No Meetings, No Radios and No Salt: How Israel Is Pressuring Palestinian Hunger Strikers

Activists say the Prison Service has cut the stikers off from the outside world and is trying to break their spirits

The hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons entered its 12th day on Thursday and seems to have reached a turning point. By the end of last week, almost all the prisoners affiliated with Hamas had called off their strike, leaving it mainly to prisoners affiliated with Fatah.

The absolute number of hunger strikers may not necessarily have shrunk because new ones have joined the strike, though how many people are actually striking remains unclear.

The Israel Prison Service says 1,200 prisoners are still refusing to eat, while the Palestinian Prisoners Society says the figure is about 1,500 and adds that dozens of them belong to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad, and a number of Hamas prisoners in Hadarim prison.

The main demands of the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

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In a meeting Tuesday with Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of one of the main leaders of the hunger strike, Marwan Barghouti, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed his support for the strike, although it seems he would rather the Palestinian street remain quiet ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump next week.

The true extent of support in the Palestinian street will become clear only on Thursday, when a general strike is scheduled, and on Friday, which has been declared by Fatah as a “Day of Rage” in the West Bank.

MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List of Arab parties, was also present at the meeting, as was lawmaker Aida Touma-Suliman and Azam Ahmed, a member of the Fatah central committee.

Demonstrators in East Jerusalem hold pictures of jailed relatives during a protest in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails, April 27, 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

On Saturday evening, 200 Hamas-affiliated prisoners at the Gilboa Prison announced they were stopping their strike. The fact that a whole wing of the prison acted in tandem indicates that the prisoners had received an order originating outside the prison, surmise sources in the Prison Service.

It is the stated policy of the Prison Service not to negotiate with the strikers. In practice, however, there are daily talks with them to “take the pulse” of the strike.

The Prison Service is also applying pressure on the striking prisoners by, among other policies, stepping up the frequency of cell searches and confiscating the prisoners' salt. Activists on behalf of the prisoners say the strikers are living on water and salt, and that denying them salt is designed to break their spirits.

Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society and one of Barghouti’s men, told Haaretz that the Prison Service has completely cut the striking prisoners off from contact with the outside world. They may not watch television or read newspapers. Their radios have been confiscated and most are barred from meeting with their lawyers. The only way the strikers can be contacted is through lawyers of non-striking prisoners, and the Prison Service is not trying to enter into dialogue with the strikers, said Fares.

Could the strike win broad support? As Haaretz reported previously, there is no consensus in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah about the strike, let alone any response in the street in the West Bank, though this is likely to occur if the health of the strikers deteriorates.

Since the strike began, there have been dozens of marches and rallies in support of the strikers, some of which ended in clashes, including a march at the Eyal roadblock point north of Ramallah and at the northern entrance to Bethlehem. The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee is also supportive, as are Arab Knesset members.

Activists on behalf of the prisoners held rallies opposite the Gilboa and Megiddo prisons on Wednesday, and another is scheduled opposite the Kishon prison, where strike leaders Barghouti and Karim Younes are jailed.