Israeli force wounds 100 Palestinians Prisoners' fast triggers violence

October 08, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM-- Israel's most sacred holiday of Yom Kippur was marred yesterday by confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators that reportedly left about 100 Palestinians wounded by bullets and two girls blinded.

Soldiers fired live ammunition, plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse several thousand demonstrators outside the Red Cross headquarters in Rafah refugee camp, at the southern end of the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, witnesses said. Palestinians threw stones and at least five fire bombs, they said.

The reported casualty toll, the highest in months in the Israeli-occupied territories, was provided by both hospital and United Nations officials and by Palestinian journalists who had witnessed the events.

Israeli army spokesmen, however, said they knew about only 20 to 25 casualties, of whom 12 required hospitalization, all but one for what were described as slight wounds.

An Israeli soldier and a Jewish worshiper in Jerusalem were injured in separate incidents.

The clashes occurred as Palestinians poured into the streets of Gaza and other places in the occupied territories to back an 11-day-old hunger strike by thousands of Arab prisoners demanding better treatment and conditions.

The strike started in several Israeli prisons 11 days ago. This week it spread to include most of the 13,000 prisoners being held for political activities in Israel and the occupied territories, according to Palestinian sources, although it could not be determined if 5,000 inmates in the Negev's Ketziot prison have continued the strike.

Israeli authorities refuse to discuss the strike, other than to denounce its motivations and to say they will not meet any of the prisoners' demands.

Since the strike began there have been sit-ins throughout the West Bank, mass demonstrations in Gaza, and clashes with police or soldiers in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus and at the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City. One Palestinian, a 16-year-old boy, was shot in the stomach and killed near Hebron Friday.

The size and intensity of the protests have occurred in the wake of relatively tranquil times compared to the early days of the Palestinian uprising, or "intifada," when large crowds confronted Israeli troops. The hunger strike itself is said to be the largest such action since 1987.

"I hope the world will listen. We want the world to know what goes on inside the prisons," said Salwa Jaradat, 28, whose husband Ali, was taken to prison on evidence the Israeli government says is secret, to serve a sentence that can be prolonged at any time.

Accused of intifada activities, like many Palestinian prisoners, he was brought before a military court, but was not told of his offense because of "security," and he was sentenced to a six-month term that can be renewed indefinitely.

Human rights groups have long criticized this "administrative detention." And they have condemned treatment of Palestinian prisoners that included beatings, sleep and food deprivation, and occasional use of electric shock.

The U.S. State Department's 1991 report on Human Rights acknowledges "detailed credible reports of torture, abuse and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in prisons and detention centers."

It notes that Palestinians who are brought to trial and sentenced are given vastly longer terms than Israelis who commit similar crimes.

About 6,000 Palestinians are held in 13 police jails inside Israel, and another 7,000 are in six military prisons in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A group of mothers with sons in the prisons joined in the hunger strike five days ago, camping out at offices of the Red Cross in Jerusalem and in West Bank cities.

"The Red Cross is the only one that can help us, that can make our voices louder, said Sabaha Mohammed Ali, an old woman whose three grown sons were all in prison. Two of them, she said, were in need of critical medical attention that had been denied them.

The inmates have listed 25 demands, including better food, exercise, health care, abolishment of solitary confinement, access to newspapers and books, and more family visitations than the customary twice each month.

But the strike also has political objectives beyond prison conditions. Palestinian sources acknowledge the strike grew out a dispute between political factions inside the prisons, some of whom wanted a large demonstration to disrupt the ongoing Middle East peace talks.

Leaders of the Fatah faction supporting the peace talks have attempted to confine the dispute within Palestinian circles, with only limited success. Mothers at one demonstration confronted Faisal al-Husseini and Haider Abdel-Shafi, leaders of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, and bitterly criticized them for paying too little attention to the hunger strike.

The Israeli government has seized on the dispute, portraying anti-peace politics as the real cause for the strike. The prison authority said last week that its treatment of Palestinians is "in accordance with the law."

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