The Israel Prison Service reportedly planted food in Palestinian hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti’s prison cell in order to obtain, and then release, footage of him eating.
An unnamed IPS official told Channel 2 on Monday that video clips of Barghouti eating, leaked a day earlier, were obtained as part of an IPS scheme to induce the hunger strike’s leaders to eat by hiding food in their cells. Most of them, however, resisted the temptation, the official said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan appeared to confirm that the footage of Barghouti was obtained as part of a setup, acknowledging that it was highly unlikely that Barghouti could have acquired the food himself while in solitary confinement.
In an interview with Army Radio on Monday, Erdan also said that the IPS has been taking a number of measures in order to undermine the hunger strike, but refused to go into detail.
The IPS published a video Sunday that it said showed Barghouti, who is leading a mass hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners, eating in secret on two occasions.
In the video, Barghouti, a convicted terrorist serving five life sentences for orchestrating murderous attacks during the Second Intifada, can be seen apparently unwrapping food in his prison cell and eating it in his toilet stall.
When asked for comment, a prison service spokesperson said, “The video speaks for itself.”
Erdan told Army Radio it was highly unlikely Barghouti knew he was being filmed.
“I think it is pretty clear that he does not know, and that if he does, he probably doesn’t know that the IPS has the ability to obtain what was shown yesterday,” he said.
Erdan also said that he was unsure whether the release of the footage of Barghouti would prove to be a “tipping point” that would break the strike.
“I think it still too early to determine. It is not clear if all or most of the prisoners are aware of it. They are cut off from the outside world, but I estimate that in the coming days it will be possible to see the impact of the publication,” he said.
“I hope that the prisoners will understand that they are being cynically exploited by someone framing himself as the leader of the strike but does not include himself in it,” he added, echoing comments he made Sunday that “Barghouti is a murderer and hypocrite who urged his fellow prisoners to strike and suffer while he ate behind their backs.”
Palestinian supporters of the hunger strike dismissed the video clips as a fabrication.
Qadora Fares, who heads the Palestinian Prisoners Club advocacy group, cast doubt on the footage, contending that because Barghouti was being held in solitary confinement, he had no access to food.
“This is a fabrication,” Fares said of the footage. “This is psychological warfare that we expected Israel to wage against the strike.” He said that “the prisoners will not buy this account from the Israeli side, and they will continue their strike.”
Fadwa Barghouti, the hunger-striker’s wife and attorney, said the “Israel government’s fabrications” showed “the extent of the (Israeli) occupation’s decline,” according to the Ma’an news agency.
The prison service spokesperson said that on April 27 Barghouti ate cookies and on Friday he ate a Tortit candy bar — a chocolate-covered, almond-flavored wafer.
In each of the clips, the prisoner can be seen unwrapping food from a piece of paper, sitting down on the toilet and eating, before he stands up and brushes himself off.
The footage from April 27 is less clear, as Barghouti closes the door to the stall, but in the segment from Friday afternoon, he can be seen breaking off pieces of the Tortit and moving them toward his mouth.
Barghouti’s face cannot be clearly seen in the footage, as he looks down and away from the camera.
The Times of Israel could not independently verify the dates the footage was recorded. Throughout the segment from April 27, a timestamp could be seen on the bottom corner. However, there is a timestamp only at the beginning of the May 5 segment.
According to Palestinian officials, 1,500 inmates have been refusing food since the strike began 22 days ago to protest prison conditions. However, Israeli officials say only some 800 continue to refuse food and have threatened to bring in foreign doctors to force feed the prisoners.
Barghouti is a popular figure in Palestinian society and is seen as a possible successor to Abbas. Some analysts in Israel have pointed to the hunger strike as a bid by Barghouti to show Abbas he still wields political power.
Barghouti was also photographed furtively eating food in his cell during a previous prisoner hunger strike in 2004. Those still shots were taken with a hidden camera through a hole in the wall of his cell.
“Once again, they made him a hero,” Erdan told Channel 2.
Judah Ari Gross, Dov Lieber and agencies contributed to this report.