Palestinians divided over merits of hunger strike
OVER 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike on Sunday.
The action is being lead by Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah leader serving five life sentences for his part in directing terror attacks in which citizens were murdered.
While the hunger strike is — officially — over demands for greater visitation rights and the installation of public telephones in the prisons, it is also seen as an attempt by Mr Barghouti to assert himself as one of the main leaders of the Fatah movement.
Sources in the Israeli prisons service said this week that the level of support among Palestinian prisoners for the hunger strike was lower than expected. A hunger strike is a formal procedure under which the striker is isolated from other prisoners and put under special observation and regular medical check-ups. Hunger strikers continue drinking and consuming minerals.
There are 6,300 Palestinians currently in Israeli prisons; around half affiliated with Fatah, a quarter with Hamas and the rest with a range of other Palestinian organisations, as well as a relatively small number who are not connected to any group.
Israeli security officials said the fact that only around 1,000 jailed Fatah members — less than a third of the total — had joined the hunger strike was an indication that Mr Barghouti’s influence within Fatah and among his fellow prisoners was not as high as many initially believed.
While the Palestinian Authority is officially supporting the hunger strikers, Mr Barghouti’s rivals within the Fatah leadership have been urging their followers in the prisons not to join in.
Mr Barghouti has been pushing in recent years for a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and is known to be close to the movement’s leaders. A hundred Hamas prisoners, as well as members of other organisa- tions, have also announced they are joining the hunger strike.
“For now it seems that the different Palestinian organisations are hedging their bets,” said an Israeli security official.
“This isn’t the largest hunger strike we have dealt with and for now everyone is waiting to see whether it will contribute to unrest outside the prisons, in the West Bank, before deciding whether to jump onto Barghouti’s bandwagon.
“On the one hand, none of his rivals want to strengthen him, but if there is widespread protests in the West Bank, they will have little choice but to join in.”
Hamas prisoners will not join the strike
Palestinians rally in support of Barghouti during a rally in Ramallah