Jailed Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti accused Israel of longstanding abuse and improper treatment of Palestinian prisoners in a New York Times opinion piece published Sunday, in which he explained the reasoning for a mass prisoner hunger strike which he is leading.
In his piece Barghouti sought to characterize Israeli courts as politically motivated “instruments of colonial, military occupation” intended to quash Palestinian aspirations for freedom and independence — rather than an impartial justice system in a democratic state punishing those who have been convicted of committing crimes.
Barghouti himself 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 in 2004 on five counts of murder and one attempted murder, and was implicated in and held responsible for four other terror attacks.
The New York Times made no mention of Barghouti’s history, referring to him as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” at the bottom of the piece.
Barghouti claimed that Israeli courts are “a charade of justice… Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation.”
He accused the Jewish state of committing “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of prisoners and said “prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence.”
He also said Israel was guilty of “judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance.”
On Monday over 1,000 prisoners were set to begin 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.
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 to an attempt to send a message specifically to the Fatah leadership and to Abbas, who excluded Barghouti’s people from a recent Central Committee meeting and didn’t give Barghouti the position of deputy chair to the PA.
Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Sunday that the strike was really about internal Palestinian politics and not an alleged dispute over prison conditions, citing its “unreasonable demands concerning the conditions in the prisons.”
Hamas, Fatah’s main rival, announced Sunday that its members will also join the strike, as did the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), another Palestinian faction. Barghouti supporters are also planning parades and demonstrations in the West Bank in support of the strike.
Avi Issacharoff and Stuart Winer contributed to this report.