Barghouthi’s health deteriorates on 8th day of Palestinian prisoner hunger strike

Imprisoned Palestinian parliamentarian and Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, who has been leading a large-scale hunger strike in Israeli prisons, suffered from a serious deterioration of his health on Monday after forgoing food for eight days.

Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs chairman Issa Qaraqe said that Barghouthi was suffering from a severe drop in blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

According to the media committee covering the “Freedom and Dignity strike,” created jointly by the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs and the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society, Barghouthi has refused to take medicine handed to him by Israel Prison Service (IPS) authorities in al-Jalama prison in northern Israel.

The warden of al-Jalama asked fellow Palestinian prisoner Nasser Abu Hmeid to convince Barghouthi to take the medicine, the media committee said, but Abu Hmeid refused, reportedly saying that “if Marwan Barghouthi dies, he will die a martyr.”

IPS then punished Abu Hmeid by transferring him to Eshel prison, the media committee added.

IPS spokesperson Hana Herbst told Ma’an that “as far as I know, there is no significant change in the medical conditions of any of the prisoners on hunger strike.”

“Nonetheless, the decision to go on strike is personal and any prisoner who feels unwell can end it by choice,” Herbst added.

More than 1,500 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel are participating in the hunger strike led by Barghouthi since April 17 to protest the torture, ill treatment, and medical neglect of prisoners at the hands of Israeli authorities, as well as Israel’s widespread use of administrative detention — internment without trial or charges — which is only permitted under international law in extremely limited circumstances.

Qaraqe told Ma’an on Monday that at least 1,580 prisoners had joined the strike, adding that 25 Palestinians detained in Ramon prison in Israel joined the strike on Monday. IPS meanwhile estimated the number of hunger strikers to be closer to 1,200.

The media committee, meanwhile, said that 40 detainees in Megiddo prison and 20 detainees in Ramon prison had joined the hunger strike on Sunday.

Qaraqe said that he could not confirm Israeli media reports that Hamas-affiliated prisoners had ended their hunger strikes on Sunday because lawyers had not been allowed to visit the prisoners, further cautioning media outlets “to avoid rumors spread by the occupation in an attempt to shake hunger strikers’ determination.”

The media committee noted that Israeli authorities have continued to deny the vast majority of hunger strikers access to their lawyers, despite a decision made Wednesday by the Israeli Ministry of Justice saying that it was illegal to ban prisoners from accessing their lawyers, and have maintained a freeze on family visitations.

Only five hunger-striking prisoners, all in the Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank, have had access to their lawyers as of Sunday, the committee reported.

Herbst denied to Ma’an that IPS had prevented lawyers from visiting any Palestinian prisoners.

Meanwhile, Palestinian lawyers have boycotted Israeli courts for at least four days in protest of the repressive measures carried out against the hunger strikers, the committee added.

Israeli authorities have cracked down on Palestinian prisoners since the beginning of the strike, notably placing scores of hunger strikers in solitary confinement, or dispersing them throughout Israel’s network of prisons to separate hunger strikers from each other.

Qaraqe told Ma’an on Monday that Israeli authorities had transferred all 20 remaining Palestinian prisoners held in Hadarim prison to the Ktziot detention facility, adding that all 20 were sick and not on hunger strike, after 100 hunger-striking prisoners were transferred out of the detention center last week.

“We don’t know if the Israeli move to empty Hadarim completely is part of a plan to create a field hospital there for hunger strikers, or to move in prisoners from other prisons,” Qaraqe said.

An IPS spokesperson could not immediately be reached on the matter.

IPS has also raided prisons, seizing personal belongings, and preventing hunger strikers from praying, accessing prison yards, or watching TV.

The media committee said on Monday that IPS guards had also reduced hunger strikers’ access to prison commissaries.

Palestinian prisoners solidarity network Samidoun corroborated reports that that prison guards had barred access to commissaries, where the hunger strikers have been buying salt and bottled water — the only nourishment they are allowed to consume as part of the strike.

Meanwhile, Qaraqe said that hunger strikers had also begun to refuse standing up during daily head counts, as another symbolic move of defiance.

Events continued across the occupied Palestinian territory in solidarity with hunger strikers, while Samidoun reported that demonstrations would occur in the United States, Greece, and South Africa on Monday.

Samidoun added that Georges Ibrahim Abdallah — a prominent pro-Palestinian Lebanese fighter who has been detained by France for more than 30 years — was staging a three-day hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners along with others imprisoned in the French prison of Lannemezan.

Israeli authorities have detained approximately one million Palestinians since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, according to a joint statement released last week by Palestinian organizations. According to prisoners’ rights organization Addameer, some 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of March.