The declaration by the Israeli Ministry of Health Aug. 19 that it would deny medical attention in Israeli hospitals to Palestinian prisoners on a liquids-only hunger strike drew a scathing denunciation from Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, president of the Palestinian Medical Relief Societies. The following day, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel offered to provide independent medical aid to the strikers.

Palestine Monitor said more than 7,000 prisoners are participating in the strike. They are demanding an end to Israeli authorities’ abusive practices including arbitrary beatings, strip searches and confining of child detainees with adults, withholding of medical attention and food. They are calling for more frequent family visits under better conditions, improved sanitary conditions and restoration of study privileges.

Palestine Monitor quoted Dr. Barghouthi as saying the authorities’ actions reflected the racist nature of the Israeli occupation policies and their blatant disrespect for human life. The Palestinian physician added that he hoped the government’s statements would help show the international community the callous nature of the Israeli government’s response toward all Palestinian demands and proposals.

On Aug. 20, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel offered to send independent medical professionals to aid the strikers, including supporting their right to decide about continued participation in the strike.

“The doctor, in this situation, acts as an intermediary between the striking prisoners and the prison authorities,” PHR-I said in a statement. “The well-being of the prisoner and his expressed wishes regarding his desire to eat, must be the priority of the doctor at all times,” the organization said, adding that it is forbidden to force feed a hunger striker who refused food when he was fully competent. Israeli authorities have threatened to force-feed strikers who become emaciated.

Israeli authorities have said they would try to break the strike by holding barbecues outside prison walls. The World Federation of Trade Unions is urging expressions of solidarity with the strikers.