Israel moved swiftly to try to foil a mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, transferring the leader Marwan Barghouti to a different prison and putting him in solitary confinement.
The punitive move also came after Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for murder, published an opinion piece in The New York Times to explain the hunger strike launched Monday by Palestinian security prisoners.
Israel Prisons Service spokesman Assaf Librati said that hunger strikers would be disciplined and later added that Barghouti had been transferred from Hadarim prison to the Kishon prison, near Haifa.
Librati said that some 1,100 detainees in several prisons had announced they were going on hunger strike.
“The prisons service has started taking disciplinary measures against the strikers and in addition a number of prisoners have been transferred to separate wings,” he said.
“It is to be emphasized that the (prison service) does not negotiate with prisoners,” he said.
The Walla news site said that placing Barghouti in solitary confinement was a punishment for the op-ed. This was not officially confirmed.
Israel Prisons Service officials are also investigating whether the article was smuggled out of prison by Barghouti’s lawyers or his wife, the Hebrew-language Ynet news site reported.
The op-ed drew widespread condemnation in Israel because the New York Times failed to mention that Barghouti is serving multiple life for terms having been convicted by an Israeli civilian court in 2004 of murder. The newspaper called him “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” at the bottom of the piece.
“The Palestinian prisoners are not political prisoners.They are convicted terrorists and murderers,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “They were brought to justice and are treated properly under international law.”
Barghouti is the former leader of the Tanzim armed wing of Fatah and the founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah terror group. He was convicted on five counts of murder and one attempted murder, and was implicated in and held responsible for four other terror attacks. He is serving five life terms for the murders, and an additional 40 years for attempted murder.
On Monday some 1,100 prisoners began a mass hunger strike called by Barghouti. The strike was scheduled to coincide with Palestinian “Prisoners Day,” an annual event held in solidarity with the more than 6,000 Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails.
According to Ynet, Palestinian prisoners at the Meggido Prison in northern Israel claim that since the start of the hunger strike, Israel Prisons Service official have taken a number of retaliatory measures against the strikers, such as the confiscation of radios, televisions and other electronic devices.
Barghouti began to call for a strike after talks between prisoners’ representatives and the Israel Prison Service on improving prison conditions reached an impasse. Those talks began more than a year and a half ago.
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 has remained politically active from behind bars, and is often touted as one of a few likely successors to the 82-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Many Palestinians see Barghouti’s move as chiefly an internal power play in an attempt to send a message specifically to the Fatah leadership and to Abbas, who excluded Barghouti’s loyalists from a recent Central Committee meeting and did not give Barghouti the anticipated position of deputy head of the PA.