Palestinian Families to Call on Trump to Help Resolve Prisoners' Hunger Strike

Families of prisoners in Israeli jails expect Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to raise issue with U.S. president during Tuesday’s meeting

Palestinian men hold a banner bearing a portrait of U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a printer's in Bethlehem, May 21, 2017.
MUSA AL SHAER/AFP

The families of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails expect Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to raise the issue during his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Bethlehem on Tuesday morning.

Abdullah Za’ari, of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, said the families expect Abbas to address the subject.

Haaretz has obtained a copy of a letter that has been prepared for Trump and which the families expect Abbas’ bureau to present to him.

“We believe you have the power to influence the Israeli government to end our imprisoned sons’ suffering, and we expect you as the president of the United States to intervene in this matter,” the families wrote to Trump.

The tent erected by the hunger strikers’ families in the Church of the Nativity plaza was one of the few areas of activity in Bethlehem on Monday.

Dozens of relatives – including mothers of the prisoners – sat in the tent, holding photographs of their loved ones.

Lilia Zohara, the mother of Mohammed Zohari, who has been serving a life sentence since 2002, said she expects the U.S. president to intercede on the prisoners’ behalf.

“We know that his position carries great weight with Israel and he can intervene on behalf of our imprisoned sons,” she said. “We’re not talking about murderers or terrorists, as Israel calls them. We’re talking about freedom fighters battling for their homeland, and they aren’t demanding to be released – only to have their detention conditions improved.”

The West Bank city was making its final preparations for the visit on Monday, with the massive deployment of security services the most notable sign of Tuesday’s meeting.

There were no decorations or any sense of a festive atmosphere in the city. Police with weapons drawn are stationed at every street corner, but only a few roads are expected to be closed when Trump arrives.

The U.S. president will be in Bethlehem for around an hour, but is unlikely to visit the Church of the Nativity.

There was a general strike in Bethlehem on Monday – like in all other cities in the West Bank – and the city was completely empty. Although the churches were open, the hundreds of tourists will only be able to really experience the city on Tuesday.

The presidential visit didn’t seem to be generating much interest among locals. “Every new president comes to talk about peace and then everything evaporates. We don’t believe that something will develop, because Israel doesn’t want peace,” said Abu Ahmed, near his cherry stand on the main road.