With the announcement by its initiator and leader Marwan Barghouti that he will stop drinking water, the Palestinian mass hunger strike, now in its 32nd day, has entered a critical stage. Barghouthi’s dramatic step came as a response to the Israeli government’s refusal to engage in negotiations with the strikers.

More than 1,300 Palestinian prisoners are participating in the “Freedom and Dignity” strike. The strike is calling for an end to the denial of family visits, improved health care, access to higher education, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention.

Without water, a person, especially one already weakened by more than a month without food, is unlikely to survive more than a week.

The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs issued a statement in which it quoted Barghouti’s lawyer, Khader Shqeirat, as saying that Barghouti’s decision to refuse water would be “a new turning point in the ongoing open-ended hunger strike.”

The committee’s statement accused the Israeli regime of responsibility for embarking on a “tragic and disastrous road” and taking “a criminal stance regarding the just demands of prisoners.”

According to public opinion polls, Marwan Barghouti is the most popular political leader in the West Bank. He is currently serving five life sentences at the hands of the Israeli “justice system,” which convicts 99.74 percent of Palestinians charged with “security” violations. Barghouthi refused to put on a defense in his 2004 trial, maintaining that Israel had no authority over him.

Since the June 1967 war when Israel conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Syria’s Golan Heights, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested and imprisoned inside the 1948 borders of the state of Israel in clear and indisputable violation of international law. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the detention of residents of an occupied territory in prisons inside the occupying country.

According to the prisoner rights organization Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been detained over the past half-century; 40 percent of all adult male Palestinians have done time in Israeli jails. Today, there are more than 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. There are no Israelis in Palestinian jails. Palestinian prisoners are routinely subjected to torture, administrative detention without charge for up to six months (indefinitely renewable), and many other forms of abuse.

Daily solidarity protests growing

Daily protests in solidarity with the hunger strike have been met with violent and often deadly repression by the Israeli military and heavily armed settlers.

On May 18, during a solidarity protest at the Huwwarra checkpoint near Nablus in the northern West Bank, an Israeli settler shot and killed 23-year-old Muataz Hussein Hilal Bani Shamsa, wounded a journalist, hit three other Palestinians with his car, and rammed a Red Crescent ambulance. In typical fashion, the Israeli army announced that no investigation of the settler was being opened. No matter how vicious or even deadly their actions, fascist settlers routinely carry out their attacks with impunity.

Despite massive repression, the struggle in solidarity with the hunger strikers and against the occupation is escalating.

Just hours after Shamsa’s death, thousands took to the streets of his home village, Beita—a renowned center of the liberation struggle—in a militant funeral march.