The U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) hosted a day long encampment and tent in Burbank, IL on May 11. The encampment was hosted in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners hunger striking in Israeli prisons.
Currently, there are 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, according to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. More than 1,500 of them have entered their fourth week of an open-ended hunger strike. The hunger strike demands that the Israeli government respects basic human rights of prisoners. Some of the demands include an increase in family visits, access to medical care and education, as well as an end to administrative detention. Administrative detention is the imprisonment of an individual without trial.
The encampment was held southwest of Chicago, home to the largest Palestinian diaspora, according to Hatem Abudayyeh, USPCN-Chicago member. Throughout the day, around 100 supporters sat in the tent with signs in support of Palestinian prisoners, singing Palestinian folk songs, as well as listening to family members of political prisoners speak about their experiences and how they are directly affected. Supporters also fasted throughout the nine hour encampment and participated in the salt water challenge, because that is what the political prisoners are solely surviving from.
Thaera Hamayel, sister of Palestinian political prisoner Thaer Hamayel, gave a few words in the tent to supporters of the hunger strike.
“My brother was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Right now he is in the 15th year of his sentence in one of the worst prisons,” she said. “I visited Palestine 3 times in 15 years and have not been able to see my brother. My mom died without being able to see her own son.”
Abudayyeh stressed the importance of tying together the cause of Palestinian political prisoners to political prisoners in the United States from various liberation movements.
Frank Chapman, a former political prisoner of the black liberation movement for 14 years in the U.S., gave a speech at the encampment in solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers. In his words,
“Our solidarity is an expression of our mutual suffering as a people,” Chapman said. “While we do not know exactly what you’re going through, we understand the pain.”
After the speeches, supporters lined up on the sidewalk chanting “Hey Israel, what do you say? how many Palestinian prisoners have you tortured today?”
The encampment was endorsed by Palestinian American Community Center, Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul University, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Anakbayan, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Children Relief Fund’s UIC chapter, Arab Jewish Partnership for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, amongst other organizations.