Jailed Fatah official Marwan Barghouti.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The hunger strike by Palestinian terrorist prisoners that began this week, as explained by convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti in an op-ed in The New York Times that identified him as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian,” was a last resort to protest “Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners.”
The uninformed reader might ask why this hunger strike is different from all other Palestinian hunger strikes.
While some might be inclined to accept Barghouti’s motives at face value, there is ample evidence that his action is nothing more than a cynical attempt to exploit his fellow prisoners in a bid at succeeding Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority – despite his imprisonment.
According to Barghouti, Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. “Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions,” he wrote.
But there remains an aspect of unreality about this strike. All one has to do is take a look at some of these conditions in prisons being decried by the Palestinians, some of which have actually been improved over the years. In the early days of Palestinian terrorism following the Six Day War, convicted terrorists were denied pencil and paper. By 2012, their privileges extended to obtaining remedial education behind bars, including academic degrees from the Open University.
The idea of a hunger strike as a political protest has experienced a renaissance in the recent past, according to Prof. Sharman Apt Russell, author of Hunger: An Unnatural History.
“It has become an established cultural form of seeking justice in the 20th century,” said Russell, who warned that a hunger strike thrives on the oxygen of publicity, but will lose public interest if the declared cause does not withstand public scrutiny.
Palestinian prisoners have staged dozens of hunger strikes since 1967, some of which have ended with prisoners’ basic demands being met. Color televisions with cable is a common feature of Palestinian prison cells today, but administrative detention continues, so security prisoners continue to plan more hunger strikes. But this is an idle threat, an orchestrated publicity stunt that has never resulted in the mass starvation of thousands of hunger strikers.
In February 2012, approximately 1,800 Palestinian security prisoners began a mass hunger strike in protest against the practice of administrative detention. Four of the hunger strikers spent over two months without food. Their demands also included more family visits and the end of extended solitary confinement. Public demonstration in support was held in Nazareth, Umm el-Fahm, Kafr Kana and Haifa.
On May 7, 2012, the High Court rejected the human rights petition of two of the strikers, Tha’er Halahlah and Bilal Diab. On May 14, the prisoners ended the hunger strike after a deal brokered by Egypt and Jordan in which Israel agreed to limit administrative detention to six months, to increase family visits and to return prisoners then in solitary confinement to their communal cells.
There was also an agreement to open further discussions on improving prison conditions, and the hunger strikers agreed not to engage in militant activity, including recruitment, within prisons.
So why Barghouti and why now? If the strike is successful, it could conceivably boost the standing of Barghouti’s Fatah in its ongoing rivalry with Hamas, but Barghouti still has the rest of his life to serve in prison.
Despite this reality, the “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” may be dreaming of restoring the unproductive Palestinian cause to the world’s agenda, which is paying more deserved attention to the self-destruction of Syria, not to mention internal Muslim conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Yemen.
If the current strike brings pay phones instead of smuggled smartphones to security prisoners or more family visits or even the resumption of academic studies, Barghouti can hope to gain only some new privileges and even more adulation from Palestinian society, which continues absurdly to glorify terrorism as the key to peace.