An agreement was reached on Monday between the representatives of Palestinian prisoners and Israel to end the collective hunger strike that had been going on for months inside Israeli jails. Israel apparently has 72 hours to implement the agreement, however, many of the details have yet to be released and a public inquiry of how the deal was formulated and by whom must still be addressed. A prisoner rights group, Addameer, has confirmed the end of the strike but said in a press release, “Until Addameer sees the written agreement, we do not know the status of other hunger strike demands, such as the use of solitary confinement as punishment and access to education.”
Over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners had been on a collective hunger strike since April 17, and eight others were on individual hunger strikes for much longer. Two prisoners, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, had gone without food for 77 days, the longest hunger strikes in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was not immediately clear whether the deal met the demand of the two for immediate release, or whether they had agreed to call off their strike with the rest. Other sources had claimed that no such deal had been reached, and that reports to that effect constitute efforts by the Palestinian Authority to hijack the hunger strike.
Early Tuesday morning more information was leaked that Thaer Halahleh had agreed after midnight to end his hunger strike in exchange for either being released or charged at the end of his administrative detention term, on June 5. He will spend the remainder of his detention order in a public hospital. This is very similar to the deal struck with Khader Adnan, the first to launch his hunger strike back on December 17, 2011, and who was released on April 17 after Israel failed to bring any evidence against him. Bilal Diab will be released in August.
Sources had reported the two prisoners as very close to death. Both official Israeli and Palestinian sources revealed that they were worried that the death of a prisoner could spark widespread unrest in the occupied territories and that they were working hastily on a deal.
It is still unclear what has been agreed to at this point. The hunger strike movement—which has been popularly labeled the Battle of Empty Stomachs—is two-pronged: contesting the policy of administrative detention and also the treatment of prisoners, including excessive solitary confinement, the denial of family visits and the right to seek an education in prison.
Administrative detention remains the major issue on the table and the reason for the hunger strike in the first place after Khader Adnan, a former prisoner, went 66 days without food until Israel released him on April 17.
Diab and Halahleh were also fighting administrative detention along with several other prisoners. The policy—which has its origins in the British Mandate period—allows Israel to detain Palestinians without charge or public evidence for periods of six months that can be renewed indefinitely.
A positive outcome of the hunger strikes has been renewed international focus on the issue of administrative detention and Palestinian prisoners in general. However, despite the dramatic effort made by the prisoners, there was very little international media attention given to the issue, considering its scale and potential impact. For many Palestinians, this may represent another example of wide scale acts of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, which are not met with international recognition–a prospect that further fuels Palestinian disillusionment.
Support has remained strong among Palestinian society during the months-long hunger strike movement that began in December 2011, but the mainstream public has not really galvanized. However, if one of the prisoners were to die, it is quite possible that Palestinian society would react more vocally. The prisoner issue is the most widely felt and supported issue within Palestinian society because nearly every family has had one or several members imprisoned since the Israeli occupation began in 1967.