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Barghouthi: Hunger strike marks 'turning point' for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel

May 30, 2017 10:34 P.M. (Updated: May 31, 2017 11:04 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Marwan Barghouthi, the imprisoned Fatah leader who led a mass 40-day hunger strike across Israeli prisons, released a statement on Tuesday for the first time since the end of the hunger strike several days ago, calling the strike a “turning point” in the Palestinian prisoners’ relationship with Israeli prison officials and warned Israeli authorities that prisoners would resume their strike if their commitments were not fulfilled.

His statement, which was released by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS), underscored the treatment of Palestinian prisoners during the hunger strike, which including the transferring of Palestinians between Israeli prisons and into solitary confinement in “harsh and brutal conditions.”

Barghouthi added that Israeli authorities had confiscated “all personal belongings, including underwear. The prisoners were deprived of all sanitary and hygiene materials, turning their lives into hell and releasing shameful rumors and lies.”

“Yet, the record of the prisoners has been one of unprecedented steadfastness in the record of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement and the Israeli repression failed to break their will,” he added.

Hundreds of hunger-striking prisoners had been calling for an end to the denial of family visits, the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention -- imprisonment without charge or trial -- among other demands for basic rights.

After thanking all of those who were involved with and supported the hunger strike, Barghouthi, who was a decisive figure during the talks with Israel Prison Service (IPS) that ended the strike, said that the strike’s leaders had been able to “extract a number of just and humanitarian achievements” from prison authorities, which included a reinstatement of a second monthly family visit for the prisoners, and succeeded in forcing Israeli authorities to address issues related to the “daily life” of the prisons, such as transfer processing, and the “conditions of women prisoners, child, and ill prisoners.”

While Palestinian leaders have claimed that 80 percent of the prisoners’ demands were met by Israel, Israel Prison Service (IPS) officials have strongly denied the statements, saying that no concessions were given to the prisoners and the agreement that ended the strike only guaranteed a reinstatement of a second monthly family visit to the prisoners that would be funded by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

However, Barghouthi added that the prisoners had agreed to the formation of a “committee of senior officials of the Prison Service” to continue dialogue with representatives of the Palestinian prisoners in the next few days “to discuss all issues without exception.”

“In light of this and with the coming of the holy month of Ramadan, we have decided to suspend the strike to give the opportunity to carry out these discussions with the Prison Service, emphasizing our strong readiness to resume the strike if the Prison Service does not fulfill its commitments made to the prisoners,” he said.

He added that the strike represented a “turning point” in the relationship between the Palestinian prisoners and the “mechanisms of the prison administration,” saying that the prisoners would no longer “allow any infringement upon the achievements and the rights of the prisoners.”

The strike was also aimed at unifying the Palestinian prisoners’ movement, and to provide a foundation for a “unified national leadership” in future months that can achieve the recognition of Palestinians “in the dungeons of the Israeli occupation” as prisoners of war and political prisoners, Barghouthi stated.

The strike also attempted to put a spotlight on Israel's violations of international law in the prison system, particularly as transferring Palestinian prisoners outside the occupied territory into prisons inside Israel violates the fourth Geneva convention.

Barghouthi also called upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Palestinian national and Islamic factions to uphold their national duties and work on freeing Palestinians held in Israeli custody, and warned of continuing any negotiations before setting conditions on “the comprehensive release of all Palestinian prisoners and detainees.”

Barghouthi was held in solitary confinement throughout the strike's duration, while Israeli authorities attempted to discredit the leader by releasing a video of Barghouthi purportedly eating in his solitary cell during the hunger strike, which Palestinian leaders quickly denounced as “fake” and an attempt by Israeli authorities to delegitimize Barghouthi.

Israeli authorities had refused to negotiate with Barghouthi up until the 11th hour of negotiations between IPS, the PA, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), while the hunger strikers had insisted that any negotiations that did not include Barghouthi were illegitimate and "aimed at breaking the hunger strike in exchange for empty promises.”

On Monday, the Internal Affairs Committee of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, held a session regarding the strike, during which an IPS official maintained that “at no point did IPS negotiate with the hunger-striking security prisoners, and it did not accept any of their demands.”

IPS has maintained that because the PA agreed to fund a second monthly visit, after it was defunded by the ICRC last year, there were no new concessions made to the prisoners.

Throughout the meeting, various right-wing Israeli lawmakers criticized the strike’s demands, with one MK saying that “they (prisoners) should be given the minimal conditions in accordance with international law,” and another saying that “if we were to do the right thing, every terrorist would get a bullet to the head. There is enough room underground.”

According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli prisons as of April.

While Israeli authorities label Palestinians as “security prisoners,” activists and rights groups have long considered Palestinians held in Israeli custody as political prisoners, and have routinely condemned Israel’s use of prison as a means of eroding Palestinian political and social life in the occupied territory.

Addameer has reported that 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been detained by Israeli authorities at some point in their lives.
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