Palestinian hunger strike leader says ‘snacking video’ fake
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti denies the authenticity of a video purportedly showing him eating secretly in his cell and is preparing to see his protest “to the end” by refusing to drink water, his lawyer said Sunday.
Khader Shkirat, speaking after the first meeting with his client since the protest began nearly a month ago, said Barghouti was noticeably thinner but remained in good spirits.
Barghouti has lost 13 kilograms, or nearly 29 pounds, and is down to 53 kilograms (117 pounds), Shkirat said. The weight loss “is clear on his face and his body,” he said. “His face is thin.”
Barghouti, along with hundreds of other Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, launched the strike on April 17, demanding better conditions, including family visits.
Israel has alleged Barghouti, widely seen as a potential successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, staged the strike to raise his political profile.
Barghouti’s family has denied the protest is driven by political ambitions.
Barghouti, 58, is serving multiple life sentences after an Israeli court convicted him of directing attacks that killed five people during the second Palestinian uprising. Barghouti, in prison since 2002, never mounted a defense, saying the court had no jurisdiction over him.
Last week, Israeli authorities, in an apparent attempt to discredit Barghouti, released a video that they said showed Barghouti snacking in his cell.
Shkirat said he described the video to Barghouti who told him it’s not authentic. Barghouti said the cell featured in the video, with a bunk bed, is much nicer and cleaner than the run-down cell where he is being held, which has a single bed, smelly blanket and no pillow.
“Marwan said that he does not know when these pictures were taken, and he considered publishing the video as blackmail and illegal action by the Israeli government,” Shkirat said.
Barghouti has been kept in isolation since the strike began. Shkirat said Barghouti told him he has not been permitted to change his clothes, and that Israeli guards search his room four times a day. He said Barghouti hears “annoying voices” outside the cell door and pounds on the door to find out what is going on.
“They tell him, ‘There are no voices, you are dreaming,’” he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a rare statement last week that it is Israel’s responsibility to ensure prisoners receive family visits. Human rights groups say it is a violation of international law to move prisoners from occupied territories to detention centers in Israel, which also makes it more difficult for relatives to visit the inmates.
Israeli Prison Service spokesman Assaf Liberati said the video was authentic and was taken in Barghouti’s current cell.
He said that Barghouti faced some “punitive measures” for breaking prison rules by staging the hunger strike, but that his and the conditions of the other prisoners met international standards.
Liberati pointed to the visits by the Red Cross and lawyer as proof that “we have nothing to hide concerning his treatment here.” He accused Barghouti’s lawyer of stating “incorrect facts.”
Shkirat said Barghouti told him that Israel has so far refused to negotiate over his demands. He quoted Barghouti as saying that he is prepared to pay a great personal price to improve conditions.
“I plan to escalate my hunger strike soon. I will stop drinking water,” Barghouti was quoted as saying. “There is no backtracking. We will continue until the end.”
Shkirat was just the second visitor to see Barghouti since the strike began. Last week, a representative from the Red Cross paid a 10-minute visit to check on his condition.
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.