Palestinian hunger strikers entered their 25th day of strike yesterday. While the protest for improved conditions inside Israeli prisons kicked off with an op-ed in the New York Times by strike leader and Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) says the Times has not kept up with the story.
“Our paper of record should be talking about this hunger strike in the context of how we arrived at this historical moment,” JVP said in a campaign to urge the Times to give more coverage to the hunger strikers, “They should be talking about the conditions of Palestinian political prisoners and the injustices of the Israeli judicial and prison system. And they should be talking about the prisoners’ extremely reasonable demands.”
The Times did run an update on Tuesday by Ian Fisher–“Wife of Palestinian Hunger Striker Denies He’s Sneaking Food.” However, JVP criticized the paper for harping on a distraction, a video released by the Israeli government that claims to show strike leader Barghouti sneaking a candy bar and cookies, when there are 1500 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.
This strike is about the one million Palestinians who have been detained since the establishment of the state of Israel. It’s about the approximately 6,500 Palestinians currently in Israeli custody, many of whom are children. It’s about the refusal of the Israeli and US governments to accede to conditions that would make truly just negotiations possible.
It’s about the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which will enter its 50th year next month – and it’s about a historic moment in the struggle for Palestinian human rights. Solidarity protests have broken out across the West Bank and been violently suppressed by Israeli forces. Palestinians and allies all over the world are showing their support online.
And yet, the last story the New York Times published about it focused on whether Barghouti secretly ate a candy bar.
The Times coverage aside, there have been many other developments in the hunger strike.
Ayman Odeh, the head of Israel’s third largest political faction, the Joint List, yesterday engaged in a one-day solidarity fast in support of Palestinian detainees. The Times of Israel reported he said in a statement, “Today I joined a [hunger] strike in solidarity with the political prisoners’ struggle in order to help raise awareness among the public of the prisoners’ just and basic demands.”
This week two high-ranking clergymen announced they too were on hunger strike until the Palestinian detainees’ needs are met. Arab America reported former Melkite Patriarch Gregory III and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna are going without food in support of the prisoners.
Similarly, in Morocco, at least 1,500 participated in a one-day solidarity strike.
Then there’s the salt-water challenge. Last month, Marwan Barghouti’s son Aarab Marwan Barghouti posted a video of himself on Facebook drinking salt and water, the main sustenance of hunger strikers, and challenged superstar singer Mohammed Assaf to also post such a video. Assaf did so– “in solidarity with our heroic detainees”– and the challenge spread.
JVP’s Rebecca Vilkomerson posted a live cast interview with Aarab Barghouti on Wednesday where the two discussed the prison strike. Barghouti raised the issue of the video Israel released purporting to show his father sneaking food. He said it was “ridiculous footage” and believed it was filmed before the strike at an unknown time during the last three years, while his father was in solitary confinement. “My father with his will power and his fellow prisoners, and with only their stomachs, are making them desperate,” Barghouti said.
Expat Israelis Dror Feiler and Jonathan Ofir recorded themselves accepting the salt water challenge. Ofir, who writes for this site, did his to music he composed and performed.
Incidentally, Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba’aneh is on a book tour in the U.S. with his “White and Black: Political Cartoons from Palestine” (kicked-off in New York). Saba’aneh, himself a former prisoner, is promoting the cause of Palestinian prisoners at speaking engagements. He recently spoke at the PEN America’s World Voices Festival. PRI’s “The World” reported on Saba’aneh’s book, as did Al Jazeera Arabic (they produced two packages on the cartoonist). Otherwise, his tour has been largely overlooked by the American press.