For more than 20 hours negotiations took place at the Ashkelon Prison in Israel where Issa Qaraqe (Chief of Prisoner Affairs) along with Qaddoura Fares (head of an association for prisoners) negotiated with strike leader Marwan Barghouti and successfully achieved 80% of their demands to improve humanitarian conditions.
The strike had reached it's 41 day threshold in which 1,800 prisoners stopped eating to draw attention to the crisis in the Israeli prisons and the dire and inhumane conditions they were facing. The prisoners had survived these last few weeks consuming nothing but sea salt and water to survive in order to make a bold statement. The hunger strike had escalated after 32 days when Barghouti began to refuse water altogether.
Once the hunger strike first began the Israeli prisons started enforcing even stricter policies, restricted family visits, stripped prisoners of clothing, forced them to consume warm water and relocated prisoners to various prisons which only strengthened their determination to continue the strike. Approximately 500 of the prisoners had never been charged with any crimes according to Addameer (a Prison Support and Human Rights Association).
Activists around the world showed their support for the prisoners including cafes in Gaza who stopped serving food and only provided sea salt and water. At other times Israeli agitators barbecued food near the prisons to torment the hunger strikers.
This victory for the imprisoned and their allies across the world sets the tone for fairer treatment of Palestinians and a need to respect their lives as their families are being torn apart and their lands are being stolen from them more and more every single day.
Demands that were negotiated on included the following items:
1. Expanding access to public telephones in order to communicate with family members, in accordance with agreed-upon mechanisms, with continuation of dialogue on this issue as a priority for prisoners in all prisons.
2. Agreement was reached on a range of issues relating to family visits; first, lifting the security ban on hundreds of family members of Palestinian prisoners, ending the practice of returning visitors holding permits and refusing their visits at checkpoints, and lifting an unjustified ban imposed on more than 140 children who had been banned by the prison administration from visiting their parents.
3. Giving an initial commitment to shorten the time between visits for Palestinian prisoners from Gaza, for a period of up to one month instead of two months or more between visits.
4. Agreement was also reached on a number of issues related to the conditions of family visitation, including allowing the introduction of clothing and bags, and allowing prisoners to provide and share sweets with children and others.
5. Introducing new standards for visitation for relatives of the “second degree,” such as allowing the introduction of nephews and nieces during nursery school age and providing that prisoners whose fathers and mothers have died may add one or two additional more distant family members to their visitation list.
6. Providing formal approval for the return of the second monthly family visit according to the mechanism agreed upon between the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Authority.
7. Reaching an agreement on the Ramle prison clinic, to return the ill prisoners to the larger “old” section of the prison, which has been renovated.
8. Agreement was reached on issues related to the conditions of women prisoners, including the inclusion of all prisoners in HaSharon prison, adjustments to the visit process with family members, husbands and children, the introduction of handicraft materials, improvement of conditions of confinement, and establishment of a special transportation system, rather than the “bosta,” for transfer to and from the courts.
9. On the issue of child prisoners, a number of issues were agreed upon to improve their conditions of confinement, access to education and related issues.
10. Agreement was reached on most issues related to the difficult conditions of life in Nafha prison.
11. On the issue of the sick prisoner patients held in the Ramle prison clinic, as noted above, to return the prisoners to the re-opened section with improved humanitarian conditions, as well as introducing a new system for the movement of these prisoners with private transportation, directly to and from the courts, rather than transiting through lengthy crossing points on the “Bosta.”
12. Distributing meals to prisoners in transit in the “Bosta” during transfers and allowing them access to use the toilet during this time.
13. Approving the establishment in every prison department of Palestinian “security prisoners” of a kitchen area for the preparation of food and the introduction of cooking equipment, rather than being in the same rooms with the prisoners.
14. Allowing photographs with parents once annually, or with a prisoner’s spouse. In the event of the prisoner’s father or mother’s death, the photograph could be taken with a brother or sister.
15. Introducing improvements to the “canteen” (prison store), with higher-quality goods availables, including fruits and vegetables, including molokhiyeh, and spices.
16. Introducing modern sports and recreation equipment in the recreation yards.
17. Solving the problem of overcrowding in the prison sections and resolving the problem of high temperatures through a system of ventilation and cooling.
18. Adding an ambulance to be equipped for use to transfer prisoners in urgent health emergencies, to be stationed at the Negev, Ramon and Nafha prisons, due to the fact that these prisons are far from hospitals.
19. Transferring prisoners to prisons closer to their families’ places of residence.