More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners begin hunger strike
They demand better prison conditions and an end to administrative detentions. Led by Marwan Barghouti, sentenced to life for murder during the second Intifada. For Bernard Sabella "it is the sign of a lack of political perspective" and stalling of international politics. Thousands of demonstrators in the West Bank in support of prisoners.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - More than 1000 Palestinians have begun a hunger strike in opposition to the living conditions in Israeli prisons. The demonstration is led by Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, 57, sentenced to five life sentences for murders committed during the second intifada. The date of the official start of the strike is not causal: April 17 is the "Day for Palestinian Prisoner", in which friends and relatives detained in jails are remembered. Hunger strikes are nothing new, but it is the first time to take part is such a significant number.
The demonstrative action had been announced the day before yesterday, after weeks of preparation, with 700 prisoners.
Barghouti was yesterday put in isolation. Israelis consider him bloodthirsty for his role in the al-Aqsa Intifada, Palestinians consider him a hero and sometimes refer to him as a potential successor to Mohammad Abbas, current president of the Palestinian National Authority.
Barghouti wrote an open letter to the New York Times, motivating the strike as the "most peaceful form of available resistance" against "arbitrary mass arrests and mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners."
According to the Israeli authorities, the number of participants is around 1187, while Issa Qaraqe, of the Palestinian Authority leadership says the number of prisoners are 1300. The Palestinian Prisoner Club NGO has a population of 1500.
The Palestinian prisoners - around 6500 (according to Palestinian sources 7 thousand) - is a major source of tension with Israel. They include 62 women and 300 minors. The Palestinians consider them political prisoners, although they are serving a sentence for a different kind of crimes: about 500 are being held in "administrative detention", a tool that allows Tel Aviv to hold suspects without charge for a period of six months.
The purpose of the protest is to ask for improvements in detention conditions, including more family visits; the installation of public telephones in detention blocks; the closure of the service clinics in prisons in favor of medical care in hospitals; an end to detention without trial and isolation. As for the medical conditions, the strikers are also demanding the release of prisoners with disabilities or chronic illnesses. In addition, the Palestinian branch of the NGO Defense for Children International reported yesterday that more and more children are subjected to isolation for longer periods of time: in 2016, 25 minors were confined for an average 16 day period.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, Prof. Bernard Sabella, a Catholic, representative of Fatah in Jerusalem and Executive Secretary of service to the Council the Palestinian refugees of Middle Eastern Churches, said that the hunger strike is one of the consequences of the political situation: "Without a political solution, no peace between Palestinians and Israelis, what kind of condition of life can a Palestinian prisoner have? It is a sad and painful situation."
"The Palestinian prisoners are demanding better living conditions, to see their families, get medical care, better hygiene, all those who lack basic necessities," says Prof. Sabella. "It is also the political message that we have no vision for the future. It is at a standstill. The international community, and various groups in Israel have their part to play. There is the 'disengagement', the absence of the international community, when you need to intervene in favor of dialogue. "
Today the Israeli minister for internal security Gilad Erdan announced to the military radio that Israel will not negotiate with the demonstrators: "They are terrorists and killers who are serving what they deserve and we have no reason to negotiate with them."
In the Penitentiary Regulation, the refusal of meals is a disciplinary offense which can result in withdrawal of privileges or disciplinary measures.
Abbas issued a statement supporting the strike, demanding the intervention of the international community.
The strike was also supported by demonstrations in different cities of the West Bank, particularly in Ramallah, where more than 2 thousand people marched in the main streets, and gathered in the square Yasser Arafat. The protesters showed pictures of their imprisoned Barghouti and other relatives, and several demonstrators announced that they wanted to join the strike.