Palestinians in Israeli Jails begin Hunger Strike

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An activist said more than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners have launched an open-ended hunger strike to demand better conditions in Israeli prisons, including more contact with relatives, and an end to Israel's practice of detentions without trial.

Barghouthi is to be "prosecuted in a discipline court" as punishment for his op-ed published by the New York Times on Monday, where he described the daily struggle of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and the ambition behind the hunger strike, the statement said.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics says Israel has more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners behind bars.

Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Tuesday that Barghouti, is now leading the hunger strike, should have been given the death penalty instead of life imprisonment.

Thousands of Palestinians took the streets of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to mark Prisoners Day on Monday and express their solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli prisons.

"Calling Barghouti a leader and parliamentarian is like calling [Syrian President Bashar] Assad a pediatrician", Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Palestinian leaders, including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi, have backed the strike. Some of the inmates are held under Tel Aviv's policy of administrative detention, which enables confinement without charge.

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Palestinians consider brethren held in Israeli jails as national heroes.

Other demands include periodic medical examination, visits by the International Red Cross, installing pay phones and air condition systems, allowing prisoners to keep books, newspapers, clothes, and food. As Barghouti shows from his cell, and Palestinians show every day, the majority choose non-violence. Because Barghouti highlights two of Israel's most pernicious lies: that there is no one to talk to on the Palestine side (when in fact it is the Palestinians who are still seeking a partner for peace), and that the resistance to Israel's occupation is violent. He is now serving multiple life sentences.

Protests in support of the prisoners are being held in the occupied West Bank, with youths clashing with Israeli security forces in Bethlehem. Given his prison sentence, both are symbolic gestures, but are testament to his popularity.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Monday, Barghouti said a strike was the only way to gain concessions after other options had failed.

"It is to be emphasised that the (prison service) does not negotiate with prisoners".

Palestinian officials and activists put the number of hunger strikers at 1,300 and 1,500, respectively, saying it is hard to get updates from inside the prisons.

Prison Service spokesman Assaf Librati refused to elaborate on Barghouti's role.

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