Palestinian Ex-prisoners on Hunger Strike over Unpaid PA Stipends
‘Some of us belong to Hamas. Others are just opponents of the PA. But that shouldn’t matter,’ says one
Dozens of freed Palestinian security prisoners, some close to Hamas, are on a hunger strike, saying that because of their affiliation, the Palestinian Authority is withholding stipends that are due them.
The ex-prisoners have been demonstrating in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah since October 8. Most embarked on a hunger strike three weeks ago, and some have now stopped drinking water.
“We don’t belong to Fatah and we refuse to be part of it,” Alaa Rimawi, one of the former prisoners, told The Media Line. “We ideologically disagree with Fatah. Part of us belong to Hamas. Others are just opponents of the PA. But that shouldn’t matter.”
The Palestinian legislature was effectively disbanded after a Hamas-orchestrated coup forcibly evicted PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party from the Gaza Strip in 2007. Abbas has since been in charge of crafting all laws, including those involving stipends for prisoners in Israeli jails, ex-prisoners and the families of those killed in clashes with Israel.
Rimawi noted that the peaceful protest was meant to express a sense of belonging to the Palestinian people, and all that this embodies.
“We are not only demanding our allowances,” he said. “That’s just part of it. We demand our rights as citizens.”
He added that Palestinian security forces broke into the protesters’ tents earlier this week.
“They arrested some and removed others to an empty area,” he complained, adding that PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh spoke to the protesters and admitted that a mistake had been made although he did not have a solution.
Rami Barghouthi, another protester, told The Media Line that he had been arbitrarily fired from his job with the PA Ministry of Interior while imprisoned in Israel.
“My family called and informed me about my job and my salary while I was in prison,” he said, adding that he received no severance letter, meaning he has been unable to pursue damages.
“There is absolutely no respect for the rule of law in this country [the Palestinian Authority],” Barghouthi said. “There is no law enforcement. Only arrogance.”
When queried by The Media Line, senior Palestinian officials refused to comment, citing divisions within the leadership as well as the general sensitivity of the matter. Yet the Palestinian street was willing to comment.
“I feel overwhelmed and heartbroken,” said one woman in Ramallah, who asked that her name not be used.
“The PA doesn’t have the right to cut their salaries and deprive their families of money and food. It’s unjustifiable and nonsensical,” she said.
“The PA,” she continued, “wants to cut them off from the Palestinian people, but it needs to keep in mind that the effort and struggle of these prisoners enabled the PA to exist, and enabled these officials to exist. Since they’ve become officials, they forget about them?”
A man in Ramallah, who also asked that his name not appear, denounced the PA and urged its leadership to solve the issue as soon as possible.
“I heard on the news that President Abbas wants to help Albania following its [earthquake],” he told The Media Line. “Look at our [former] prisoners! How about he helps them instead?”
Fareed Atrash, a Hebron-based human-rights activist, joined the hunger strikers on Thursday to show his support.
“Its discrimination,” he told The Media Line. “Their stipends are protected under law, like those of other prisoners. The law is inclusive and doesn’t discriminate on the basis of political affiliation.”
Atrash urged the Palestinian leadership to solve the issue, citing the danger to the hunger-strikers’ lives.
“The PA has dealt with the freed prisoners’ demands badly, and assaulted them as well as arrested some of them,” he said. “This must end soon. The leadership should respond to their demands.”