SAIA York Statement on Hunger Strike for Freedom and Dignity

Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University expresses its full support for the 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails since April 17. The “Strike for Freedom and Dignity,” as it has been dubbed, is the largest prisoners’ strike of its kind in recent years.

Strike leader and popular Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti, who is being referred to as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela, was punished for managing to smuggle out an opinion piece that was published in The New York Times to explain the hunger strike, with one Israeli official calling it an act of “journalistic terrorism.”

In his article, Barghouti laid out the demands of the strikers: basic human rights – more regular family visits, better health care, access to higher education from prison, an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention (a practice in which Israel jails Palestinians for prolonged periods without charge or trial) and installation of public telephones enabling prisoners to have monitored calls with their families.

Of course, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has unleashed a wave of repressive tactics, including the denial of family visits, the denial of legal visits, confiscation of clothing (even toothbrushes and underwear), conducting violent prison raids and reportedly confiscating salt from the prisoners; the viral #SaltWaterChallenge campaign on social media has highlighted the way strikers have consumed only a mixture of salt and water to prolong their survival.

Since 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have called on Israel to end “unlawful and cruel” policies towards Palestinian prisoners.

As numerous organizations around the world take to the streets and organize events in solidarity with the hunger strikers and to pressure their respective governments to act, we would like to express our solidarity with all prisoners of conscience around the world who dared to stand up for their freedom and dignity. From Tamil activists who waged their own hunger strike from Sri Lankan prisons last year, to Kurdish leaders languishing for decades in Turkish jails, to the struggle to end mass incarceration in the United States, which particularly impacts black and indigenous peoples.

In these circumstances many face torture or other forms of ill-treatment. They may be held in conditions that are so poor that these amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

As we see the rise of governments around the world whose main political currency is the capacity to instill fear and hate--to kill, imprison, or wall us off from each other--we are reminded that in Israel/Palestine, fear is the status quo for those living under apartheid.

The costs of war and separation are great. The profits made from them, even more so.

We believe there is no better time than now to pressure our universities to cut ties with the arms and prison industries.

At York, SAIA will continue working alongside other student groups through campaigns like YU Divest. We will ramp up our efforts to engage and pressure the university to hold true to its own commitment towards ethical investment practices, and to divest from major weapons companies.

Major British universities have already divested from the arms industry, thanks to students like us. We are also encouraged by the success of students at Columbia University in pressuring their administration to divest from the private prison industry.

With our friends and supporters, we will persist in our efforts to raise awareness on campus on the situation of Palestinian political prisoners and civilians in Palestine, while at the same time mobilizing solidarity for all victims of war, incarceration and occupation elsewhere.

We invite you to join us for the protest for Palestinian political prisoners on Saturday, May 13 at 2 p.m. at the Israeli Consulate in Toronto!

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