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EXCLUSIVE: Prisoner's wife Fadwa Barghouti speaks with i24NEWS on hunger strike

Palestinian protesters wave flags bearing the image of jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti at a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 17, 2017 in support of a hunger strike he has called among prisoners in Israeli jails
ABBAS MOMANI (AFP)
Fadwa claims that the strike's demands are all humanitarian, but Israeli lawmakers are making it political

Following the launch of an indefinite mass hunger strike with some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners participating, i24NEWS on Friday spoke with the wife of Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Fatah member and leader of the charge.

Barghouti, convicted in 2004, is serving out five life sentences for five counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and was implicated in four other terror attacks during the second intifada (uprising).

Barghouti has remained politically active behind bars, and is a popular figure among Palestinians who have tipped him among likely candidates to succeed 82-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The former leader of Fatah's armed wing, Tanzim and the founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah terror group, orchestrated what is being called the "Freedom and Dignity" strike, demanding better conditions in Israeli prisons.

Thousands of Palestinians held demonstrations on Monday following the strike in solidarity with the prisoners, including Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa.

“We want to tell them we stand with them in this battle of freedom and honor,” Fadwa Barghouti told i24NEWS outside Ofer Jail on Friday. “The message to them is that all the Palestinian people are behind them. They were loyal to the Palestinian people and the Palestinian people will be loyal to them.”

ABBAS MOMANI (AFP)

The demands of the strike launched Monday are all humanitarian ones, she said, adding that they are just and in accordance with international law.

Barghouti has accused Israel of "inhumane" treatment of prisoners and "judicial apartheid,” to which a hunger strike was "the most peaceful form of resistance available."

“It is about the family demands, humanitarian communication with their sons, their demands to visit their imprisoned children and their ability to visit their sons,” Fadwa said. “Those are the demands, they're simple demands, but the jails authority does not accept it...it is a national battle part of the long struggle of our Palestinian people.”

Fadwa maintains that the demands are all humanitarian ones, but Israeli lawmakers are making it political.

“We want to tell the Israeli people that this strike is a humanitarian one, but your politicians and leaders wanted to make it a political battle to use for their raging election campaigns,” she told i24NEWS, implying that the issue was being used to distract from political corruption among Israeli politicians "by using the prisoners' pain for their benefit in the coming election campaigns..."

"And at the same time, some Israeli leaders accused of corruption are trying to distract the Palestinians, in the issue of prisoners, trying to make the Israeli citizen look at the issue as a danger to them, and by that they are covering their own mistakes.”

Hunger striking prisoners from various Palestinian political factions -- including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and some members of the Islamist group Hamas -- have made demands including the installation of public telephones and televisions in prison wards, the resumption of academic studies and bi-monthly visitations for inmates, and re-location to facilities in the Palestinian territories.

They are also calling for an end to solitary confinement and Israel's controversial administrative detention policy, which allows renewable six-month periods of detention without trial.

TAL COHEN (AFP/File)

In an effort to thwart its momentum, Barghouti was moved to a new prison and put into solitary confinement on Monday, the first day of the strike, following an op-ed published in the New York Times that outlined the demands and reasoning for the mass hunger strike.

Fadwa says she hasn’t spoken to her husband in two weeks, unable to see or communicate with him since he was moved into isolation.

Barghouti’s lawyer was also unable to contact him, Fadwa told i24NEWS, despite Israel saying it would allow all the strikers, including Barghouti, access to lawyers, in a reversal of its previous position.

“But we got a message from one of the released prisoners today,” said Fadwa optimistically. “He sent a message full of elevating morale...he says that the prisoner’s hunger strike, the battle of freedom and honor, would serve as an opportunity for the unity of the Palestinian people.”

“Our Palestinian people always comes around and support the issue of prisoners and detainees,” she said when asked about the Palestinian Authority’s stance on the precedence of the issue.

At the start of the strike, a statement from the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to respond to the prisoners' demands for "freedom and dignity."

Abbas also called on the international community "to intervene quickly and save the lives of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners," warning of a deteriorating situation as a result of Israel's "stubbornness and its refusal to comply with the just humanitarian demands of the prisoners."

ABBAS MOMANI (AFP/File)

However, Fadwa added that the Palestinian Authority is often slow to take action and urged more attention was needed from them.

“We are in the fifth day, as the days go [on] they will be more in danger.”

“The issue is not a small one,” she added. “We are talking about the lives of prisoners, therefore, the political action should be faster in order to spare the lives of prisoners in the Occupation’s jails.”

Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale. The last large-scale hunger strike was in February 2013, when 3,000 Palestinians refused to eat for one day to protest against the death of a fellow detainee.

On Monday intervention units were ordered to be put on standby and a field hospital be set up outside one prison to avoid having to take sick prisoners to civilian hospitals.

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