Some 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel launched a mass hunger strike on Monday to press for basic rights and shed light on the difficult humanitarian conditions inside Israeli prisons.
The open-ended hunger strike, one of the largest in recent years, coincides with Palestinian Prisoners Day, annually commemorated on April 17. Led by jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, the strike will see Palestinian prisoners from across the political spectrum participate from within six prisons inside Israel.
“They have central demands and will continue to fast until they achieve them. The prisoners see hunger striking as the only door they can knock on to attain their rights,” Amina al-Taweel, spokesperson for the Hebron-based Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies, told Al Jazeera.
“Even though it is one of the most dangerous and difficult decisions, they are only making this choice because conditions [inside the prisons] have reached a new low,” said al-Taweel.
Rallies are expected to take place across major Palestinian cities in the occupied territories including Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus, in solidarity with the plight of prisoners.
Rami Hamdallah, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, released a statement directed at the prisoners and the Palestinian people, ahead of the strike.
“On this day, we are reminded of the pain of imprisonment, cruelty of the occupation and the injustice of the prison cells, as we are reminded of our pride in your steadfastness and sacrifice,” said Hamdallah in a recorded video message shared on his Twitter page.
“In the midst of this battle I call on all the Palestinian people and national institutions to show more solidarity so we can deliver the message of the prisoners to the whole world. Let us all push for the largest international, popular and official movement to stand by the prisoners in this critical time,” he continued.
There are currently 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel, including more than 500 administrative detainees, according to Jerusalem-based prisoner rights group Addameer.
Prisoners’ demands include installation of a public telephone in all prisons to allow communication with relatives, resuming bi-monthly family visits, allowing second-degree relatives to visit, increasing duration of the visits and allowing prisoners to take photographs with their families.
Many prisoners suffer from medical negligence in jails. Prisoners must pay for their own medical treatment, and are not provided with the adequate health care. Sick prisoners have also reported being denied water.
Since 1967, more than 50 Palestinian prisoners have died due to medical negligence inside Israeli jails, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. “Some people wait four years to get surgery,” said al-Taweel. “They’re calling for an end to this deliberate medical negligence.”
Additionally, prisoners are demanding better treatment when being transferred between prisons or between courts and prisons. Detainees are transported in a vehicle with blacked-out windows, known as the Bosta.
The vehicle is divided into tight metal cells, whereby the prisoner is chained from their arms and legs to a chair in a confined space, for long periods of time in the dark.
Other demands include installing air conditions in prisons, restoring kitchens, allowing detainees to keep books, newspapers and clothes, as well as ending the policies of administrative detention and solitary confinement.