Hunger striking is the only way for Palestinian prisoners to achieve their demands, said a former inmate who was freed by Israel and exiled to Gaza after refusing food for 43 days.
In an interview with AFP on the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners' Day, Hanaa Shalabi paid tribute to the 10 prisoners who have been on hunger strike for several weeks, two of whom have now gone 50 days without eating.
"The prisoners will continue their hunger strike until their demands are met because it is the only way, as my experience shows, and that of Khader Adnan," she said, referring to an Islamic Jihad prisoner who refused food for nearly 10 weeks until Israel agreed not to extend his detention without charge.
Adnan, who is set to be released later on Tuesday, went on hunger strike for 66 days in protest against his being held without charge under a procedure known as administrative detention.
It turned him into a national hero and inspired Shalabi's own decision to stop eating.
Since Adnan's high-profile hunger strike, a growing number of prisoners have taken to starving themselves, and on Tuesday three-quarters of the 4,700 inmates in Israeli custody began refusing food.
Of that number, 2,300 of them said they were observing a temporary fast, while another 1,200 said they were beginning an open-ended hunger strike, the Israel Prisons Service said.
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"We call on the prisoners not to give in to the enemy," Shalabi said.
"They are the light of hope for the Palestinian nation, which unifies the people."
Shalabi was one of 27 Palestinian women prisoners freed as part of a landmark swap deal late last year, in which Israel released 1,027 prisoners in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
She was freed in October, but was rearrested five months later and held without charge under administrative detention, which can be repeatedly extended for six-month periods.
Shalabi, who arrived in Gaza on April 1, said she was happy to be free, in spite of being far from her home village in the northern West Bank.
"Despite the (Israeli) blockade on the Gaza Strip, I don't feel like I'm in a prison. Quite the opposite -- I feel at home, among my own people. Despite the suffering in Gaza, I am free and alive and I have my family with me," she said.
Shalabi began refusing food after she was arrested and placed in administrative detention on February 16.
On March 29, she accepted an Israeli deal under which she would be released and deported to Gaza for three years in exchange for ending her strike.