Contributed by Jim Hayes
More than two thousand Palestinians in Israeli jails have begun a mass hunger strike against detention conditions. It is taking place in the Gilboa, Meggido, Nafha, Ketziot, Shikma, Ramon, Hadarim and Nitzan prisons.
The hunger strike is backed up with large demonstrations in the occupied West Bank the Gaza Strip, and there have been clashes with Israeli security forces in Bethlehem.
The action is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader, regarded as the possible successor to head the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinians hold that the more than 7,000 in detention are political prisoners, whose crime is their role in the Palestinian cause. Mistreatment of prisoners is a major source of tension, especially since most were arrested under Israel’s Administrative Detention law, which allows suspects to be held for 6 months without charge but where, in practice, many find themselves locked up in ongoing 6 month cycles.
The hunger strikers are demanding the closure of the Israel Prison Service clinic in favor of bringing prisoners who need medical care to a hospital, an end to detention without trial and of solitary confinement. They are also demanding improved conditions, a change to visiting policies and specific requests such as the installation of public telephones in the cell blocks.
Marwan Barghouti, who has been put into solitary confinement over the hunger strike, was a leader of the First Intifada and Second Intifada uprisings in the occupied territories. Arrested in 2002, by the Israel Defense Forces, convicted two years later, of 5 counts of murder and given 5 life sentences. At the trial, he refused to recognise the court and provide evidence. However, he and his supporters maintain that his was a show trial, where was convicted with no evidence. This has made Barghhouti a hero among his people and provides him with considerable influence over Palestinian politics.
Barghouti was accused of connection with Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades during the time of the Second Intifada. The Brigades were alleged to have killed Israelis and Barghouti was found guilty on the basis of association. He has never denied the right of Palestinians to use arms to defend themselves from occupation. He has also condemned attacks against civilians inside Israel. Barghouti has also won the respect and often support on many Israelis and world leaders.
“After spending the past 15 years of my life in an Israeli jail, I am both witness to and victim of the illogical system of randomized arrests and terrible treatment of prisoners,” Barghouti wrote a recent article (published in the New York Times). “After I attempted every other option available, I decided I had no other choice but to protest the mistreatment by means of a hunger strike.
“Hunger striking is a quiet way of protest. The only ones who suffer are the ones who strike, and their loved ones. The strikers hope their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help their message force its way out of their dark prison cells.
“Decades of experience have shown that the occupation’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation is intended to break the spirits of both the prisoners and their entire nation. The occupation hopes to accomplish this by abusing the prisoners’ bodies, separating them from their families and communities, and forcing them to subjugate themselves.
“Despite this treatment, we will not give in.