Johannesburg – The Ex-Robben Island Political Prisoners Veterans association (EPPA), founded with the support of the late former President Nelson Mandela, has vowed to throw its weight behind the mass hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, which has now entered its fifth day.
"The EPPA, together with all freedom loving people and progressive forces inside South Africa will embark on a number of solidarity activities in support of the fight for better living conditions in all Israeli apartheid jails," said the EPPA in press release.
"We unconditionally support all the demands made by our brothers and sisters in those dark prison cells and strongly condemn the illegal detention of women and children, as well as all political prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons."
The mass prisoner strike, which began on Monday on Palestinian Prisoners Day, is a demand for improved conditions in Israeli prisons similar to those extended to Jewish and non-political Palestinian inmates, and include an end to solitary confinement and detention without trial among others.
"The EPPA calls on all political prisoners and detainees to unite and fight against these draconian laws of arbitrary detention without trial and an end to solitary confinement and demand the following rights, under the auspices of the United Nations and The International Committee of the Red Cross," added the press release.
-- The right to education, books and all reading material – The right to better medical aid – The right to family visits, especially contact visits on a weekly basis – The right to nutritious food, and letters from families – The right to play sport, music and partake in cultural activities – The right to cook their own food as we did on Robben Island.
The veterans group explained that a mass, coordinated hunger strike was a powerful and legitimate weapon to use against the Israeli prison authorities in their demand for basic human rights in prison.
The EPPA further appealed to the Red Cross, and the International Defence Aid Fund, to intervene on behalf of the prisoners and ensure that the Geneva Convention protocol on the rights of prisoners of war was observed by the Israel Prison Authorities – as was done by the humanitarian organisations when the apartheid government controlled South Africa.
"The association wishes to extend revolutionary greetings to one of the Palestinian icons, a freedom fighter, a political prisoner of conscience and a revolutionary leader, Marwan Barghouthi," said EPPA.
"We strongly believe that Comrade Marwan, who is leading the hunger strike, will turn it into a decisive victory for all political prisoners."
Barghouti is serving concurrent life sentences for attacks against Israelis during the second Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, from 2000 to 2005.
He is a member of the Palestinian Authority (PA)-affiliated Fatah organisation.
The hunger strike has support across the Palestinian political spectrum.
Political prisoners from, and the leaders of, Hamas, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and their supporters are solidly behind the hunger strikers.
Several thousand Israelis and Palestinians lost their lives during the second Palestinian uprising, with four times as many Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces.