Tens on thousands of Palestinians from throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip marched and attended rallies to show their support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. Marwan Barghouti, who is leading the strike, was palced in solitary confinement.
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The hunger strike, which has been in the works for several weeks, began Sunday evening with around 700 prisoners. It expanded on Monday morning and is expected to include more than 2,000 people in all Israeli prisons. The Israel Prison Service said Monday that 1,100 security prisoners announced their intention to launch a hunger strike in the Gilboa, Meggido, Nafha, Ketziot, Shikma, Ramon, Hadarim and Nitzan prisons.
The prisoners are demanding improved conditions, a change to visiting policies and specific requests such as the installation of public telephones in the cell blocks. Some of the demands involve a return to policies that were in effect before the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in 2006 and the abduction and murder of three Jewish teens in the West Bank in 2014, when Israel withdrew prisoner privileges as a way of increasing pressure on Hamas. Most of the demands, however, are new, such as the closure of the Israel Prison Service clinic in favor of bringing prisoners who need medical care to a hospital. The prisoners are also demanding an end to detention without trial and of solitary confinement.
Under prison service regulations, the refusal of meals is a disciplinary offense that can result in the withdrawal of privileges as well as disciplinary measures. "The Israel Prison Service has a great deal of experience in coping with hunger strikes, and it has the ways and the means to deal with them. It should be noted that the Prison Service does not conduct negotiations with prisoners," a statement said.
Led by Barghouti, a Fatah leader, the strike forced other Palestinian factions were forced to join. Barghouti was moved on Monday to solitary confinement. The Israel Prison Service said it was trying to break up the hunger strike.
In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder in Israel, explained why they have gone on hunger strike. 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.
The open-ended refusal of food has forced all of the Palestinian factions to unite around the prisoners, issuing a joint statement of support, despite the fact that it was prisoners affiliated with the Fatah movement who called the strike.
Abbas calls on international community to intervene
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a statement supporting the hunger-striking prisoners and called on the international community to intervene before their medical condition deteriorates. The prisoners are at the top of the Palestinian leader's agenda, the statement said.
Abbas' statement was released as support rallies were being held in a number of cities in the West Bank, most notably in Ramallah, where more than 2,000 people marched through a few main streets before gathering in Yasser Arafgat Square.
Protesters waved Palestinian flags and pictures of prominent prisoners such as Marwan Barghouti, Karim Younes and of Ahmad Saadat, the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Some demonstrators announced that they plan to join the hunger strike, in an expression of solidarity with the prisoners.
'The Palestinian people declared today an intifada'
The head of prisoner affairs in the PLO, Issa Qaraqe, issued a warning about the implication of the steps being taken by the Israel Prison Service against the hunger-striking prisoners. "The Palestinian people, in every place where it lives, declared today that the prisoners' issue is sacred to it and that the occupation government will not enjoy quiet and security as long as it violates the rights of the Palestinian people and harms its prisoners. The Palestinian people declared today an intifada on behalf of the prisoners who are conducting a campaign whose foundation is a hunger strike for their rights and their dignity," Qaraqe said.
Qadura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society and a close ally of Barghouti, said the campaign launched on Monday will mark a turning point in the prisoners' struggle that "opens a door to the start of a popular intifada for Palestinian national unity and the rights of the Palestinian people." The strike, Fares said, sends a clear message that, "the Palestinian people has not abandoned the path of resistance and that a hunger striker inside a prison must also have an effect outside its walls."
Knesset member Osama Saadia (Joint List) expressed support for the hunger strikers on behalf of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee. "Israel is counting on disunity among the prisoners, but we are certain that all of the Palestinian prisoners are united in this campaign, which is a campaign for the liberty of the Palestinian people," he said.
Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of Marwan Barghouti, called on Palestinians to increase their support for the prisoners beyond the events of Palestinian Prisoners Day.
Lawmaker Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List) applied on Monday to be permitted to visit Barghouti and requested the withdrawal of the order barring Israeli lawmakers from visiting Palestinian prisoners, issued by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
The spokesman for Hamas' military wing Iz al-Din al-Qassa, Abu Obeida, said in a video aired on Monday in Gaza that the release of the Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons is a matter of time and is at a top priority for the group. He said Hamas is closely watching the strike and that it supports their cause.