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Demonstrators gather in West Bank, Gaza to mark Palestinian Prisoners Day

Protesters call for release, end to ill-treatment of 6,500 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons
Palestinians hold portraits of relatives jailed in Israeli prisons as they protest to demand for their release during a demonstration to mark Prisoners' Day in the West Bank city of Nablus on 17 April (AFP)

Palestinians held vigils and protests in Gaza and across the West Bank on Tuesday to remember the thousands of prisoners held in Israeli jails. 

The demonstrations took place amid heightened tensions following weekly mobilisations for the Great March for Return, which is due to continue until 15 May, demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees. 

Several thousand amassed in the Gaza Strip while sporadic gatherings took place across the West Bank. 

Palestinians who attended the demonstrations, as part of the annual Palestinian Prisoners Day marches, held up portraits of relatives currently held in Israeli prisons. 

Palestinian women hold photographs of imprisoned relatives and posters denouncing incarceration conditions, during a Palestinian Prisoner Day protest in Bethlehem (MEE/Chloé Benoist)

Around 6,500 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli prisons, 500 of whom detained under administrative detention, a practice used by Israel against Palestinians to imprison people without charge or trial for indefinite periods, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), 

PPS estimates that around one million Palestinians have been detained by Israel since the country was founded in 1948, adding that Israel has held 48 Palestinians for more than 20 years.

The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, meanwhile, stated that some 1,800 Palestinian prisoners were in dire need of medical care.

Palestinians have long denounced the ill-treatment of prisoners, accusing Israel of torture, medical neglect, and of flouting international law.

According to PPS, 215 Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, including 72 who died from torture, and 61 who died due to medical negligence.

“As we continue to pay tribute to and affirm our support of all former and current Palestinian prisoners within Israeli jails, we are reminded of their steadfastness and unbreakable commitment to independence and justice in the face of the belligerent military occupier’s willful breach and devaluation of their rights and lives,” Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.

“There is no justification or legal basis for persisting with such crimes,” she added. “Denying Palestinian prisoners of their fundamental rights and dignity goes against all forms of international law and international humanitarian law.”

In 2017, Palestinian Prisoner’s Day marked the first day of a mass hunger strike bringing together some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners under the leadership of prominent Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti, calling for an end to torture, ill-treatment and administrative detention.

The “Freedom and Dignity” strike lasted 40 days until the strike leadership reached an agreement to restore ICRC-coordinated family visits to twice a month - a deal that was seen by many at the time as falling far short of the prisoners’ demands.

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