Published on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 by Reuters
No Hospitals for Palestinian Hunger Strike - Israel
by Dan Williams
JERUSALEM - Israel declared its hospitals off-limits on Tuesday to the 2,800 Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli prisons, saying they could be treated in makeshift facilities behind bars if taken ill.
"I am not prepared for there to be a situation where the lives of patients and medical teams are endangered in our hospitals as a result of us having to admit these murderers," Health Minister Danny Naveh told Army Radio.
"If a field hospital has to be set up at a Prisons Service installation, then that is what should be done," Naveh said.
Israeli Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, like Naveh a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud party, said last week he didn't care if the prisoners starved to death.
Seen by Palestinians as symbols of resistance to Israeli occupation, the inmates at 10 jails are refusing food to force wardens to stop strip searches, allow more frequent family visits, improve sanitation and install public telephones.
Israeli officials call the liquids-only fast that began on August 15 a ploy by prisoners to secure easier communication with militant groups waging a four-year-old Palestinian revolt.
About 7,000 Palestinians taken into custody in security sweeps are held by Israel. Among the inmates are those who openly identify with Islamic groups sworn to its destruction, and thus elicit little sympathy among the Israeli public.
Hisham Abdel-Razek, the Palestinian minister for prisoners affairs, called Naveh's comments "inhuman and arrogant."
"Israel is behaving like a state above the law and Israeli ministers are acting as if they are above Israeli law," Abdel-Razek told Reuters.
A Prisons Service spokesman said Israel had warned the prisoners in a leaflet they could be force-fed if critically ill, but that daily examinations found no serious health problems yet.
"None of the prisoners has required anything more than basic health care," the spokesman, Ofer Leffler, said. "In fact, at least 124 of the prisoners have already broken the strike."
Businesses and government offices across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Palestinians want for a state, closed on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with the prisoners. Many of their relatives are also fasting.
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CHALLENGE
A leading human rights group said jailors may have accelerated the debilitating effects of the fast by confiscating salt and other canteen products from striking prisoners' cells.
"Salt is important," said Shabtai Gold of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which has offered to monitor strikers. "People have died from this ... In the upcoming period, if the strike continues, there will be health problems."
The Prisons Service said withholding inmate privileges was among tactics learned from Britain's handling of hunger strikes by jailed Northern Irish militants in the 1970s and 1980s.
Officials said they also planned to barbecue meat outside the cells to try to break the prisoners' spirit.
Challenging Naveh, Gold said: "If the prisoner is at the stage of needing medical care, how dangerous can he be? I don't know. You have security guards ... They can put them in a special ward, in a separate room.
"But they have to allow them into the hospital."
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd