.

On April 18, Prime minister Fayyad met with Ias in Ramallah, during which he condemned the attack and all of Israel’s “continuous violations” against foreign activists.

“When we talk about Israeli violations against out people, we won’t forget the attack on Andreas, who arrived in solidarity, nor the Israeli and international campaign to play down the attack,” Fayyad said.

Israel received more bad press throughout last week as it banned over 1,000 foreign activists from entering the country as part of the Welcome to Palestine Campaign. On April 15, Israeli police said 43 activists were denied entry at Ben-Gurion Airport; 31 were transferred to the Givon detention center and 12 were deported to their country of origin. Nine activists who protested at the airport were also held for investigation.

Only two managed to slip through the cracks. A 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian descent, told Haaretz that she and the other activists were “treated like criminals or terrorists, despite the fact that we made it clear that we came for peaceful purposes.”

Established in Jerusalem in December 1998, with Hanan Ashrawi as its Secretary-General, MIFTAH seeks to promote the principles of democracy and good governance within various components of Palestinian society; it further seeks to engage local and international public opinion and official circles on the Palestinian cause.

To that end, MIFTAH adopts the mechanisms of an active and in-depth dialogue, the free flow of information and ideas, as well as local and international networking.

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