On Friday, February 15th, 2013, an estimated 1,000 Palestinians attended a demonstration held at the entrance of Ofra prison. Palestinians, along with a handful of international peace activists, including MPT, protested to show solidarity with four Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike detained in the illegal Israeli settlement prison camp of Ofra, located near the West Bank village of Ramallah.
Prisoners Tareq Qaadan and Jaafer Azzidine have been hunger striking for an approximated 80 days, while Samer al-Issawi has refused any nourishment for an approximated 208 days. The fourth prisoner is Ayman Sharawneh, who has been on hunger strike for an approximated 136 days.
The demonstration began around noon as hundreds of Palestinians streamed toward the entrance of Ofra prison. Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouthi, Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi and Islamic Movement in Israel leader Shiekh Raed Salah were of those in attendance.
Facing a line of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Palestinians joined together in peaceful prayer. An atmosphere of tranquility enveloped the scene as the group knelt, bowed, and prayed in unison.
When the prayer ended, excitement and anticipation escalated. Palestinian youth began jumping and chanting, their fingers forming peace signs above their heads. It is reported that from a distance, young children threw stones at the IDF soldiers who had been standing with their military tanks behind the prison’s barbed wire outer perimeter.
Immediately the IDF began firing sound bombs at the ground, some exploding no more than 1 foot from young Palestinian boys standing on the front lines of the demonstration. Israeli soldiers then quickly proceeded to fire tear gas bombs as the tanks moved toward the demonstrators.
The tank then began launching tear gas bombs, perhaps 6 bombs at a time. The entire crowd was enveloped in gas. MPT joined the wave of hundreds of demonstrators scrambling to safety. Loss of sight and oxygen due to tear gas left all wheezing and feeling our way out of the billowing clouds.
The front line of the demonstration had moved perhaps 300 yards back from its original position, and here Palestinian youth began burning rubber tires in an attempt to alleviate the effect of the tear gas bombs. The soldiers and their tanks drove forward, pursuing the demonstrators as they fled the gaseous clouds. As the IDF drew closer to the crowd, young Palestinian boys threw rocks to fend them off.
Soldiers continued to fire round upon round of tear gas bombs, pushing large segments of the crowd further away. The young boys bravely picked up the bombs emitting toxic gases and flung them into the nearby pond.
Israeli soldiers then began entering the village, firing tear gas in the streets and onto rooftops. At this time, soldiers also began firing rubber bullets and then live ammunition at the crowd. MPT witnessed numerous young boys pulled from clouds of gas on stretchers to nearby ambulances, as well as several others who were holding ice packs over rubber bullet wounds. 156 Palestinians were reported by Medics to have been treated for gas inhalation. Israeli forces fired tear gas at various press and media outposts, as well, and assaulted journalists Samer Hamad, Ahmad Mizher and Ma’an cameraman Luai Sababa.
Ofra prison is located in the illegal Israeli West Bank settlement of Ofra. This settlement is illegal under both local and international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:
“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”
Additional UN resolutions 446, 452, and 465 condemn Israel’s settlement building by declaring they have “no legal validity” to exist. Yet they do and continue expanding in reckless disregard for the law.
Ofra settlement is also illegal under local law. No jurisdiction area was set for it. It doesn’t have a valid outline plan, and at least 58% of its land is lawfully registered under Palestinian names in the Land Registry.
This makes Ofra prison illegal as well, because the Palestinian prisoners are being detained in an illegal Israeli settlement.
Reports from Ofra prison prove conditions horrible. Many reported that they had no charges held against them, and yet were still imprisoned; they were forced to stand and be counted several times throughout the night, making sleep nearly impossible; prisoners are held for long periods with their hands tied behind their backs with limited access to bathrooms and food.
40% of Palestinian men are reported to have spent time in illegal Isreali prisons such as Ofra. 99.74% of Palestinian defendants are convicted in military courts.
According to the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, as of January 2013 there were “4,743 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including 178 administrative detainees, 10 women, and 193 children. http://addameer.org/
Winter Team 2013