Pressure is mounting on Israel to release Palestinian prisoner Bilal Kayed as he passes 50 days on hunger-strike. Ruairí Gallagher reports.
Kayed, a leading member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), is being held under the punitive practice of ‘administrative detention’ after serving nearly 15 years in Israeli prisons. Aged 35, and from the city of Nablus in the West Bank, Kayed was imprisoned at the age of 19 during the Second Intifada for membership of the PFLP’s armed-wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, and for attempting to kidnap an Israeli soldier.
The PFLP, founded by George Habash in 1967, was the second-largest of political groups forming the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – the largest being Fatah. It once had close ties with the Soviet Union and during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s gained international notoriety when it pioneered armed aircraft hijackings. Leila Khaled is a well known member of the PFLP. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, and after the First Intifada and the Oslo Accords, the PFLP has sought new allies with Islamist groups, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah. Notably, Kayed had worked closely with Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, leading Hamas militant, who later was assassinated by Israel shortly before Kayed’s imprisonment.
On 13 June of this year, the day that Kayed was meant to be released from Ashkelon prison, the Israeli authorities continued to arbitrarily imprison him under a six-month administrative detention order. This is effectively internment without trial or charge. He has been on hunger-strike since 15 June in protest against this punitive measure.
Kayed is a prominent figure in the fight within Israeli prisons for prisoner-rights and played an integral role in the mass hunger-strikes in 2011. He has served his full sentence of 14.5 years; and has spent his last year in solitary confinement as punishment for organising prisoners. His enforced administrative detention was confirmed, on 5 July, by order of a military commander and under the directives of the unaccountable Shin Bet security services. Shin Bet operates in a similar fashion to the British MI5 or the American FBI.
Kayed refused to attend or recognise the legitimacy of this kangaroo-styled military court. Prisoners can spend years in administrative detention without knowing if they will be freed. Administrative detention orders, invented during the British-colonial-era, are a grotesque practice because they are renewable, and Kayed’s case is seen as setting a dangerous precedent where the Israeli government can hold Palestinians for an indefinite period of time without showing any evidence justifying their detentions. The youngest administrative detainee is 16-year-old Hamza Hammond, and there is currently more than 400 Palestinian children imprisoned without charge. Kayed is one of approximately 715 Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial on the basis of ostensible secret evidence under administrative detention orders – 7000 Palestinians, in total, are currently incarcerated within occupation prisons.
On 19 June, prisoners of the PFLP widened their struggle in support of Kayed, and particularly since the beginning of July with open hunger-strikes. Over 100 Palestinian prisoners, predominantly within Megiddo prison, have gone on a rolling system of hunger-strikes. Some 50 prisoners go on hunger-strike for 10 days before another group of 50 prisoners go on a 10-day strike. Prisoners of the PFLP have also returned prison meals, and during roll call have defiantly shouted the name of Bilal Kayed as a challenge to the prison administration. Ahmad Sa’adat, General Secretary of the PFLP, will be the latest high-profile prisoner to join Kayed on open hunger-strike on Sunday 31 July.1
According to the prisoner rights group, Addameer, the Israeli prison regime has escalated its repression: PFLP prisoners have been stripped searched daily; family visits have been prohibited; raids on prisoner sections and confiscation of personal items are common practice; prisoners are often handed with monetary fines; as well as the isolation of some leaders of the PFLP from their comrades.2 Palestinian national leader, Marwan Barghouti, and PFLP leaders Wael Jaghoub and Salah Ali have all recently been placed in solitary confinement.
After a month since embarking on hunger-strike, Kayed’s health quickly deteriorated. He has been transferred from isolation in Ashkelon prison to Barzilali Hospital, where he is currently shackled hand and foot to his hospital bed, and under armed surveillance. As momentum increases for a settlement, protests in support of the hunger-strikers have been repeatedly organised in Ramallah, Gaza, and elsewhere in Palestine, as well as smaller protests in cities internationally. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement, which comprises all of the prominent Palestinian political parties in Israeli prisons, have also pledged unwavering support and involvement in protest actions to demand Kayed’s and the Palestinian prisoners’ freedom.
Kayed needs urgent medical attention because his health has deteriorated and he now suffers from short periods of blindness and severe headaches. On the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Irish hunger-strikes in the H-Blocks for political status, the Socialist Workers Party in Ireland sends our solidarity to Bilal Kayed and the Palestinian hunger-strikers. We join the international demand for Kayed’s immediate release, for an end to Israel’s administrative detention policy and for the release of all those held unjustly in occupation prisons.