The hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israel, now in its 40th day, has reached the critical stage in terms of both the prisoners’ health and the atmosphere on the Palestinian street. Dozens of prisoners have been taken to the hospital due to the deterioration in their condition. Of these, 15 needed to be hospitalized. Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian prisoners’ affairs administration, warned that the lives of some are in real danger, and that it’s only a matter of time until one of the prisoners dies.
The longer the strike lasts, the more the strikers’ health will deteriorate. If so, Israel is liable to decide to force-feed them, even though this is a dangerous practice barred by the medical community.
The Israeli authorities are stubbornly determined to break the strike. Israel tried to hold talks with the prisoners at each prison separately to undermine their mutual solidarity. It also sought to humiliate the strike’s leaders, first and foremost Marwan Barghouti, by showing footage of him eating a candy bar. But these efforts haven’t achieved their goal; indeed, they have had the opposite effect.
The prisoners stress that the strike will continue until their demands are met. Messages to that effect were sent this week by Karim Younis, the longest-serving Fatah prisoner, and Abbas al-Sayad, a senior Hamas prisoner. The prisoners’ strike is currently the burning issue of the day on the Palestinian street and has been dictating the political agenda, even during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit.
Media reports indicate that the prisoners have two main demands: arranging more frequent family visits, and installing public phones from which the prisoners could make monitored calls. Both are humane demands to which the Prison Service and the defense establishment could easily accede. It’s both possible and right to do so now, before the situation on the ground escalates and people pay with their lives.
Israel’s message has been received. Nobody doubts its military might. During his visit here, Trump testified for Israel’s sincere desire for peace and left without demanding anything except goodwill.
A leadership possessed of both goodwill and a long-term strategy would internalize the fact that the prisoners are a significant force in Palestinian society, holding the power to calm the situation, lead the way to compromise and assist in furthering diplomatic moves. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has an opportunity to prove to the world that he’s capable of making a generous gesture and thereby preventing unnecessary death and escalation.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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