AL-BIREH, West Bank (Ma'an) -- Mothers, wives, and sisters of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails delivered petitions to the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday, calling for the organizations' intervention for the lives of their imprisoned relatives.
Their sons, husbands, and brothers are among some 120 Palestinian administrative detainees held in Israeli jails without charge or trial who refused meals for the 20th day in a row on Tuesday.
"We are calling for immediate action to end the harrowing policy of administrative detention forever," the petitions read, according to a statement from the prisoner rights group Addameer.
"We also express our deep concerns and fears with respect to additional violations perpetrated against the prisoners such as solitary confinement, arbitrary transfers, raids, and strip-searches, all of which are committed by the administration of the Israeli Prison Service."
"We urge you ... to take urgent action to save the lives of our children and to pressure the (Israeli) occupation to end its policy of administrative detention against Palestinians, which is direct violation of international human rights," the letters said.
Upon delivering the letter to the Red Cross' office in al-Bireh near Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians gathered for a rally to support the prisoners.
Family members of prisoners held signs emblazoned with their imprisoned relatives' faces, chanting as speakers addressed the crowd from a megaphone.
One rally-goer, Muhannad Shalatwa, told Ma'an that his brother Mahmoud has been held in administrative detention for 25 months without a trial.
"It is forbidden even for his wife and family to visit him," Shalatwa told Ma'an. "There hasn't been any news about him -- we haven't heard anything."
Muhannad Shalatwa holds a photo of his brother Mahmoud, a Palestinian
prisoner who he says has been held in administrative detention for over two years
The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem urged its government's prison service to end administrative detentions in a statement Sunday.
"Unlike a criminal proceeding, administrative detention is not intended to punish a person for an offense already committed, but to thwart a future danger," the statement explained.
"The entire procedure is secret: administrative detainees are not told the reason for their detention or the specific allegations against them. ... Since the detainees do not know the evidence against them, they are unable to refute it."'Baba will come home tomorrow'
Itiraf Rimawi, a former prisoner who has spent a total of 47 months as an administrative detainee in Israeli jails, spoke to Ma'an about his experience being held without a charge or a trial.
Most recently released in 2009, Rimawi said he and other administrative detainees underwent "psychological shock" during their time in jail.
Israeli authorities "give the same statement to every (administrative detainee)," Rimawi said. "They say you are endangering the Israeli state or something like this, but they do not provide any details about why you're arrested."
He said the Israeli Prison Service never contacted his family to give them information of his whereabouts, but that after approximately a week, the Red Crescent was able to contact his relatives.
Asked about treatment by Israeli authorities in administrative detention, Rimawi spoke of frequent head counts and "urgent searching" of the cells.
"They'd often wake us up in the middle of the night to count us, or tell us to stand in a different room while they searched the cell," he said.
"When we returned, everybody's stuff would be strewn across the room, all mixed together."
Ramawi recalled that he and other prisoners would sometimes get prepared to leave the jail days before their detention was to end, only to be told hours before they were expecting to be released that their time had been extended for several more months.
In one instance, he said his son told his first-grade teachers and classmates, "Baba is coming home tomorrow."
"I even cut my hair to get ready to leave the prison and see my family," Ramawi said. "And then they told me the detention was going to be renewed."
The maximum period for a round of administrative detention is six months, but the detention can be renewed indefinitely. Water and salt
As the hunger strikers enter their 21st day of eating and drinking only salt and water, a Palestinian social media campaign is growing.
Using the hashtags مي_وملح# (water and salt) and #stopAD, activists have taken to Facebook and Twitter to voice their support for the strikers.
Bethlehem-based comedian and activist Ali Qaraqe told Ma'an that supporters on Facebook had grown to the tens of thousands.
The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the strike in Palestine and around the world, first by showing support on the internet, and then by protesting "on the ground," Qaraqe said.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli Prison Service told Ma'an that the strike was going "as usual."
Sivan Weizman said there were "25 strikers" most of whom started refusing meals "20 days ago."
They are separated from prisoners who are not striking, and some of them are receiving medical treatment, Weizman said.
On May 14, 2012, some 2,000 Palestinian prisoners ended a 27-day hunger strike after reaching a deal with Israel. Under the terms of the deal, around 400 prisoners from Gaza would be allowed receive family visits and administrative detainees would be either freed or charged.
According to Addameer, Israel also agreed to limit the use of administrative detentions to exceptional cases, but reneged on the deal, renewing the detention of several prisoners and continuing to regularly implement the policy.