National Union activists held a barbecue to taunt Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike Thursday.The youth branch and secretary-general of the far-right party, which has two representatives in Bayit Yehudi, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and MK Bezalel Smotrich, set up grills outside the Ofer Prison to “celebrate the hunger strike” and “break the spirit” of the strikers, in hopes that the smell of the meat would waft into the prison.The prisoners “will enjoy breathing in the smoke and suffer from the smell of the meat, and [we will] show them that we will not give in to their whims,” the group said.
The group also called on the government “not to surrender to the oppressor terrorists and act with full force to free the captives [Hadar] Goldin and [Oron] Shaul,” who are presumed dead and whose bodies are being held by Hamas in Gaza.National Union Secretary-General Ofir Sofer said, “The time has come to stop listening to the hunger strikers and show them that we won’t surrender to their whims... I call on the government and its leader to worsen the terrorists’ conditions and act with full force to release the soldiers [Hadar] Goldin and [Oron] Shaul, of blessed memory, who fought for all of us.”National Union Youth chairman Avihai Greenwald said, “Surrender to a hunger strike?... Anyway, it’s not clear why there’s no death penalty for terrorists. We wish these terrorists luck in their hunger strike. They should take it all the way.”Meanwhile, leaders of Israel's Arab citizens voiced solidarity with the strikers. A solidarity event is planned for the northern town of Arabe Friday while small gatherings were held in recent days at road junctions and in Ara, a northern village. "The vast majority of Arabs in Israel see themselves as part of the larger Palestinian people,"said Sami Abu Shehadeh, a central committee member of the Arab nationalist Balad party. "Part of the prisoners are from the Arab Palestinian community in Israel and the rest are part of our people, our leadership, so we see it as a very important and just struggle."The prisoners are seeking an end to administrative detentions without trial. Kadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, elaborated some of the other demands to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. He said that due to a restrictive policy adopted at the height of the second intifada, thousands of first-degree relatives are being denied prisoner visits on security grounds, including parents of prisoners in their seventies and eighties. The prisoners want visitation rights expanded. There are health concerns, with prisoners waiting for years for operations and diagnoses being a protracted matter, he says. Prisoners are also demanding the installation of public phones, which Fares says could still be monitored and tapped by prison authorities. Another demand is to reinstate study programs for matriculation exams and correspondence courses.The Prisons Service denies charges that security prisoners are mistreated.The strike was called by Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader serving five life sentences plus forty years for his role in the murder and wounding of Israelis. Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh met with Barghouti's wife Fadwa after the start of the strike in a show of support for the action.
Palestinians hold rallies as hundreds of prisoners in Israeli jails begin a hunger strike (credit: REUTERS)