Palestinian hunger strikers’ leader moved to solitary confinement
Marwan Barghouti, the leader of a mass hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, has been moved to solitary confinement amid warnings by Israeli officials that they will “not negotiate” with the striking detainees.
As the strike involving more than 1,100 prisoners in eight prisons entered its second day, the Israeli authorities moved swiftly to contain the protest, dispersing key figures to different prisons and ordering searches to prevent inmates sending messages.
Gilad Erdan, the country’s public security minister, vowed that the authorities would not negotiate with prisoners and said Barghouti had been moved from Hadarim jail, the initial centre of the hunger strike, to another prison – reportedly in Haifa – and placed in solitary confinement.
“They are terrorists and incarcerated murderers who are getting what they deserve and we have no reason to negotiate with them,” Erdan told army radio.
While Palestinian prisoners have mounted hunger strikes before, it has rarely on such a large scale. The protest also comes ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, giving added significance.
Estimates of prisoners participating in the hunger strike vary between 1,100 and 1,500, and the protest has already unsettled Israeli officials who also reacted furiously to an article penned by Barghouti justifying the strike in the New York Times.
Responding to international interest in the hunger strike, Israel’s foreign ministry insisted in a statement: “The Palestinian prisoners are not political prisoners. They are convicted terrorists and murderers. They were brought to justice and are treated properly under international law.”
More hardline still was the reaction by Israel’s intelligence and transportation minister, who tweeted that Barghouti should have been executed after his conviction for murder in 2004 in an Israeli court.
“When a despicable murderer like Barghouti protests in prison for improved conditions, while the relatives of those he murdered are still in pain, there is only one solution – death penalty for terrorists,” Israel Katz wrote on Twitter.
Barghouti, aged 57, is a former senior official in Fatah, the political movement of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and is a popular figure in Palestinian society.
Arrested in 2002, he was later sentenced to 40 years in jail by an Israeli court after being convicted for directing lethal attacks on Israelis during the second intifada in the early 2000s.
Barghouti refused to defend himself during his trial, denouncing the process as illegitimate.
Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio, Barghouti’s lawyer, Elias Sabbagh, said the plan to launch a hunger strike had been discussed among prisoners for more than a year.
While Israeli ministers and commentators have accused Barghouti of using the strike to strengthen his own position in internal Palestinian politics, the claim was denied by Barghouti’s son Kassam.
However, Barghouti’s initiative stands in stark contrast to the recent perceived lack of leadership of President Abbas, who has so far failed to find a credible strategy to articulate since Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency. .
Explaining his reasons in the New York Times on Monday for calling for the strike, Barghouti said the protest was “the most peaceful form of resistance available”.
“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 … In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.”
Prisoners’ demands include improved visitation rights from family members and easier access to telephones.
The visitation rights are a case of particular concern. While Israeli prison service regulations stipulate that all prisoners are entitled to family visits once every two weeks, in reality Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territories are required to apply for permits to enter Israel in the first place – permits that are often denied.