Palestinian hunger strike row draws solidarity, controversy
London- Activists voiced support for a hunger strike launched in mid-April by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails after an attempt to mock the strike’s leader.
The hunger strike, led by Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for his role in the 2000-05 uprising known as the second intifada, is demanding better conditions for prisoners.
Palestinians said that more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have kept up the hunger strike that began April 17 but the Israeli authorities said 843 have refused to eat. Israel has refused to negotiate with the prisoners.
In an apparent bid to demoralise the hunger strikers, Israel’s Prison Services released a video purporting to show Barghouti secretly eating. The video, which was featured on Israeli TV channels, was blasted as a fabrication by the Palestinians.
A still image of the video was then used in an advertisement on the Facebook page of Pizza Hut’s Israeli branch, which photoshopped a pizza box and a slice of pizza into Barghouti’s prison cell. Superimposed on the image was a message asking whether Barghouti would have rather broken his hunger strike with a pizza.
The ad, which was subsequently deleted, led to an online campaign to boycott the restaurant chain, with the hashtag #Boycott_PizzaHut trending on Twitter. Pizza Hut apologised for the “completely inappropriate” post and fired the advertising firm responsible for the ad.
Barghouti denied the authenticity of the video, his lawyer Khader Shkirat said, after meeting with his client on May 14 — their first meeting since the hunger strike began. Barghouti’s weight loss “is clear on his face and his body,” Shkirat told the Associated Press (AP). The lawyer said Barghouti said he planned “to escalate my hunger strike soon. I will stop drinking water.”
Israeli officials insisted that the video was authentic. In an opinion article published in Haaretz, Iris Leal wrote: “Barghouti betrayed the people who trusted him.” She added: “His surrender to the almond-flavored object of his desire arouses doubt as to whether he is made of the right stuff.”
The Israeli claims appear to have backfired amid a Palestinian outrage at what they see as an attempt to discredit Bargouthi and other the hunger strikers.
“The fabricated video shows the defeat of the occupation before the prisoners’ steadfastness,” said Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan’s wife at a news conference. “We expected nothing else but psychological warfare.”
The original Israeli video drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW Regional Director Sari Bashi told the AP that the video “raises questions about the violation of the right to privacy.” She added that it was problematic to “make an allegation against somebody who is in your custody and then hold him incommunicado so he cannot respond to that allegation.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the hunger strikers but declined to discuss their specific conditions in public.
Dr Zeratzion Hishal, an Eritrean- Dutch doctor working with ICRC who visited the hunger strikers, spoke to Agence France-Presse about the typical condition of hunger strikers, saying: “[After a period of 50 days,] we expect serious complications such as organ failure and even death.”
Israeli prison authorities said several dozen hunger-strikers had been moved to areas where they can receive additional medical supervision.
Activists supporting the Palestinian hunger strikers have launched an online campaign to highlight the plight of prisoners by posting videos of themselves drinking saltwater, leading to the hashtag #SaltWaterChallenge trending on Twitter.
“Saltwater is symbolic of prisoner hunger strikes because in these protests the detainees generally abstain from food but consume saltwater as a means of steadying their health,” wrote Leila Diab on the website ArabAmerica.com.
Support for the hunger strikes has not been confined to virtual reality. Palestinian protesters also took to the streets in a show of solidarity with the prisoners.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 20-year-old man was killed May 12 by Israeli gunfire during clashes near Ramallah in the West Bank. Six other protesters were reportedly wounded.
There are an estimated 6,500 Palestinians jailed by Israel for security reasons, several hundred of whom are being held without charges or trial.