A protester holds a picture of her jailed son at a rally in downtown Ramallah on Friday. Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in solidarity with hunger strikers in Israel jails as the protest moved into its second month. Image Credit: ORLANDO CROWCROFT/Gulf News

Ramallah Motasser Abd Al Haleem was barely out of his teens when the Israeli army took him away. Now the fresh-faced Palestinian stares out from a framed portrait clutched to his mother's chest.

"When they arrested him, he was only 20 years old," she says in the centre of Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank, just miles from the barbed wire barrier that divides Israel from Palestine.

"He has now been gone for eight years," she adds through a young translator and sits alongside a dozen other mothers and fathers in a downtown protest tent. When asked what for, she claims: "There have been no charges."

Al Haleem is one of the estimated 2,500 Palestinians currently on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Inspired by Khader Adnan, a prisoner who secured his release with a high profile hunger strike, they have adopted the same tactic. They are protesting against conditions in jails and an end to detention without trial.

Citing security reasons, Israel is able to imprison any Palestinian without charge.

Prisoner demands

Palestinians in the West Bank — cut off from the picture-postcard, tourist-clogged streets of Occupied Jerusalem 10 kilometres away — are angry that prisoners have had to go to such lengths to secure basic freedoms such as appeals, family visits and even the opportunity to have their photographs taken with relatives.

The two most prominent hunger strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahlah, have gone over two months without food, and on Thursday appeared before an Israeli court in wheelchairs, appealing for their release from detention without trial. Diab has already been moved to a hospital, his health rapidly declining.

Act of desperation

Speaking in court, Halahlah — who has been jailed for the past 22 months — said his strike was an act of desperation.

"I want to live in dignity. I have a wife, and a daughter I never met. I am on hunger strike because there is no other way," he said, quoted by AP.

It is cases such as this that brought crowds onto the streets in Ramallah on Friday, and will undoubtedly bring them out again. The protesters gathered outside the central mosque before surging uphill towards the town's central square. They held aloft pictures of dozens of young men, some in football jerseys, others in military fatigues.

Fatima sits alongside other parents in the solidarity tent. The issue — like for so many other Palestinians — is about family. How long will she stay here, protesting, I ask. "Until my son is released, of course."