Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving five life sentences for murder in Israel, explained why he and hundreds of other Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike in an op-ed published in The New York Times on Sunday.
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Some 700 Palestinian prisoners launched the indefinite strike on Sunday, a campaign spearheaded by Barghouti. The hunger strike was expected to expand Monday to over 2,000 participants.
In the NYT piece, Barghouti accused Israel of conducting "mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners," and said that a hunger strike is "the most peaceful form of resistance available" against these abuses.
"Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation," he writes.
In the piece, Barghouti relays a number of personal stories about his run-ins with Israeli authorities and the subsequent imprisonments he has endured. He doesn't mention the crimes for which he was convicted, claiming that "an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers."
Turning to the conditions in Israeli prisons, Barghouti writes that "Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention."
According to Barghouti, the hunger strike is intended to end these alleged abuses by Israel.
He further accused Israel of establishing "a form of judicial apartheid" that lets Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians off easy, while "criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance."
Barghouti ends his piece saying "Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace."
The fate of more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, whose number has grown considerably in the past 18 months due to the wave of stabbing and car-ramming attacks (the “lone-wolf intifada”), affects nearly every family in the Palestinian territories. A hunger strike, if it is widely observed and well managed, could immediately turn up the heat in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. If down the road a threat to the strikers’ lives develops, it could lead to another wave of violence.
The prisoners drafted a list of demands approximately two weeks ago, which includes the revoking of detention without trial and solitary confinement. The hunger strikers also demand the reinstatement of a number of rights that had been revoked, in addition to demanding the installation of a pay phone in each wing, more frequent family visits and the possibility of being photographed with family members during visits.