Angry demonstrators also called on Jordan to cancel its 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states that have signed peace agreements with Israel. They also burned Israeli flags.
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"Down, down with the peace. No peace without freeing the prisoners," read a banner held by Um Abdullah, mother of Jordanian prisoner Abdullah Barghouthi, who is serving 67 life terms for masterminding attacks on Israelis.
Palestinian prisoners have used hunger strikes to pressure Israeli officials. Israel does not want Palestinian prisoners to die in Israeli custody, fearing this could spark widespread violence. In several recent cases, Israel has hospitalized hunger striking Palestinians and force fed them liquids.
Distraught and pale, Um Abdullah sat on the sidewalk as she held a placard while trying to catch her breath. "I am sick, I have asthma, but I came with other mothers and fathers to ask the government why it is not doing enough to help our sons," she said. Although Abdullah Barghouti's charges are very serious, Um Abdullah said she came out to show support for other families.
"I am here not only for my son, but also for others who face injustice in Israel on a daily basis. I have little hope of living until I see my son, but I hope to see others prisoners released very soon," she added.
A total of 29 Jordanians are serving time in Israel, including some given multiple life sentences. Others are being held without charges or have been waiting their trial for months, and probably years, according to activists from the National Committee for Support of Prisoners in Israel.
The group, which draws its power from the strong professional associations, accused the government of shirking its responsibility towards prisoners in Israel.
Jordanian parliament (Archive photo: EPA)
"The government did not even ask to visit the prisoners after they declared they started a hunger strike. We expected them to send a medical team and support our campaign to free the prisoners," Fadi Farah, secretary general of the group told The Media Line.
"We will stay here until our demands are met. Our protests will grow bigger and our voices will go louder," Farah said.
The Jordanian prisoners started their hunger strike in early May, days after the release of Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi following months without food.
The success of Issawi and several others before him has served to embolden other prisoners who seek their release from Israeli prisons.
Hunger as nonviolent resistance
For Jordanian activists, human rights groups and prisoners' families, the hunger strike is a perfect tool of peaceful resistance.
"The empty stomach war will see us victorious; we do not need to kidnap Israeli soldiers or tourists to free our sons," Farah said.
These family members say the Jordanian government must do more for these prisoners.
"We will continue pressure on the government until it takes responsibility. I see it as very strange that the government does not even issue a statement of support for the prisoners," said Ahmed Mari, brother of prisoner Munir Mari.
Among the protesters were former prisoners in Israel released during the past few years as part of a political deal with Jordan.
The government said it was doing all it could to provide prisoners with needed aid, but privately stressed that "its hands are tied."
The secretary general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mohammad Daher, told protesters the government was doing its best to support prisoners. But when asked by activists about tangible proof of government efforts, Daher was unable to satisfy their demands.
Privately, Jordanian officials concede there is little they could do to help convicted prisoners, arguing such a release would need to be part of a regional bargain, similar to that in 2008, which saw release of three prisoners as part of a deal between Israel and Hezbollah.
"We are using our diplomatic relations with Israel to better serve prisoners, but we cannot free them as we don’t hold the keys," a senior official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity.
Article written by Adam Nicky
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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