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Human Rights Groups Call for Immediate Transfer of Hunger Strikers to Civilian Hospitals

Call is for immediate intervention to provide all hunger strikers with unrestricted access to independent doctors.

Israel is holding Palestinian men, women and children in prison under 'administrative administration' which requires no evidence, no charges... and indefinite detainment.
Israel is holding Palestinian men, women and children in prison under 'administrative administration' which requires no evidence, no charges... and indefinite detainment.

(FREIDBURG, Germany) - As organisations dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, the Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organizations (PCHRO) and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) are gravely concerned for the lives of three Palestinian prisoners who remain on hunger strike in Israeli prison. Today (Wednesday, 6 June), Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi were visited by PHR-Israel’s independent doctor for the first time since they launched their hunger strikes.

Mahmoud Sarsak is currently on his 80th day of hunger strike, resulting in an imminent threat to his life. Despite the urgency of his condition, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has denied Mahmoud access to independent doctors from PHR-Israel until today. The IPS also refuses to transfer him to a civilian hospital for proper treatment. Following today’s visit, the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Mahmoud has experienced extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. He has lost 33 per cent of his body weight, from an original weight of 76 kilos down to his present weight of 51 kilos. He also suffers from frequent incidents of fainting and loss of consciousness, in addition to lapses in memory. The doctor further reported that Mahmoud is in danger of pulse disruptions (arrhythmias) that are endangering his life.

Mahmoud, 25 years old and a member of the Palestinian national football team, has been detained for nearly three years under Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law”, which allows for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to be detained for an unlimited amount of time without charge or trial. Those detained under the Statute have little or no legal protection, even less than those detained under administrative detention orders in the West Bank.

Also of utmost concern is the condition of Akram Rikhawi, currently on his 56th day of hunger strike. PHR-Israel has made numerous requests to gain access to Akram but all have been denied until today. Following today’s visit, the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Akram also already suffers from extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. His weight has decreased from 68 kilos to 50 kilos, which is a total loss of 26.5 per cent. The PHR-Israel doctor determined that a combination of inflammation of prior chronic illnesses and the complications of hunger strike render hospitalisation necessary immediately.

Akram has been held in the Ramleh prison medical centre since his arrest in 2004, as he suffers from many different chronic conditions, including diabetes and asthma. He began his hunger strike on 12 April in protest against his request for early release not being granted despite his medical condition. Yesterday, 5 June, his appeal for an early release on medical grounds was rejected. The IPS doctors’ threats to force-feed and force-treat him, in addition to their determination not to recommend his medical condition as worthy of earlier release from prison, has led Akram to regard them with deep distrust. Thus, he often refuses to receive treatment for his chronic illnesses, or the complications they generate.

PHR-Israel’s independent doctor recommended strongly that both Mahmoud and Akram be transferred immediately to a hospital, as they are at immediate risk of death. These recommendations were given directly to the IPS doctor present with him during the visit. It should be emphasised that contrary to medical ethics and professional standards, the IPS refused the request of the independent doctor to go over the full medical files of both Mahmoud and Akram. He stated that according to the limited information accessible to him, the medical follow-up they have been receiving is insufficient both in frequency and scope.

A third Palestinian prisoner also remains on hunger strike. Samer Al-Barq, 38 years old, has been held in administrative detention, without charge or trial, since 11 July 2010. He is currently held in Ramleh prison medical centre. Samer participated in the Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike from 17 April until 14 May. He re-launched his hunger strike on 21 May in protest against the renewal of his administrative detention order in spite of an understanding in the agreement that ended the mass hunger strike, which implied that current administrative detainees would not have their orders renewed.

While administrative detention is allowed under international humanitarian law, it must be used only under exceptional circumstances as it infringes upon basic human rights, including the right to a fair trial. Indeed, the denial of a fair trial constitutes a “grave breach” of the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the most serious forms of war crimes. This form of arbitrary arrest also contravenes Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, the European Parliament called on Israel in a September 2008 resolution to “guarantee that minimum standards on detention be respected, to bring to trial all detainees, [and] to put an end to the use of ‘administrative detention orders’.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated several times that prolonged administrative detention is likely to result in the exposure of detainees to “torture, ill-treatment and other violations of human rights”.

Given the critical health condition of the hunger strikers and the fact that Mahmoud

Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi face imminent death, the PCHRO and PHR-Israel:

  • Demand that all hunger strikers in advanced stages are moved immediately to civilian hospitals where they can receive the standard of care necessary;
  • Call for immediate intervention for the IPS to provide all hunger strikers with unrestricted access to independent doctors;
  • Demand that all hunger strikers are allowed family visits;
  • Urge the Member States of the United Nations to put pressure on Israel urgently to end its policy of arbitrary detention and to abide by the standard rules for the treatment of prisoners adopted in 1955, which set out what is generally accepted as being decent principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners;
  • Call on the European Parliament to activate the parliamentary fact-finding mission that includes members of its Subcommittee on Human Rights to investigate the conditions of detention of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons;
  • Emphasise that the parliamentary fact-finding mission must include an investigation into Israel’s illegal practice of administrative detention and the use of the “Unlawful Combatant Law”;
  • Urge Members of the European Parliament to bring the case of all three hunger strikers to the attention of relevant Israeli authorities without delay.

The Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organisations and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel:

Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association
Sahar Francis
General Director

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel
Ran Cohen
Executive Director

Shawan Jabarin
General Director

Aldameer Association for Human Rights
Khalil Abu Shammala
General Director

Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Najwa Darwish
General Director

Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights
Issam Younis
General Director

Ensan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy
Shawqi Issa
General Director
Defence for Children International
Palestine Section
Rifat Kassis
General Director

Jerusalem Centre for Legal Aid and Human Rights
Issam Aruri
General Director

Hurryyat – Centre for Defence of Liberties and Civil Rights
Helmi Al-Araj
General Director

Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling
Maha Abu Dayyeh
General Director

Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies
Iyad Barghouti
General Director


OPEN LETTER by Felicity Arbuthnot

The Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt, M.P.,
Under Secretary of State,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office,
King Charles Street,
London SW1A 2AH.

Dear Mr Burt,

Re: Mahmoud al Sarsak.

As Minister with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa, the plight of Palestinians both held without trial, legal representation and on hunger strike in Israeli jails, is surely of deep concern to you.

According to the New York based National Lawyers Guild, the whole basis of administrative detention: “ ... is practiced by Israel in an unlawful way.” They quote Human Rights Watch which states: “The idea that you can lock up hundreds of people at any given time and over the years hundreds and thousands without any due process rights, really turns human rights law on its head.” (Executive Director, Heidi Boghosian, letter to Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, 21st May 2012.)

One such victim is Mahmoud al Sarsak (25) a Palestinian professional footballer, who has been held for nearly three years without trial. He is on the eighty first day of his hunger strike of desperation, as I write.

Bobby Sands, whose death – under the last Conservative government - with others, will ever scar Britain’s reputation across the globe, died on the sixty sixth day of his ultimate sacrifice for justice.

As a former Officer of Conservative Friends of Israel, who as recently as April addressed CFI’s Annual Delegates Reception, ahead of their welcoming luncheon for the new Israeli Ambassador, Daniel Taub, with Foreign Secretary William Hague - a Conservative Friend of Israel since the age of sixteen - you are exceptionally placed diplomatically to talk to the Ambassador and relevant others regarding this tragic and illegal state of affairs.

The UK government has suffered the approbation and fall-out from a parallel situation, thus is on a level playing field – or jail yard - so to speak.

Further, as both a passionate football supporter and having led a political cross Party campaign for rights and freedom for Gilad Shalit, few could be better placed to speak for others incarcerated without rights.

Mahmoud Sarsak was arrested on 22nd July 2009, traveling from Gaza to the West Bank for a Palestinian National Team match. He is one of four thousand four hundred arbitrarily detained prisoners held in “appalling conditions.” His weight has dropped from sixty five kg to forty kg.

Yesterday, Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) were finally allowed to send a doctor in to assess him. Their Report expresses extreme fear for his life, as that of fellow hunger striker Akram al Rekhawi, who has refused food for fifty six days.

Mr al Sarsak’s family have not been allowed to see him since his arrest and he cannot telephone them.

There are also twenty seven Palestinian Parliamentarians and two Ministers being held.

You will be aware of the Parliamentary Early Day Motion of 9th May 2012, sponsored by Jeremy Corbyn. MP., regarding Administrative Detention in Palestine, which has been signed by MPs of all Parties. It quotes the distinguished international law expert and UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, who has: “ … called on the international community to act to ensure that Israel complies with international human rights law, which it is currently violating with impunity …”

Time is truly running out for those on hunger strike, there is literally not a moment to waste. Silence is complicity. For the British government to remain silent and bring no pressure to bear, effectively makes it party to a death penalty and the flouting of a swathe of international law including many Articles of the Geneva Convention.

Britain of course bears deep responsibility for the terrible plight of Palestinians in their increasingly diminished land, in their displacement, and destruction of homes, history and livelihood.

Foreign Minister William Hague’s historical predecessor, James Balfour however (2nd November 1917) was specific on one thing: "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine …”

Every right of the non-Jewish community has been ignored, abused, bombed, violated for sixty four years, with impunity and to silence from Israel’s creator, Britain.

Please, Minister, do not compound these unique historic wrongs by remaining silent, as young men prepare to die of despair. No better envoy for justice than a diplomat and a Friend of Israel.

Saving a life could be just a telephone call away.

Yours sincerely,

Felicity Arbuthnot. (Dr. Hon., Phil.)

- Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) She contributed this article to

Ramzy Baroud "War Rages on Palestinian Soccer: Free Mahmoud Sarsak"

Amnesty International

Karin Leukefeld "Haft nach Kolonialrecht"

Our special thanks to Gabi Weber and

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Anonymous June 7, 2012 9:35 pm (Pacific time)

All these threats. Let them starve, who cares. Sure saves a lot of money. Do you really think that anyone give a damn about them?

Editor: Far more than you could even begin to understand.  Have fun rotting in hell.

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