Hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel launch hunger strike
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons launched a hunger strike Monday, in what their leader behind bars called a new step in the Palestinians’ “long walk to freedom.”
Activists said more than 1,500 of about 6,500 Palestinians held by Israel as socalled security prisoners joined the protest, the largest such strike in five years.
The hunger strikers’ immediate demands included better conditions, such as more contact with relatives, and an end to Israel’s practice of detentions without trial.
It was seen as unclear whether the strike could be sustained to the point of forcing concessions from the Israeli authorities, but experts said it nonetheless had the potential to stir passions among Palestinians.
In the West Bank and Gaza, thousands staged solidarity marches Monday to mark Prisoners’ Day in the Palestinian areas.
The hunger strike was led by Marwan Barghouti, a prominent figure in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.
Over the years, polls have indicated that Barghouti is the most popular choice among Palestinians to succeed the 82-year-old Mr. Abbas who has failed to groom a political heir.
Barghouti was arrested in 2002 during the violent Palestinian uprising and convicted on multiple counts of murder. He was sentenced to five life terms.
He is one of the bestknown among thousands of Palestinians jailed for charges ranging from stonethrowing and membership in groups outlawed by Israel to attacks that wounded or killed Israelis.
In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Barghouti wrote that Israeli prisons have become the “cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination.”
“This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom,” he wrote.
In what appeared to be a punitive measure, Israel’s prison service said Barghouti had been transferred to a different prison.