Middle East

Clashes at West Bank hunger strike protests

A Palestinian kicks a burning tire during clashes with Israeli forces following a rally in support of hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails, in the West Bank village of Beita, southeast of Nablus city, Friday, April 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

BEIRUT: Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces clashed Friday during demonstrations across the occupied West Bank in solidarity with the hundreds of Palestinian detainees in Israel prisons who entered their 12th day of a hunger strike. The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least eight Palestinians were injured in the clashes, while the director of Ramallah Hospital Ahmad Bitawi reported that more than 20 people sustained non-life-threatening injuries, according to the Associated Press.

The confrontations between the Israeli army and hundreds of Palestinians flared in the cities of Hebron, Silwad, Nablus, Jenin, Nabi Saleh, Bethlehem, Qalandia and several other villages and towns.

AFP reported that demonstrators in Bethlehem waved flags bearing the image of prominent Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah official and member of Parliament who called for the hunger strike. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences over his role in the second intifada. Palestinians hurled rocks at soldiers who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, AFP said.

In the Ramallah district, dozens of Palestinians suffered from tear gas inhalation during a demonstration near Ofer military prison and in the town of Silwad, the Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported.

At least 1,500 Palestinian detainees have joined the hunger strike led by Barghouti to protest ill-treatment, torture, medical neglect and the lack of basic human rights, including the restriction of family visitation rights, in Israeli prisons.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday its delegates were able to visit hundreds of hunger strikers after being denied access for nine days.

However, Barghouti’s lawyer, Elias Sabbagh, told The Daily Star that neither he nor the ICRC were allowed to visit the Palestinian leader. “Our detainees will go on in their strike until their demands are met. This is nonnegotiable. They got into the battle, knowing full well that it will be long and arduous,” Barghouti’s brother, Muqbel Barghouti said. “Palestinian determination knows no limit and the whole world, including Israel, knows this,” he told The Daily Star, adding that new groups of detainees will join the hunger strike in the coming days.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club told AFP last week that Barghouti was refusing medical treatment and his health was deteriorating.

“We are very, very worried. They denied any communications with him – that includes his lawyers,” Muqbel said, adding that Barghouti was placed in solitary confinement in Jalame prison, in northern Israel.

Contrary to what the Israeli authorities are asserting, Muqbel said, the strike is not political and Barghouti is not seeking a popularity boost for political gains. “This is a strike to achieve basic human rights demands. Marwan has endured 15 years of imprisonment and torture but he is still ahead in every opinion poll, so he doesn’t need this strike for legitimacy or popularity.” Muqbel said that preparations for the hunger strike started months ago. “The plan was devised to the last detail.”

“The letter written by Marwan to The New York Times and other letters written to different entities [that are yet to be sent] were all designed to be delivered on dates chosen by Marwan ahead of time,” he said.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times on the first day of the hunger strike, Barghouti explained the reasons behind the move taken by the Palestinian prisoners.

In a message to the Arab world and beyond, Muqbel urged the people to rally behind the “battle of empty stomachs” until the demands of the detainees are met. “We need a win for humanity at difficult time in the region. The prisoners are resisting solely with their determination and steadfastness, without arms. We salute all our supporters,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 29, 2017, on page 8.

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