Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip and its political spectrum, including hundreds of women, religious figures, MPs, and civil society activists, participated in Monday’s protest.
Many held up framed pictures of their loved ones and large banners proclaiming “Yes to hunger, no to submission”.
About 1500 Palestinian political prisoners in four different Israeli detention centres began a hunger strike on Sunday in protest of their poor conditions.
“We are here to express our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering under miserable conditions in Israeli cells. We are here asking for their freedom,” said one marcher.
The march ended in front of the Legislative Council, where a series of solidarity tents have been set up. Similar tents have been erected near Red Cross offices throughout the West Bank.
The hunger strike marks the beginning of a month-long prisoner solidarity campaign being coordinated by several Palestinian civil society groups, which will culminate in a mass procession in Ram Allah led by Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.
“Yes to hunger, no to submission”
Banner at protest march
More than 4000 prisoners are expected to eventually take part in the strike, according to the Palestinian Political Prisoner’s Society, with 2000 more set to participate in some symbolic fashion over the next few weeks.
The prisoners have submitted a list of demands which include improved medical and sanitary conditions, increased family visitation, and an end to strip searches and to “arbitrary and indiscriminate beatings”, among others.
But Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Friday he would not give in to the prisoners’ demands, even if it meant they “starve to death”.
Protester hold a picture of
Meanwhile, the Israeli Prison Service has halted all family visits to striking prisoners and confiscated televisions, radios, and salt used to sustain them through the hunger strike.
According to the Israeli press, meat is also being grilled in front their jail cells in an effort to “rouse their appetites”.
Israeli media have also reported that prison authorities say they will break the will of those fasting by deploying the same tactics that were used against Northern Irish prisoner fasts, in the 1970s and 1980s, such as depriving the detainees of “basic amenities”.
More than 650,000 Palestinians have been detained since the 1967 war, accounting for about 20% of the Palestinian population – the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
The overwhelming majority are political prisoners who have been arbitrarily imprisoned or detained without trial under the broad banner of “security”, according to the human rights group Btselem.