MIDDLE EAST

‘We will not surrender’: hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails launch hunger strike

Hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners occur regularly, but rarely on such a large scale

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 April, 2017, 8:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 April, 2017, 9:13pm

Hundreds of Palestinians being held in Israeli jails launched a hunger strike yesterday following a call from leader and prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, a movement that could mark a ­serious challenge to Israeli authorities if sustained.

The hunger strike was called for in connection with Palestinian Prisoners Day, observed annually, but also ahead of commemorations this summer marking 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War and the start of Israel’s occupation. Hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners occur regularly, but rarely on such a large scale.

Barghouti’s call for the strike has given it added credibility, with the 57-year-old serving a life sentence over his role in the violent second Palestinian intifada.

He is a popular figure among Palestinians, with polls suggesting he could win the Palestinian presidency. While many Palestinians view Barghouti as a hero, Israelis point to the bloody suicide attacks of the second intifada and his role in the uprising.

“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,” Barghouti wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times. “In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.”

Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian Auth­ority’s head of prisoner ­affairs, said “around 1,300 ­Palestinian prisoners” were ­participating in the hunger strike and the number could rise. The Palestinian Prisoners Club NGO put the number at 1,500.

Israeli prison service spokesman Assaf Librati said that 700 prisoners had announced on Sunday their intention to begin a hunger strike.

“We are checking this morning to see the number of prisoners ­actually striking as some of them said they would only observe a symbolic protest strike and then resume eating afterwards,” ­Librati said.

About 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of offences.

Israel says it must be vigilant to prevent fresh eruptions of ­violence, particularly following a wave of knife, gun and car-ramming attacks since October 2015. The violence has greatly subsided in recent months.