- Published on Monday, 14 May 2012 14:01
Ella David for PNN
At 11am, Tuesday 8th May, around 300 people gathered in Bethlehem's Manger Square for a solidarity demonstration with the Palestinian hunger strikers who are being held in Israeli prisons.
Impassioned speeches were made, including four by local school children. Men and women sat quietly, some weeping, holding framed photographs of members of their family held in Israeli prisons.
Children from the age of 8 to 18 wearing school or scout uniforms also took part in the demonstration with many also holding photos of relatives or waving handwritten banners or flags.
Omar Ali, from Bethlehem asked if he could tell me about his three cousins who are in prison. They are all participating in the mass hunger strike and are being held in Nakab Desert prison in Southern Israel.
Ella David: How long have your cousins been in prison?
Omar Ali: One cousin has been in jail for 9 years. They gave him 12 life sentences - forever.
Ella David: Does he know why he is in prison?
OA: He participated in the second Intifada (uprising), he was in the Church of the Nativity here fighting during the seizure of Bethlehem so they (the Israeli Defence Forces) caught him and he was given 12 life sentences.
ED: Have you seen him during this time?
OA: No. Just his father saw him, his mother cannot visit him.
ED: Can you phone or write to your cousin?
OA: No. they do not have phones in jail. He is in a small cell, alone, not with any other prisoners. For 9 years now he has been alone.
ED: How long has he been on hunger strike?
OA: For 22 days.
ED: Have you heard about the condition of his health?
OA: I believe he is weak. All the prisoners, they are weak because they don't take any food. I don't know about his health, I don't know if he is in a small cell or if he is in hospital. There has been no news.
ED: Are your other two cousins also on hunger strike?
OA: Yes, all together, they are making a group.
Anadi lives in Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. She told me about her husband who is in prison in Beit Sheva, Northern Israel and is also on hunger strike.
Ella David: Are you able to contact your husband?
Anadi: No, but his lawyer visited him two days ago. Now he has gone twenty-two days without food. He has been in jail for 10 years and on his own for 8 years.
ED: He has been kept on his own for 8 years?
A: Yes, for 8 years alone, without anyone. I have a child; he has never visited his father.
ED: How old is your child now?
A: He is nine and a half.
ED: Has he ever seen his father?
A: No, I gave birth to him after his father went into jail.
ED: Do you tell your son about his father?
A: Yes, he knows his father; he knows everything and wants to be with him. I want to be with him.
ED: Does your husband hope to continue his hunger strike?
A: Yes, to die or to live.
ED: What do you hope for as a result of this mass hunger strike?
A: I hope the prisoners will be released. But the Israelis, I think that they won't allow that. I hope just to visit my husband, to see him because I didn't see him for 10 years.
ED: Does your husband know why he is in prison?
A: Because he is a Palestinian and he fought for his country.
Anadi's mother-in-law is sitting nearby and I ask her if she has seen her son during the past 10 years:
No. I want to be with my family, for 25 years the family hasn't been together. Two are in jail, one is in Gaza and for all the family to be together is impossible. My daughter has also been in jail for 8 years. When I visited her, her mind, it wasn't good.
Tuesday's demonstration in Bethlehem was just one of hundreds of protests, rallies and demonstrations that have taken place in Palestine during the past few weeks. Around the world there is – finally - growing solidarity for the Palestinian hunger strikers.
There are 7 prisoners who have gone without food for over 55 days and over 2,000 prisoners who are on mass hunger strike to protest against administrative detention (being held without charge or trial), and prison conditions.
Two prisoners, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab are today on their 77th day of hunger strike and could die at any moment. 1,600 prisoners are on their 27th day of hunger. Thursday 17th May will mark the one month anniversary since the start of their mass protest.
Over 40% of Palestinian men have been in prison at some time: imprisonment is a common form of punishment used by Israel in their occupation of Palestine.
There will be another demonstration held tomorrow, Tuesday 15th May, in Bethlehem's Manger Square at 11am to mark Nakba day and in solidarity with the hunger strikers.