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Strike for freedom: Water, salt and dignity

Water and salt play an important role in the continuity of Arab prisoners in Israeli prisons and the success of such strikes. Water and salt are all that they consume in terms of food and water. While the benefits of consuming water are well known for the body, prisoners have since learnt the importance of salt in maintaining the longest hunger strike imaginable. It is the only element that is available to them within their cells that can protect their intestines from rotting from the inside. The success of any hunger strike carried out by these prisoners relies heavily on their consumption of a certain ratio of water and salt. The salt is often hidden in their clothes, bedding or even hidden behind walls. Since the beginning of the hunger strike, Israeli officers attacked the cells of Palestinian prisoners in search of salt, making it one of the biggest symbols of protest against the occupation.

Outside of the prison walls, those who have stood in solidarity with the prisoners have also begun to use the slogan "Water and Salt". Many have even expressed their desire to join the protestors in their hunger strike by only consuming water and salt for one day. It is easy to see that this statement holds a large symbolic weight in the fight against the rotten nature of our institutions and our societies, which is undoubtedly a metaphor for the dangers of rotting intestines facing prisoners who refuse to eat.

"Water and salt" and dignity is what the prisoners are aiming to achieve through their strike in their greater effort to move the stagnant waters around them. Many continue to ignore their plight and their suffering while Israel continues to exploit the Palestinian Authority's political deficit. Israel refuses to release Palestinian prisoners. In fact, it continues to arrest more and more prisoners every day, every hour and every minute, thanks to the security coordination agreements concluded between the occupier and the Palestinian Authority.

Marwan Barghouthi and his comrades in Hadarim prison are aware of this reality. The Hadarim prison is the location from which the first spark ignited. They have attempted, through this strike, to bring about a big change in the Palestinian arena. Among these changes is the goal to improve the living conditions of Palestinian prisoners. The neglect that many Palestinian prisoners suffer from extends to various aspects of the Palestinian cause.

Read: Palestinian Prisoners' Day marked with mass hunger strike

The Palestinian Authority has placed the question of its survival and its continuity above the issue of countering the occupation. Were it not for the local and international community's blatant neglect of the situation in Palestine and its lack of action with regards to continued settlement expansion, or its lack of support for a just solution for the conflict, the question of prisoners and their suffering would not have been prolonged until this day. There would be no political prisoners in custody at all.

Marwan Barghouthi

Marwan Barghouthi. [File photo]

The decision taken by Marwan Barghouthi and his comrades has not been welcomed by many, in fact, it has been faced with public opposition on the part of the Palestinian Authority and a number of Palestinian factions. Barghouthi and the other prisoners who are held in captivity in the Hadarim prison, released a statement to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and other factions, including Hamas, declaring their intention to go on hunger strike nearly a month before the actual start date. The intention behind this announcement was to send a message to the PA and other groups, prompting them to contact various prisons and detention centres. There is no doubt that some factions may have taken the required action; however, others took advantage of this opportunity to discourage certain prisoners from joining the strike.

It is from the Hadarim prison where Marwan Barghouthi, Ahmad Saadat and other leaders, issued the statement regarding the strike, and it is there that all other prisoners signed up and agreed to take part in the strike. The statement was confirmed by Wasfi Qabha, a member and leading figure in Hamas, who has been administratively held and who was given a date of release a few days after the strike began. Not all of the factors are clear in the few days that have passed since the start of the strike. Nearly 1,500 prisoners out of a total of 10,000 have participated in the hunger strikes. The goal of this strike goes beyond the issuance of statements and it expands beyond asking political factions to call and place pressure on detention centres, it seeks to take the steps that are necessary to escalate the levels of mass solidarity with detainees. It seeks to encourage people to protest and to organise in a number of cities. This call for action applies to all factions and political forces, including Hamas.

The importance of this goal has been made clearer through discussions with several key figures. The Palestinian leadership has requested that certain prisoners refrain from participating in the hunger strikes because it bears negative impact on Mahmoud Abbas' recent visit to Washington. This is a strange justification, which assumes that the hunger strikes will affect the talks between Abbas and Trump. The strikes should instead be seen as a way to exert pressure on the American administration in the biased Peace Process talks.

Read more: Trump to work as 'mediator' for Middle East peace

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. [Thaer Ganaim/Apaimages]

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 3 May 2017 in Washington, DC. [Thaer Ganaim/Apaimages]

The signs coming from Washington are useless and the same can be said for the PA because the talks in question have little to do with bringing an end to settlement expansion. In fact, it does little other than to encourage the PA to accept the current reality and to exchange greater economic stability for Palestinians for their remainder on the political scene. The PA's continuity comes with the perpetuation of the military occupation and an expansion of settlements. The PA's statements suggest that it wants to comply with American conditions, which has been reinforced by the PA's lack of encouragement for the hunger strikes.

The strike for dignity and freedom led by Marwan Barghouthi and his comrades should not pass by unnoticed. It is the spark that will turn solidarity with Palestinian prisoners into a popular uprising.

At this point in time, our people will not forgive anyone who remains silent or refuses or even hesitates to take part in the strike or support it by all means available.

This is a historic moment and it is everyone's responsibility to carry the torch that our captured comrades have ignited, turning it into a flame that burns the occupier. Will we take action and take back some of our lost dignity through the resistance and through water and salt?

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 28 April 2017.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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