GAZA: More than 1,500 Palestinians held by Israel began a mass hunger strike on 17 April – Palestinian Prisoners’ Day led by jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti.

The detainees, held in several Israeli prisons, are demanding improvements in conditions and an end to solitary confinement, heavy restrictions on family visits and administrative detention – prolonged imprisonment without charge.

They are also calling for Israel to ease restrictions on the entry of books, clothing, food and other items from family members.

There are currently 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners, 500 of them in administrative detention, according to the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group, Addameer. Israel is holding 300 child prisoners.

More than 300 Palestinians have been in prison since before Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo accords in 1993.

“Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and medical negligence,” Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah armed resistance leader who has been imprisoned since 2002, wrote in the The New York Times on Sunday.

Barghouti noted that “about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions.”

Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip 50 years ago, more than 750,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

More than 50 have died due to medical neglect and another 70 as a result of torture.

“After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike,” Barghouti wrote. “Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.”

Barghouti, a prominent leader in PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, called the strike, but in a show of unity it has been joined by prisoners from other Palestinian parties.

Israeli authorities have reportedly begun reprisals against hunger-striking prisoners, including with transfers, isolation and confiscation of personal belongings.

In anticipation of the hunger strike, Amnesty International last week called Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners “unlawful and cruel.”

“Israel’s ruthless policy of holding Palestinian prisoners arrested in the occupied Palestinian territories in prisons inside Israel is a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the group’s regional director Magdalena Mughrabi stated, noting that this was one of the major obstacles Israel places on families visiting their loved ones in prison.

Palestinian “security” prisoners are not even allowed to make phone calls to their families.

Prisoners are demanding that Israel resume regular family visits and allow prisoners to take photographs with their relatives.

They also want Israeli authorities to install public telephones in every prison, provide air conditioners and restore kitchens.

The last mass hunger strike occurred in 2014, when hundreds of prisoners protested the use of administrative detention.

The strike lasted two months, the longest mass fast in Palestinian history, and ended with an agreement that the head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club described as “not a huge victory, but a modest step forward.”

Palestinians are holding rallies and protests across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in solidarity with the prisoners.

Rami Hamdallah, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, released a statement of support for the hunger strikers.

The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported this month that in the last year, the Palestinian Authority has arrested around 400 Palestinians at the request of Israel.

The PA also routinely passes information to Israel that is used to detain, interrogate and torture Palestinians.

(Electronic Intifada)