The hunger strike of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails has entered its second week. The number of new prisoners joining the protest is growing, and the initiatives in the West Bank and Gaza supporting them is multiplying. Fatah, the party of strike leader Marwan Barghouti, has declared a general strike and a “day of rage” on Thursday and Friday, respectively, in the Occupied Territories.
Barghouti is the most notable of Palestinian prisoners and organized the fasting observed by more than 1,500 inmates. At the headquarters of the Committee for Marwan Barghouti, I interviewed Qassam Barghouti, his 32-year-old son, himself a former prisoner in Israel where he served a four-year sentence.
How is your father’s health?
We have no precise information because he is in solitary confinement at Jalame prison. We know from another Palestinian, imprisoned in the same prison, that he has very low blood pressure and severe pain in the abdomen. Prison authorities would give him the drugs, but he rejects them.
What do you think will be the response to the hunger strike?
[I expect] resistance from Israel, which has placed many prisoners in isolation, shifting them from one penitentiary to another, confiscating personal property, and revoking meetings with family members, which even before was very limited. Outside, the reaction of the Palestinian population has been very positive. There have been numerous initiatives in support of the prisoners’ struggle. Tents were set up in many towns and villages where every day hundreds of people discuss the strike and its motives. There were also demonstrations in the streets of Ramallah and other towns. I would like to add that it’s not only 1,500 prisoners on hunger strike and all of Fatah, as has been said, but every day there are new members, including prisoners affiliated with other Palestinian groups.
The Hamas prisoners, however, are not participating.
Ten years of conflicts within the Palestinian camp has left its mark. Unfortunately, many have tried to give a political connotation to this hunger strike. The protest has a humanitarian nature, aimed at improving the living conditions of all prisoners, and not only of a part.
Inside Fatah, according to murmurs among Palestinians, not everyone agrees with your father, and some accuse him of launching the hunger strike to increase his own power.
We don’t know anything about it. From the first moment, President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] and the Central Committee of Fatah have given full support to the prisoners’ protest. These rumors are therefore unfounded. Prisoners in Israeli prisons are a national issue, and we are sure that this strike will play an important role in reconciliation between Palestinians. Those who spread these rumors are wrong because it plays into the hands of Israel, which wants to invent motives for the protest and give the impression that Marwan Barghouti is doing this to gain power and popularity. It serves to conceal the plight of those incarcerated.
President Abbas is preparing to meet with Donald Trump at the White House on May 3. Do you think he will use the occasion to play down the situation in the Occupied Territories, without mentioning the prisoners’ hunger strike, or will the current climate be a kind of impetus?
I think the strike will help his mission because he will explain [to Trump] that the Palestinians are determined not to give up their rights, in every aspect, from life in prison to their complete liberation from Israeli occupation. The president will have the opportunity to reiterate to the world that without the realization of our rights, there will not be a political solution in this country and throughout the region. We aren’t willing to accept any less than what’s provided to us by international law.
Israel accuses Marwan Barghouti of being a terrorist, to have organized attacks that caused casualties and sentenced him to five life sentences.
My father has always rejected these allegations. He is not a terrorist but a Palestinian who struggles to free and liberate his people from Israel’s military occupation that has lasted 50 years. Marwan Barghouti has not changed his mind. He was and remains a supporter of the two-state solution [Israel and Palestine] and the implementation of international law and U.N. resolutions for both peoples. At the same time he believes that this Israeli government, these Israeli counterparts, are not partners for a deal. Because every day they carry out tougher and more aggressive policies of occupation, with the construction of settlements on our land and the demolition of our homes. On one point Marwan Barghouti is categorical: It is essential for the Palestinians to immediately regain full political and social cohesion. Without the Palestinian political platform and a national unity, our striving for liberation will prove futile.
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