Israel’s brutal treatment of its 6,000 Palestinian conflict prisoners – largely ignored by the media – will be forced into the headlines by Marwan Barghouthi’s threat to go on hunger strike on Easter Monday if the prisoners’ demands are not met.
Marwan Barghouthi (right) was the general secretary of Fatah during the second intifada when he was abducted from the streets of Ramallah on April 15 2002 by Israeli secret servicemen and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Israeli court.
He remains the most popular politician in Palestine according to the opinion polls despite spending the last 15 years in jail.
He has been wary of using the weapon of hunger strikes in the past, but now feels the deterioration in the way Palestinian prisoners are treated leaves no option.
The prisoners’ first demand is the reinstatement of fortnightly visits from their families after they were reduced to just once a month.
Israeli prisons fail to provide adequate food and shelter for Palestinian prisoners forcing them to rely on food and clothing brought by relatives. As the Jerusalem-based civil rights organisation Addameer says: “The military prison authority provides detainees with basic food rations. The provided rations do not meet necessary daily requirements, both in terms of quality and nutritional value.”
Prisoners also want an end to solitary confinement and ‘administrative detention’ – effectively internment without charge or trial, plus a resumption of the Hebrew Open University program allowing Palestinian prisoners to access education and to take school exams while in prison.
Medical issues are also central to their demands. They call for the closure of Israel’s Ramla prison hospital where many Palestinians are treated, due to its “inadequacy in providing medical care,” and quick and urgent surgery when needed.
Barghouthi believes the Israeli government is using the distractions of Trump, Syria and the Fatah-Hamas conflict to engage in a one-sided war against Palestinian prisoners. Despite attempts to dissuade him, Barghouthi, who is 57, believes he has a responsibility to resist repressive measures against those who have no protection. Hundreds of prisoners will join the hunger strike alongside him.
According to the latest figures from the Israeli Prison Service, there were 5,988 Palestinian conflict prisoners in Israeli jails in August 2016, including 644 jailed without charge, 335 under 18, 57 women and two under the age of 14. Some have been in prison more than 30 years.