A Palestinian prisoner died Tuesday in Israeli custody after battling cancer, Israel’s prisons service said, ahead of demonstrations in the occupied West Bank. The protests, dubbed a “day of rage” by organizers, are against the U.S. announcement last week that it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to be a violation of international law, reversing four decades of U.S. policy. The protests were also set to call for Sami Abu Diak’s release. In a statement, the prisons service said Abu Diak, 35, died in an Israeli hospital early Tuesday. The statement said he was serving three life sentences for voluntary manslaughter and kidnapping, among other charges.
Abu Diak was linked to the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah faction and was arrested in the early 2000s, during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. He was allegedly involved in the killing of three Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israeli security forces. The Palestinian Authority and Abu Diak’s family had asked for his release to allow him to die at his family’s side, but Israeli officials denied the request. The Palestinians also reached out to European countries and the Red Cross to apply pressure on Israel to release him. Previous deaths of terminally ill Palestinian prisoners have sparked protests and accusations of medical negligence by Israeli authorities.
Tuesday’s protests were called before Abu Diak died. Organized by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, the demonstrations were set to protest the Trump administration’s embrace of a hard-line Israeli view on settlements at the expense of the Palestinian quest for statehood. Schools, universities and government offices closed their doors just before midday and rallies are being held in city centers around the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli leaders welcomed the U.S. decision last week, while Palestinians and other nations warned that it undercut any chance of a broader peace deal. Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory. Today, some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the two areas, which are both claimed by the Palestinians for their state.
The Palestinians and most of the world say the settlements undermine hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up land sought by the Palestinians. Israel says the fate of the settlements should be determined in negotiations, even as it steadily expands them. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had announced that the U.S. was repudiating the 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”