Israel’s top Arab lawmaker said he would refrain from eating on Thursday in solidarity with hunger striking Palestinian security prisoners.
At a protest tent in the northern Arab-Israeli city of Nazareth, Joint (Arab) List chair Ayman Odeh said that his day-long fast was meant to bring attention to the “just demands” of the “political prisoners” for better conditions.
“Today I joined a [hunger] strike in solidarity with the political prisoners’ struggle in order to help raise awareness among the public of the prisoners’ just and basic demands,” he said in a statement.
According to Palestinian officials, 1,500 inmates have been refusing food since the strike began 25 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.
The strike is being led by Marwan Barghouti, a convicted terrorist serving five life sentences for orchestrating murderous attacks during the Second Intifada.
On Sunday, the Israel Prisons Service released video footage showing Barghouti secretly eating a candy bar and cookies in his prison cell. An unnamed IPS official told Channel 2 that the food was planted in his cell in order to obtain, and then release, footage of him eating.
Palestinian supporters of the hunger strike have dismissed the video clips as a fabrication.
In his remarks on Thursday, Odeh said that the hunger strikers would not be discouraged by the publication of the Barghouti footage.
“The government is trying to break the spirit of the [hunger] strike by using cheap and ugly tricks,” he said.
“The government must cease its abuse of the [hunger] strikers and immediately open negotiations with them, before their health begins to deteriorate,” he added.
Israel has so far refused to negotiate with the prisoners, noting that they are not political prisoners but convicted of security offenses.
Among the demands from Barghouti and the prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was cancelled by the International Committee of the Red Cross due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being cancelled for security reasons, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams to prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and cell phones in security wings.
Barghouti is a popular figure in Palestinian society and is seen as a possible successor to Abbas.
Some analysts in Israel, as well as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, have pointed to the hunger strike as a bid by Barghouti to show Abbas he still wields political power.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.