Jailed Fatah terrorist organizes hunger strikes, protests

In attempted power play, influential Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti demands better conditions for security prisoners

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Marwan Barghouti appears in a Jerusalem court, January 25, 2012. (Flash90)
Marwan Barghouti appears in a Jerusalem court, January 25, 2012. (Flash90)

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.

A Palestinian child stands in front of a mural of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. (photo credit Kobi Gideon / Flash 90)
A Palestinian child stands in front of a mural of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. (Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

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.

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