Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Fact box: Who are the leaders of the Palestinian hunger strike?

Palestinian hunger strikes
Palestinian hunger strikes

Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails are not just inmates; they are venerated and viewed as prisoners of war, or asra. Israel has held a staggering one million since its occupation of Palestine in 1948, which explains why, till this day, almost every Palestinian home has a story to tell of a family member, relative, or friend who was incarcerated.

As more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners continue their mass hunger strike for the 11th day, Al-Ahram Weekly profiles its three main leaders who where moved from Hadarim Detention Centre in northern Israel to an undisclosed location on the first day of the strike.

President in waiting: Marwan Barghouti

Marwan Barghouti

Arguably the face of the mass hunger strike and its leader, Marwan Barghouti, 57, made his first claim to fame when Israeli forces arrested him after a hunt that lasted months in 2002 for his role in supporting the second Palestinian Intifada.

The member of the Palestinian parliament and Fatah leader had gone underground following an assassination attempt by Israeli forces.

In August 2002, Barghouti was presented before an Israeli court that he refused to recognise. When he emerged at the courtroom, the small figure of Barghouti, clad in brown prison clothing, barely reached the shoulders of his captors. Raising his handcuffed wrists above his head to flash the victory sign, he addressed the press corps in Arabic to declare: “This is a kangaroo court, with no legitimacy whatsoever.” That pose captured on camera 15 years ago remains iconic to this day: rendered as graffiti on Israel’s apartheid wall at the Qalandiya checkpoint, in posters, sketches and Photoshopped next to Yasser Arafat’s picture, not just in Palestine but across the region. No other Palestinian figure enjoys such status or respect with rival factions across the political spectrum.

At 15, Barghouti had joined Fatah and was detained by Israel. In an op-ed published in The New York Times last week explaining the mass-hunger strike, he wrote about being tortured and humiliated at the age of 18 by Israeli interrogators. Repeated arrests, jail time (where he learned to speak fluent Hebrew) and a seven-year period of exile in Jordan boosted Barghouti’s political profile and legitimacy inside and outside Fatah, where he had the courage to openly criticise corruption inside the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Although no evidence was provided before the court that tried him for alleged direct links to Fatah’s armed wing, Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Barghouti was handed five life sentences.

Barghouti made it clear he would run for the Palestinian presidency if the opportunity arose and is largely viewed by both Israelis and Palestinians as a likely successor to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Initially a supporter of the Oslo peace process, Barhgouti, who has an MA in international relations, reversed his position by the time the second Intifada erupted in 2000. He supports peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation and is a proponent of Palestinian unity.

Although he went on hunger strikes before, this is the first time that Barhgouti has led one on this scale, testifying to his influence and also feeding speculation that this time around he is ready to take his presidential ambitions to another level.

His wife, lawyer Fadwa Barghouti, said his health has deteriorated sharply one week into his hunger strike.


Israel’s longest serving prisoner: Karim Younis

Karim Younis

Held by Israel for 35 years, Younis, 61, is the longest serving prisoner in Israeli jails.

He was arrested in 1983 at the age of 25 and sentenced to life for kidnapping and killing an Israeli soldier in 1980. In 2012, Israeli President Shimon Peres reduced his sentence to 40 years. Younis, a member of the Fatah faction, was supposed to have been released in the fourth phase of pre-Oslo Accords prisoner releases, which was the PA’s precondition for renewing peace talks in 2013.

Israel’s refusal stems from the fact that Younis, who is from the Arab town of Aara, is a 1948 Palestinian, which means he is also an Israeli citizen. Engaging in resistance against the occupation from inside Israel is unforgivable to Israel and calls for exceptional punishment to deter other Israeli Arabs. When he was first arrested, Younis was subject to torture. At the end of his trial, which lasted a year over 27 sessions, the court sentenced him to death although the penalty does not exist in Israeli law. An appeal changed the sentence to life.

At the time of his arrest Younis was a college student in Ben Gurion University and kept his activism secret from his family who only knew about it when Israeli forces raided their home looking for him.


Masters degree from prison: Mahmoud Abu Sorour

Mahmoud Abu Sorour

In 1993, Abu Sorour was arrested and charged with assisting in the murder of Shin Bet (Israeli secret service) officer Haim Nahmani and his two cousins in a West Jerusalem apartment. He was sentenced to life at the age of 21, along with his cousin Nasser. The notorious Shin Bet, which recruits informers mainly through blackmail, is loathed by Palestinians.

The mastermind of the operation was their third cousin, Maher, a member of Ezzeddin Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. While Israel described him as an informer, the Palestinians say he posed as a recruit to Nahmani. While Mahmoud and Nasser were arrested, Maher escaped. He was killed five months later when he hijacked an Israeli civilian bus in Jerusalem to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The operation dispelled allegations against Maher — and by association, against the Abu Sorour family — of cooperating with Shin Bet.

During his incarceration, Mahmoud Abu Sorour, who was born in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, obtained both an BA and MA in political

add comment

  • follow us on