Over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails are expected to join a mass hunger strike on Monday, led by longtime prisoner and Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
The hunger strike, which coincides with Palestinian Prisoners' Day, is one of the biggest protests in recent times, with inmates from Hamas and Islamic Jihad also participating.
"The entire global community should be alarmed by Israel’s willful breach and devaluation of the rights and lives of Palestinian political prisoners, especially in regards to the imprisonment and ill-treatment of Palestinian men, women, children, and the elderly," said a statement from PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi.
Outside of the Israeli prisons, the action has received also widespread support across factions, including from Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian National Council and the Gaza-based Hamas group.
"We warn the Israel Prison Service against bringing any harm to the hunger strikers. Any delay in answering their just demands will explode the situation inside all prisons," Hamas said in a statement. "All prisoners will unite in the face of all those who might harm prisoners and their dignity."
|The striking prisoners are demanding, among other things, that visitation rights be improved and that inmates be given earier access to telephones.|
The striking prisoners are demanding, among other things, that visitation rights be improved and that inmates be given earier access to telephones.
At present, family members and friends of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are required to apply for permits to enter Israel before a visit. These permits are often rejected, meaning that many prisoners to not receive the fortnightly visit that they are entitled to.
A report published by Amnesty International last week cited the testimony of a prisoner named "Ahmed," a 32-year-old from Hebron, who has been under administrative detention in Ketziot Prison for five-and-a-half years. Ahmed told the rights watchdog that he would be joining the strike in the hope that he would be able to receive a visit from his elderly mother, who has been repeatedly denied entry permits.
"I have had one family visit while in jail. In 2006, my mother and father were able to visit me because my father was sick," Ahmed told Amnesty. "He was 75 then, it was the last time I saw him. He died while I was in prison."
Monday's hunger strike began at Hadarim prison, where Barghouti is serving five life sentences for murder convictions handed by an Israeli court.
The Fatah veteran's involvement is seen as key to the action, particularly during a time when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has attempted to focus power in his small circle.
Barghouti has long been seen as a potential successor to the Fatah leadership, however is currently serving a 40-year sentence which began in 2004. At the time of his trial, the PLO leader refused to offer a defence, saying that the court was illegitimate.
Despite his imprisonment, Barghouti still maintains significant influence on Palestinian politics. This has led to much concern among Israeli authorities about the the current hunger strike, with Security Minister Gilad Erdan having met with prison security officials and Shin Bet on Sunday to discuss the action.
Erdan sought to discredit the strike, accusing Barghouti of using it for personal political ends.
"The strike led by Barghouti is motivated by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands concerning the conditions in the prisons," he said. "I have instructed the prison service to act in any way to contain the strike within the walls of the prisons and the Israel police to prepare and provide any help needed to the prison service for any scenario that is likely to develop."