MEPs protests outside the Brussels Parliament's Chamber to highlight the plight of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike pic.twitter.com/8oSAXsIQCb— MEP Martina Anderson (@M_AndersonSF) April 27, 2017
As Palestinian prisoners demand better treatment at the hands of Israeli jailers, Palestinians in occupied territories are striking together in solidarity. But will Israel listen?
More than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails made the news after launching a hunger strike on April 17. Ingesting only water and salt, these prisoners followed Fatah party leader Marwan Barghouti, who called for the strike. He's currently serving life in prison for having been involved in the Second Intifada against Israeli occupation.
Prisoners are protesting Israeli prisons' medical negligence, limited family visits, and a series of other grievances that have yet to be addressed.
But as the strike is virtually ignored by Israeli authorities, Palestinians across the West Bank decided to do more to raise awareness.
On Thursday, they launched a general strike to show solidarity, Al Jazeera reports. Groups involved in the general strike have also declared Friday, April 28, a “day of rage,” calling Palestinians to confront Israeli soldiers.
Day 11 of Palestinian mass prisoners hunger strike. General strike in the West Bank. Photos from Bethlehem, Issawiya, Jericho and Nablus pic.twitter.com/yhFzqnfK3T— ???? (@LinahAlsaafin) April 27, 2017
Early Thursday, banks, schools, universities, and private businesses all shut their doors — even public transportation came to a halt.
Near the Old City in Ramallah, dozens of young men sat on plastic chairs in a protest camp. Surrounded by images of prisoners on strike, loudspeakers played songs about Palestinian detainees.
Ibrahim al-Rashidi, 26, told Al Jazeera that he had joined the strike for both personal and political reasons.
Mentioning his cousin, who's been in jail for 13 years and who has also joined the hunger strike, Rashidi added that he wants “to send a message” that he is with the prisoners.
“All the Palestinian people are with the prisoners. It will give the prisoners power and strength after they see the support they have,” he added.
Announcing that Friday was going to be a “day of rage,” President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party called on all Palestinians to express solidarity with the prisoners by “clashing” with Israeli forces. Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, also called Palestinians to join in prayer at solidarity tents set up across the territory.
“The excessive practices of the Israeli occupation, particularly those of the Israel Prison Service … [require that] we clash with the occupier everywhere across our homeland,” Fatah's official statement said.
The statement also held Israel responsible for the lives of Palestinian prisoners and the lives that may be endangered due to “any unrest in the region that may emerge as a result of Israel's stubbornness and indifference toward these prisoners' demands.”
According to the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, Qadura Fares, the issues brought up by prisoners are helping Palestinians of different political factions to come together.
“All the Palestinians are united behind the prisoners in their hunger strike," he said.
"It shows that today, the Palestinian people are united. All the factions, all the unions, everyone is showing his or her solidarity in the villages and the cities. The Palestinian national crisis had become very deep and there was a feeling that it was impossible to act together with a single voice.
But today, the days before and the days that will come after, I believe that the Palestinian people will reach some important conclusions."
But the struggle to bring the strike to an end by making sure Israeli authorities listen to their concerns hasn't been taken up only by Palestinians. Arab League Chief Ahmed Abul Gheit urged the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene on behalf of Palestinians, calling Israeli forces to bring an end to their alleged poor treatment of prisoners.
In a letter to ICRC, Abul Gheit urged the institution to demand Israel “ensure ... Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike [are treated] according to norms and standards set in international humanitarian law.”
Unfortunately, history would lead one to assume Israeli authorities will ignore any calls for change. The idea of letting these protests turn violent might be more useful to the government, as they may be used later to justify more aggression, repression, and poor prisoner treatment.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters