The Israel Prison Service is bracing for a wide-scale hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners scheduled to begin after the Passover festival.
Marwan Barghouti, one of the jailed leaders of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, is behind the strike and has said it will involve all Fatah prisoners held in Israeli jails — unless they receive better conditions.
Sources close to Barghouti told The Times of Israel that the Israel Prison Service had been presented with a list of unprecedented demands that focus primarily on expanding the permits for visits by prisoners’ families, and placing public telephones in all wings of security prisons.
Barghouti, jailed for life by Israel for orchestrating a string of murders during the Second Intifada, is demanding that prisoners be entitled to receive a second family visit each month. He is also calling for free entry to visitors under the age of 16 and for the lifting of security restrictions on visits.
Barghouti, who has remained politically active from behind bars, and is often touted as one of a few likely successors to the 82-year-old Abbas, also demanded that Palestinians held as security prisoners have the same phone rights as those enjoyed by criminals.
The hunger strike is scheduled to begin on April 17 and is planned to encompass all 2,890 Fatah prisoners held by Israel.
It is unclear at this stage whether Hamas prisoners will also join the strike. The Hamas leadership in Hadarim Prison, where Barghouti is held, has announced it will join in, but in other locations Hamas prisoners are still debating whether to take part, due to its ongoing feud with Fatah.
In addition to the hunger strike, Barghouti’s supporters are planning a series of disruptions throughout the West Bank including marches, demonstrations and protest tents. The measures are likely to increase tensions in the West Bank and may lead to confrontations with Israeli security forces.
Some Palestinian student associations have already announced that they intend to join the protests in solidarity with the strikers, further increasing the likelihood of clashes.
The hunger strike and protests will be a significant test of Barghouti’s strength. Although he was elected to the first spot in the Fatah Central Committee in December, contrary to expectations he was not subsequently appointed deputy leader to Abbas and his supporters failed to win seats on the committee.
Barghouti is the former leader of the Tanzim armed wing of Fatah and was convicted by Israel of being the founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah terror group.
He is serving five life sentences after being convicted in 2004 on five counts of murder and one of attempted murder. He was also found to have been responsible for four other terror attacks.