OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH — Some 3,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails were staging a one-day hunger strike Sunday in protest at the death of an inmate, an official said, as security forces clashed with demonstrators in the West Bank, Agence France-Presse reported.
“About 3,000 prisoners announced that they would refuse meals,” Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman, told AFP. “It’s just the meals of one day; three meals.”
Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old father of two, from the village of Sair near Hebron in the southern West Bank, died suddenly on Saturday in an Israeli jail.
His death was caused by what prison authorities said appeared to have been cardiac arrest, according to AFP reports.
Protesters in his home village and in different parts of Hebron city on Sunday hurled stones at Israeli security forces who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Media said Israeli security forces were on the standby in case of further demonstrations.
“Riot Alert” read the front page headline of Israel Hayom daily, considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The security establishment as a whole and the prisons service in particular are on a heightened state of alert today,” said Maariv daily.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club meanwhile said the number of inmates on open-ended hunger strike had climbed to 11 from four.
Jaradat’s death came a day after nearly 100 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces during demonstrations in the West Bank to demand the release of the hunger strikers.
An autopsy was due to take place at Israel’s national forensic institute on Sunday and Issa Qaraqaa, the Palestinian minister in charge of prisoner affairs, said a Palestinian doctor and Jaradat family members would be present.
A statement from the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday said he “expresses his deep sorrow and shock over the martyrdom of prisoner Arafat Jaradat in Israeli occupation prisons”.
He “affirms the need to promptly disclose the true reasons that led to his martyrdom”, it added.
The Islamist Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip said the prisoner had died because of “the inhuman conditions in Israeli jails”, AFP reported.
Israel’s Shin Bet internal intelligence service said Jaradat had been arrested on Monday for his involvement in a stone-throwing incident in November 2012 during which an Israeli had been injured.
“After lunch, as he was resting in Megiddo prison, Arafat Jaradat was taken ill. Medics were called to treat him but they were unable to save his life,” it added. Israeli police were now probing Jaradat’s death.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem said the investigation should look at how he was treated during interrogation and what techniques had been used.
It should be “independent, effective and transparent, and be finalised swiftly”, it said in a statement issued late on Saturday.
Relations between Israelis and Palestinians are already tense because of a rising wave of protests in solidarity with four other prisoners detained by Israel who have been on hunger strike for some months.
The Ramallah-based Prisoners’ Club announced that another seven prisoners had joined them.
“The Prisoners’ Club does not know exactly when they started their hunger strike. The lawyers who are going to visit them will get more details,” spokesman Amani Sarahna told AFP.
He said Muna Qaadan, a sister of Tareq Qaadan who has gone without food on and off for several months, was among those who joined the action. She had been freed in October 2011 under a prisoner exchange but since re-arrested.
An Israeli official said three hunger strikers — Qaadan, Jafar Ezzedine and Ayman Sharawna — were taken to hospitals for protective check-ups on Friday.
The fate of Palestinian prisoners, and in particular the hunger strikers, has sparked protests across the Palestinian territories and raised international concern.
Israel’s maltreatment of prisoners
Palestinians on Sunday called for an international investigation of Israel’s treatment of detained Palestinians, after a 30-year-old Palestinian died in custody and a hunger strike by four other inmates sparked a week of West Bank protests, according to the Associated Press reports.
The death of Arafat Jaradat on Saturday raised new questions about Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which has been accused by rights groups of mistreating Palestinians during interrogation.
Palestinian officials and the detainee’s family said Jaradat was mistreated by the Shin Bet, saying he was healthy at the time of his arrest last week. Israeli officials said Jaradat died of an apparent heart attack and denied he was beaten or subjected to any treatment that could have led to his death.
Several thousand Palestinian prisoners held by Israel observed a one-day fast Sunday to protest Jaradat’s death, which was bound to spur more Palestinian demonstrations in support of prisoners, AP reported.
In all, Israel holds close to 4,600 Palestinians on a range of charges, from throwing stones at Israelis to involvement in deadly shooting and bombing attacks. Of the detainees, 159 are being held without charges or trial in so-called administrative detention.
The fate of prisoners is an emotional issue for Palestinians and Israelis.
Virtually every Palestinian family has seen a member imprisoned since Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1967, and the prisoners are generally seen as heroes resisting Israeli occupation. Many Israelis tend to view Palestinians involved in politically motivated violence as terrorists.
The Shin Bet said Jaradat was arrested last Monday, after residents in his West Bank village of Saeer said he was involved in a rock-throwing attack that injured an Israeli. Jaradat admitted to the charge, as well to another West Bank rock-throwing incident last year, the Shin Bet said, according to AP.
The agency said that during interrogation, he was examined several times by a doctor who detected no health problems. On Saturday, he was in his cell and felt unwell after lunch, the agency said. “Rescue services and a doctor were alerted and treated him, they didn’t succeed in saving his life,” the statement said.
Israel’s main forensics institute was to perform an autopsy with a Palestinian physician in attendance.
Jaradat’s family and Palestinian officials said that he was mistreated during interrogation. Jaradat, a father of a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, worked as a gas station attendant and his wife, Dalal, is pregnant, relatives said.
Issa Karake, who handles prisoner issues in the Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government in the West Bank, said he holds Israel responsible for Jaradat’s death, alleging ill-treatment and medical negligence. Karake called for an independent international investigation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian detainees.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem also demanded an investigation, including how Jaradat was questioned.
The agency routinely holds detainees in isolation for extended periods during interrogation, keeping them in cells that are lit around the clock and denying them access to lawyers, said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the group.
Citing affidavits by detainees, she said that while physical mistreatment of detainees has dropped sharply in recent years, it has not disappeared. She also said detainees have filed some 700 complaints about mistreatment by Shin Bet agents over the past decade, but that none has led to a criminal investigation.
Jaradat’s death comes at a time of daily Palestinian demonstrations in support of prisoners, especially four hunger strikers. The health of one of the hunger strikers has deteriorated.
In recent days, protests often turned into violent clashes with soldiers.
Defence officials said Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz convened top military officials Saturday night to discuss escalating tensions in the West Bank.