TEL AVIV– After thousands of Palestinian inmates held in Israeli prisons announced a massive hunger strike earlier this week, some far-right Israeli extremists are using unusual means to express their disapproval of the prisoners’ demands for better conditions. According to reports, members of Israel’s right-wing National Union held barbecues in front of Ofer Prison, just as Palestinian prisoners entered the fourth day of their hunger strike.
The group, an alliance of several far-right, Zionist Israeli political parties, came together to “celebrate the hunger strike” and to “break the spirit” of the strikers by barbecuing near the prison, likely expecting that the smell of the cooked food would waft into the strikers’ prison cells.
According to the conservative news site, the Jerusalem Post, which referred to the BBQ participants as “activists,” the far-right Israelis stated the prisoners “will enjoy breathing in the smoke and suffer from the smell of the meat, and [we will] show them that we will not give in to their whims.”
They also urged the government “not to surrender to the oppressor terrorists and act with full force to free the captives [Hadar] Goldin and [Oron] Shaul,” referring to two Israeli soldiers, both presumed dead, whose remains are believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.
The Palestinians, whose hunger strike was inspired by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, are seeking an end to detentions without trial, an easing of visitor conditions and duration and an end to solitary confinement, among other demands. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences plus forty years for his suspected role in the murder of Israelis.
The Israeli Prison Service has warned of serious consequences for all participants in the hunger strike, which it considers to be a violation of the law. Israeli media previously reported that participants will face disciplinary measures if they do not comply with prison rules.
The strike comes a week after Amnesty International issued a report on the deplorable conditions of Israeli prisons, calling on Israel’s government to end policies towards Palestinians that it called “unlawful and cruel.” The report specifically referred to Israel’s policy of holding Palestinians in prisons within Israel, often preventing their relatives from visiting them, while also condemning its “ruthless policy” of imposing excessive restrictions on visitation rights. Magdalena Mughrabi of Amnesty International called the policy “a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
According to human rights organization Addameer, Israeli prisons hold approximately 6,500 Palestinians, including 300 children. Of the detainees, 550 are being held under administrative detention, a form of detention that requires no charges to be filed and no trial to be held. This method of detention has been used to hold Palestinians indefinitely based on information that has been withheld from the public.
Chairman of the National Union Avihai Greenwald scoffed at the idea of respecting the demands of the Palestinian prisoners, despite calls to do so from human rights organizations.
Greenwald told the Jerusalem Post, “Surrender to a hunger strike?… Anyway, it’s not clear why there’s no death penalty for terrorists. We wish these terrorists luck in their hunger strike. They should take it all the way.”