This marks a new peak in the widespread support for the prisoners with daily demonstrations, marches and festivals having accompanied the hunger strike from its very beginning and an expansion in the scope of the strike movement.
The hunger strike of the Palestinian detainees’ in Israeli prisons reached a new high-water point this week, when the majority of businesses, educational facilities, and public transportation companies in the Palestinian cities in the West Bank declared it a day of general strike. The activities in support of the hunger strike were escalated Friday, as mass demonstrations, and ensuing clashes with Israeli forces, commenced around the West Bank. The National Committee for the Support of the Strike has called for activities that include prayer and demonstrations on Sunday, a worker march on Labour Day, and other activities throughout the next week. With no solution to the crises in sight, the hunger strike and the accompanying solidarity campaigns outside the prisons promise further escalation till the demands of the detainees are met. Parallel, with no movement towards ending the occupation, Palestinians are forced to try only resort solutions to draw the international community’s attention to their plight and push for the achievements of statehood.
The open-ended hunger strike, led by Palestinian Legislative council and Fatah Central committee member Marwan Barghouti, who has detained by Israel since 2002, began on Palestinian prisoner’s day last Monday, April 17th. Barghouti declared the beginning of the strike to the world with an op-ed published by the New York Times, which drew heavy criticism for the paper from many Israeli politicians. One of their main points of objection is to the identification of Barghouti as a “parliamentarian”, rather than as a “terrorist”, as the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu would have it. Barghouti, seen by many as a symbol of Palestinian resistance and perseverance, is serving four consecutive life sentences and 40 years after being sentenced by an Israeli civilian court, whose authority he bitterly rejected.
The strike is meant to protest the conditions Palestinian prisoners face in Israeli detention and demand basic rights such as more family visits, better health services and the cancellation of administrative detention. Since its announcement, weeks before April 17th, between 1200 and 1600 Palestinian detainees have declared their participation, according to multiple sources. This is largest hunger strike of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons since 3,000 detainees struck for one day in 2013 and largest open-ended strike since the beginning of the occupation.
According to the PLO-affiliated Palestinian Commission on Detainees and Ex-detainees Affairs, one million Palestinians have been detained by Israel since 1967, of which 6500 remain in Israeli detention. These include 500 under administrative detention, i.e. using secret charges and sentenced by the Israeli army itself without trial, 300 minors, 15 parliamentarians, and 62 women. This can explain the successful mobilization of many Palestinians to support the prisoners through acts of solidarity. Many PLC members detained in Israel have since joined the hunger strike, including PFLP Secretary General Ahmad Saadat. Nonetheless, some Palestinian factions, most notably Hamas, have elected not to participate, at least officially, in the strike.
In the eyes of many Palestinians, including Barghouti himself, the hunger strike and the national movement surrounding it is an opportunity to refocus the Palestinian vision and discourse on the struggle against the occupation once more. It is hardly by chance that the time of the prisoners’ hunger strike coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation. In the NYT article, Barghouti contextualizes the strike within, what he names, the struggle for ‘Freedom and Dignity’. This comes in contrast to the thoughts of some, who insinuate that Barghouti is utilizing the strike to boost his own political agenda with Fatah. The strike, to those taking part in it, expands far beyond the confines of the prisons’ walls, which come to symbolize the ongoing wider struggle against Israel’s occupation.