On Monday April 17, Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons began a historic, mass hunger strike, continuing the decades-long resistance of prisoners in the apartheid state. The lead instigator was Marwan Barghouti, a former Fatah leader who has since been placed in solitary confinement — amplifying his wife Fadwa’s worries about the strike and the fate of the prisoners.
“The last time I went to visit him with my daughter was two to three months ago,” Fadwa said in an interview with The Observer on the 11th day of the strike. “My daughter said to him, ‘I wish you wouldn’t do this. We don’t see you very often. My brothers don’t see you. We will worry about you and not be able to visit.’ He replied: ‘I know it’s going to be painful for the family’.”
Barghouti is just one of many key Palestinian figures that has been moved to solitary confinement as part of efforts to quash the mass uprising. He is set to be prosecuted in discipline court as punishment for publishing an op-ed in the New York Times, where he outlined why the strike is taking place. Israeli prison officials have reportedly accused Barghouthi of using Fadwa to “smuggle” the article out of prison and to the New York Times.
Barghouti is serving a life prison sentence after being convicted in 2004 by an Israeli court for five counts of murder in attacks against Israelis during the second intifada. While right-wing Israeli ministers call him a “murderer and terrorist,” with some even calling for his execution, for Palestinians he is a hero, often compared to Nelson Mandela.
As the strike enters its second week, Fadwa is fearful of the prisoners’ conditions, including her husband’s, who she has not been allowed to visit for days.
“The next days will be hard,” said Fadwa. “The last time I saw him was two weeks before the strike. Since the first day no one has been able visit him. All the information I have is unofficial. Some of the prisoners are suffering and it is getting worse.”
Last week, Israeli authorities had begun cracking down on the prisoners, forcibly moving many to different sections of Israeli jails, confiscating their clothes and personal belongings and preventing lawyers and family members from visiting them in jail. Some prisoners in solitary confinement also began refusing water.
Fadwa told The Guardian that the strikers had drawn up a list of demands eight months ago that included visits, access to phones, education and health screening.
“They sent letters to the Palestinian leadership saying if Israel did not comply by April 16 the strike would begin, telling the Palestinian Authority that they could help prevent it by putting pressure on the Israelis,” she explained.
Our first stop today was meeting the Campaign to Free Palestinian Prisoners. Fadwa Barghouti is ever resilient & hopeful for their release. pic.twitter.com/f4DOCIReuG— Labour 2 Palestine (@Lab2Palestine) March 23, 2017
Meanwhile, Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan has ordered a separate military hospital to be set up so that hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners are not taken to civilian hospitals.These hospitals have so far refused to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, in line with accepted medical ethics that classify force-feeding as a form of torture.
“An element that makes it harder is that I feel other families want to draw strength from me, so I need to hide my feelings,” added Fadwa. “I used to blame Marwan for not being there. He said you have to bear with me. It is the struggle for a better life for our children. Now it has been 30 years.”