Palestinian Prisoners' Hunger Strike in Israeli Jails Ends

Hunger strike comes to an end in time for month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan

Protesters gather under a banner with a picture of Marwan Barghouti during a rally supporting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, Ramallah, West Bank, May 3, 2017.
Nasser Nasser/AP

The hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails ended after 40 days on Friday night, according to the Israel Prison Service and Palestinian officials.

The hunger strike ended after Israel reached an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and the Red Cross over prisoners' visitation rights, according to the prison service. The sides agreed that the prisoners would be eligible for two visits a month, as was in the past before being reduced to one visit a month.

The strike ended in time for the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan, which begins on Saturday.

Despite Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan's remarks according to which there will be no negotiations and that the prisoners' demands won't be met, the strike ended following days of talks that peaked on Friday night. This, while the prison service attempted to reach some understandings over the strike prior to U.S. President Donald Trump's arrival in Israel earlier this week. The prison service stressed that there were no negotiations with the prisoners, but rather that "understandings" had been reached. 

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

Night-time talks attended by a number of the strike's leaders were held at Ashkelon Prison, according to sources from the prison. Talks are expected to continue over the closing times of prison wings, returning to former modes of eating and cooking at the prisons and the option of resuming studies there.

The prisoners’ two primary demands were for more frequent family visits and for prisoners to be allowed to speak to their families on public phones under supervision.

The head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, Issa Qaraqe, said on Saturday that "the prisoners ended the strike after their demands were met."

According to Palestinian official Jamal Mohsin, "the strike ended after 41 days and following struggle, steadfastness and long negotiations, including with the leaders of the strike headed by Marwan Barghouti." 

Haaretz has learned that over the past two weeks senior officials from the Shin Bet security service met with senior Palestinian officials and discussed with them the prisoners' demands. The meetings showed that the defense establishment was intending to meet some of the prisoners' demands and improve their conditions. However, the Shin Bet demanded that the hunger strike end first.

The Palestinians noted that throughout the talks it was requested that Marwan Barghouti, who led the strike, be kept away from the discussions. However, sources in the Ashkelon Prison told Haaretz that the Fatah official took part in the overnight talks in the prison and was among those who brought the strike to and end. 

Participants in the strike, which began over a month ago, included 1,578 prisoners overall, mostly associated with the Fatah movement, according to the prison service. All 834 prisoners who remained on strike until Friday night ended their strike and the 18 prisoners hospitalized as a result of the strike will be returned to prison after their condition improves, it added.

The Physicians for Human Rights organization said on Saturday that "during the hunger strike, worrying reports were received from prisoners regarding the way the Israel Prison Service acted toward the strikers. It's important to investigate the complaints so that such conduct won't repeat itself. We call on the Israel Prison Service and the Public Security Ministry to carry out substantial changes in the failed health system of the prison service and ultimately transfer the responsibility to the Health Ministry." 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met on Thursday in Ramallah with Trump's special envoy to the region Jason Greenblatt. According to officials from Abbas' bureau, their meeting focused mostly on the hunger strike and the Palestinian demand for the White House to intervene in the matter.

Abbas said that "the issue of the prisoners is a sensitive and difficult one, and we want the Americans to intervene so that we can receive answers from the Israelis regarding their commitment to comply with the prisoners' demands, which there is no reason to refuse as they are legitimate and humane."