Palestinians, Shin Bet meet in failed attempt to end hunger strike

Palestinian officials warn that onus is on Israel to heed prisoners’ demands in order to prevent crisis from escalating

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.

Palestinians take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 3, 2017. (Flash90)
Palestinians take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 3, 2017. (Flash90)

The heads of the Palestinian intelligence services met recently with senior Shin Bet officials in a failed attempt to negotiate an end to a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian inmates, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel on Monday.

The Palestinian side made it clear to senior Shin Bet officials that it was up to them to reach an understanding with the prisoners themselves in order to bring an end to the strike, the sources said, as the mass fast entered its 29th day.

The Palestinian sources also accused Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan of refusing to negotiate with the prisoners, who are being led by Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti, thus exacerbating the crisis and risking further unrest on the Palestinian street.

Present at the meeting were the head of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence services, Majed Faraj, and PA preventative security chief Ziad al-Barih.

Israeli authorities say 894 Palestinian prisoners have kept up the strike, while Palestinian officials say more than 1,000 are refusing food and anything but salt water in protest of prison conditions.

Marwan Barghouti seen in video footage unwrapping a candy bar in his cell while ostensibly leading a hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners. (Screen capture: Israel Prisons Service)
Marwan Barghouti seen in video footage unwrapping a candy bar in his cell while ostensibly leading a hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners. (Screen capture: Israel Prisons Service)

The hunger strikers have issued a list of demands including better medical services, family visits and more dignified detention conditions. But Israel has vowed not to negotiate with them, with Erdan calling them “terrorists and incarcerated murderers.”

Barghouti, serving five life terms for a series of terror attacks during the Second Intifada, urged Palestinians on Sunday to carry out acts of “civil disobedience” to commemorate Nakba Day on Monday, which marks the “catastrophe” of the creation of Israel each year on May 15.

In a letter by Barghouti obtained by Lebanese outlet Al Mayadeen on Sunday, he asked the public to ratchet up tensions with Israel in solidarity with the fasting security inmates.

Barghouti was allowed to meet with his lawyer Khader Shkirat on Sunday for three hours, for the first time since initiating the hunger strike on April 17.

The attorney said his client denied the authenticity of a video released by the Israel Prisons Service last week purportedly showing him secretly eating a candy bar in his cell.

Shkirat added that Barghouti had lost 13 kilograms (28 pounds) since beginning the hunger strike on April 17. Seemingly undeterred by his alleged deteriorating health, the Fatah leader told his attorney that he would escalate the protest by refusing to drink water.

Barghouti has been kept in isolation since the strike began. Shkirat said Barghouti told him he has not been permitted to change his clothes, and that Israeli guards search his room four times a day. He said Barghouti hears “annoying voices” outside the cell door and pounds on the door to find out what is going on.

“They tell him, ‘There are no voices, you are dreaming,'” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a rare statement last week that it is Israel’s responsibility to ensure prisoners receive family visits. Human rights groups say it is a violation of international law to move prisoners from occupied territories to detention centers in Israel, which also makes it more difficult for relatives to visit the inmates.

Israeli Prison Service spokesman Asaf Librati said the video of Barghouti eating a candy bar was authentic and was taken in his current cell.

He said that Barghouti faced some “punitive measures” for breaking prison rules by staging the hunger strike, but that his conditions and those of the other prisoners met international standards.

Librati pointed to the visits by the Red Cross and lawyer as proof that “we have nothing to hide concerning his treatment here.” He accused Barghouti’s lawyer of stating “incorrect facts.”

Shkirat said Barghouti told him that Israel has so far refused to negotiate over his demands. He quoted Barghouti as saying that he is prepared to pay a great personal price to improve conditions.

Shkirat was just the second visitor to see Barghouti since the strike began. Last week, a representative from the Red Cross paid a 10-minute visit to check on his condition.

Jacob Magid and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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