by Alistair George
5 October 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank
Over 100 students from Bir Zeit University marched to the gates of Ofer Prison, near Ramallah today, to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.
Prisoners in several Israeli jails began hunger strikes on 27 September 2011 to to protest against solitary confinement, restricted visiting hours and harsh conditions. The protests have since gathered momentum, with Reuters reporting that there are around 500 prisoners currently on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. It is thought that there are around 9 or 10 prisoners in Ofer prison on hunger strike.
The protesters assembled in front of the prison gates at around 1:15pm today, facing Israeli soldiers standing a few metres away just inside the prison compound. The protesters peacefully chanted slogans in support of the prisoners; however, after the majority of protesters had left, a minority of youths threw stones at the Israeli soldiers inside the prison compound. The military responded by deploying tear gas to drive the remaining protesters several hundred meters away from the prison.
The students’ protest followed an earlier demonstration at the prison at 12:00 today, which eyewitnesses claimed was attended by around 200 people and ended in a similar manner; with a minority of Palestinian youths throwing stones and the Israeli military responding with tear gas.
A young female protester from Birzeit University had been protesting peacefully and was hit in the back by a tear gas canister but was unharmed. She expressed concern about the Israeli military’s practice of filming peaceful protests; “I live in Jerusalem and I worry that they will identify me and cause problems for me when I travel through the checkpoint.”
One of the protesters was the mother of a 23 year old Palestinian man who is a student at Birzeit University and is currently being held in an Israeli prison. She said that her son was arrested eight months ago and has spent the last nine days in solitary confinement as punishment for participating in the hunger strike. She also claimed that prison authorities have ruled that prisoners will be denied visitors for one month for every day that they spend on hunger strike.
When asked about the prisoners on hunger strike she said, “They won’t stop until their goals are reached.”
She expressed defiance against the Israeli occupation.
“I’ve lived under occupation for more than 40 years–I am not scared.”
Alistair George is an activist with International Solidarity Movement (name has been changed).