Editorial |

Palestinian Prisoners' Hunger Strike: It’s Not Only About a Candy Bar

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Israel releases footage of leader of Palestinian hunger strike eating in his prison cell
Israel releases footage of leader of Palestinian hunger strike eating in his prison cellCredit: Israel Prison Service

Prisoners who embark on hunger strikes, whether security prisoners or political prisoners, represent a difficult problem not just for the Israel Prison Service, which views every protest as disrupting order and security, but also for the Israeli government, which views every Palestinian protest as an uprising and a security threat.

In its efforts to suppress the current protest, Israel has refused to hold a dialogue with the strikers, listen to their demands or try to resolve the crisis. It doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, or with security prisoners on hunger strike. Instead, it is trying to break the strikers through force – both physical, in the form of force-feeding, and psychological – to break their spirits, weaken them and make it difficult in every possible way for them to continue the strike.

The video released by the prison service on Sunday, showing the leader of the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, senior Fatah official Marwan Barghouti, eating in his cell, was showcased by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in an effort to humiliate Barghouti and to divide the strikers and undermine their morale. The clip’s dissemination to the media was an effort by the Netanyahu government and the Israel Prison Service to mobilize the entire Israeli public for its psychological warfare against the strikers.

This was a trick meant to humiliate Barghouti – on one hand, they gave him cookies and candy, while on the other, they deployed cameras – and provide the public with a feast of collective humiliation: Look, a security prisoner and Palestinian leader is pretending to be on hunger strike, but he’s sneaking cookie crumbs from above the toilet in his cell, in the jail where he has been imprisoned for 15 years now and isn’t expected to leave alive. Thus the public enjoys a nice dose of sado-nationalist entertainment, and Erdan “looks like a man” and earns the quiet support of the public, which “concludes” that not just Barghouti, but also the entire struggle, is a fraud.

Yet the security prisoners’ shameful prison conditions, which were the reason for the strike to begin with, are no fraud, and they’re far from funny. Security prisoners can receive visits, which are infrequent due to security constraints, only from first-degree relatives, and only through a glass partition. Conjugal visits are prohibited, as are phone calls or other communication with the outside world. Finally, their chances of receiving a reduction of sentence are negligible, because they are no treatment professionals meeting with the prisoners.

Instead of trying to humiliate, divide and subdue the bodies and souls of the Palestinians to the sound of roaring laughter of the Israeli public Erdan should order the Israel Prison Service to enter genuine negotiations with the prisoners’ leaders, as it has in the past, and to reach agreements and understandings. In the final analysis, the prisoners are not demanding their release, only an improvement in their conditions. Addressing their demands would avoid unnecessary pain and deaths.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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