As the more than 1500 Palestinian hunger strikers held in Israeli prisons end a 37th day on strike to demand better detention conditions, supporters of Palestinians’ human rights must now rely on the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, to do what the U.S. President has just failed to do while in Israel – publicly call on Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
In an open letter to Mr. Guterres, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the International Federation for Human Rights, the National Lawyers’ Guild and Palestine Legal urged the UN Secretary-General to call on Israel to adhere to the demands of those on hunger strike, and adhere to its obligations under international law. Key to these demands are access to better health services, an end to Israel use of administrative detention to indefinitely hold Palestinians in custody without charge, and an end to transferring prisoners from Palestinian occupied territory to Israeli prisons, which violates international humanitarian law.
The prisoners’ strike arises at a key political moment, with the first visit of President Trump to the region taking place, and in the shadow of the June 5th anniversary of the Six Day war, which marks 50years of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Perhaps it is no surprise that the leader of the U.S., Israel’s staunchest ally, said nothing about the hunger strike while visiting Israel this week, in what The Times of Israel aptlyreferred to as ‘the elephant in the room’. The question now is whether the UN Secretary-General will stand up to Israel and the U.S. and demand for nothing more than a commitment by Israel to treat Palestinians in its custody with dignity and in accordance with its existing legal obligations?
We can only hope so since the international political climate is only growing colder for those defending human rights, and with a tyrant in the White House it is less likely than ever before that the U.S. will publicly support human rights, especially those of the Palestinians.
The situation within the U.S. also remains fraught for defenders of Palestinian human rights. CCR is litigating against Fordham University on behalf of students prevented from forming a chapter of ‘Students For Justice in Palestine’ on campus. Recently all 100 U.S. Senators – including Sanders, Warren, Booker and any other so-called politically left senators – signed a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General, drafted by Senator Rubio, calling for an end to what they call the UN’s ‘anti-Israel bias’. The Senators threatened to withhold funds from the UN, in what was largely a lashing out at the UN for one of its commissions publishing a report in March that spoke the truth about how the policies of the state of Israel have established an ‘apartheid regime’. The governors of all 50 U.S. states have recently all spoken out against boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) advocacy, calling these actions “antithetical to our values and the values of our respective states”, despite the long and storied tradition in America of using boycotts to stand up for human rights, going back to the Civil Rights era and earlier.
So it is that it is left to the UN Secretary-General to stand on the right side of history this time. He would not be alone. People all over the world are standing with the hunger striking Palestinians, as we can see from the many online who have expressed their solidarity by joining the #SaltWaterChallenge campaign that has gone viral, and the steadily growing attention by international media outlets such as CNN and Al Jazeera.
For the Secretary-General, near the beginning of his time in office, speaking up for the human rights and dignity of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons at this pivotal moment in their struggle is not just the right thing to do now, but it is also the best kind of example for all political leaders everywhere, as we enter an undoubtedly long and challenging period for all human rights in the coming years.
 See, e,g., United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, 19 May 2017 ‘No end in sight, says UN human rights expert after five decades of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory’. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21639&LangID=E.