17 April 2017
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation reiterates its support for Palestinian political prisoners, over a thousand of whom have embarked on a hunger strike.
Palestinians from across political lines began an indefinite hunger strike in Israeli jails today, marking Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.
The hunger strike has been spearheaded by jailed Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouthi. Known as the 'Palestinian Mandela', Barghouthi was last year nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 15, Barghouthi marked his 15th consecutive year in prison after being sentenced to five life terms in jail by Israel.
In 2013, anti-apartheid struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada and Barghouthi’s wife, Fadwa, launched a global campaign on Robben Island calling for the release of Barghouthi and all Palestinian political prisoners. Over the last five decades about 800 000 Palestinians have been jailed by Israel; some 6500 are currently behind bars.
Neeshan Balton, the Executive Director of the Kathrada Foundation, said, “A hunger strike is not only the most peaceful form of resistance, but is also the last resort by a prisoner to demand basic human rights. The Palestinian prisoners are calling for an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention; fortnightly family visits without cancellation or interference; appropriate medical care including an end to medical neglect of prisoners; releasing prisoners with disabilities or terminal illness; as well as specific requests around access to education and humane transportation of prisoners. (For a full list of demands put forward by the prisoners, read here.)
“The mass support for the hunger strike amongst prisoners is a show of unity and is symbolic of the courage that has become synonymous with simply being Palestinian. Barghouthi himself, in an opinion piece about the hunger strike, wrote: ‘Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.’”
Balton said that the struggle of Palestinian political prisoners, was one that South Africans could understand in context of our own apartheid past. “Kathrada would often talk about the sadistic behaviour of some of the apartheid warders who raided their cells in May 1971, while they were on hunger strike in solidarity with SWAPO prisoners. One of Kathrada’s more painful memories of the Island was how the guards strip searched them on May 28. Due to the cold and hunger, Govan Mbeki, who was elderly, collapsed. History has taught us though, that eventually, freedom and dignity triumphed. It is this very freedom and dignity that we believe will be victorious in Palestine as well.”
Balton said that Kathrada would often marvel at the resilience of the Palestinian people.
“During a visit to Palestine in 2013, Kathrada was shocked to find that there were prisoners who had served longer sentences than Nelson Mandela. Their cause resonated very strongly with him as a former political prisoner.”
Balton also thanked the Palestinian people for honouring Kathrada’s memory. “Just a few weeks ago, Fadwa Barghouthi visited South Africa for the launch of a movie on Marwan’s life. Fadwa expressed concern at Kathrada's ill health at the time. Following Kathrada's passing, Fadwa, together with parties across the political spectrum in Palestine came together to pay tribute to him. We would like to thank the Palestinian people and its leadership for this gesture,” he stated. “We reiterate our continued solidarity for your struggle for freedom. We hope that you would be able to carry our message of strength to Marwan Barghouthi, and the hundreds of others who have joined him in the hunger strike. As Barghouthi himself said, we are confident that ‘this new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.’”