The strike paints globally a picture of an aggressive, apartheid state and brings into question Israel’s supposed status as a liberal democracy, writes JEN ISAKSON
NOT even a week has passed since 1,500 Palestinian prisoners embarked on an open-ended hunger strike and Israel’s minister for intelligence and communications Yisrael Katz, has taken to Twitter to call for Marwan Barghouti’s execution.
Barghouti (pictured), who will have spent 15 years in prison this month, is widely considered the Palestinian Nelson Mandela and future presidential candidate. Palestinian rights groups have this week launched a campaign to nominate Barghouti for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Israeli authorities, in response to the strike that began April 17 — known as Palestinian Prisoners’ Day — have forcibly moved Barghouti into solitary confinement and separated other striking prisoners into alternate wings.
One of the justifications for his solitary confinement is an article he’s had published in the New York Times recently. It’s not just about writing the article, but also “smuggling” it out of prison via his solicitor and wife, Fadwa.
He is also being threatened with prosecution for this activity — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since condemned the New York Times for publishing it.
In his article, Barghouti describes hunger striking as “the most peaceful form of resistance available... It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.”
The brutal retaliatory measures reflect the wider conditions in Israeli prisons the strikers hope to highlight and challenge. Visits are limited to 45 minutes and have been cut to a single visit each month and taking family photos during visits is banned. Changes to these conditions are among the demands put forward.
Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan has called for the creation of a military hospital to ensure that hunger-striking prisoners who fall ill are not transferred to civilian hospitals. This is because civilian hospitals have so far refused to force feed hunger-striking prisoners.
It is clear the protest is worrying the upper echelons of the Israeli political class and reaching the Israeli public. Rumours emerged on Wednesday of barbecues to be held outside the prisons by Israeli settlers to mock the hunger of the 1,500 strikers.
This activity by no means represents the margins of Israeli society — organised by activists within the right-wing Jewish Home party and Yisrael Beiteinu, both enjoying representation in the Israeli Knesset and government.
The impact of the strike action is making clear to politicians, prison authorities and the Israeli public’s psyche that the rot of the occupation cannot be hidden from view forever.
Israeli prison authorities say they do not negotiate with protesters but should any of the striking prisoners die, they will undoubtedly become martyrs for the cause, prompting the protest inside jails to explode onto the streets outside.
With the world watching, the Israeli government knows the stakes. If local non-violent resistance will still not persuade it to end the occupation, end detention without trial and release political prisoners international pressure may come to the fore and intensify.
That would make the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement all the more relevant and a surge in Israel’s economic and political isolation would gain momentum.
If the Israeli government does not concede to peaceful tactics, its illegal occupation and use of violence against the Palestinians paints globally a picture of an aggressive, apartheid state and brings into question Israel’s supposed status as a liberal democracy.
This will only serve to bolster Barghouti and the Palestinian cause.