The most charismatic living Palestinian leader launches a massive hunger strike from his prison cell and the pages of The New York Times: In another time, it would have been front-page news around the world.

Deutsche Welle reports that between 1,100 and 1,500 Palestinian prisoners began Sunday to forgo food to demand access to phones, improved medical services and extended visiting rights for families. Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti called for the movement in an op-ed in the New York Times, in which he called Israel’s prisons — which hold about 6,500 Palestinians — "the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination."

"This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners' movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom," writes Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence in for his role in the Second Intifada. Considered a hardened terrorist by the Israelis, many Palestinians consider him their people's Nelson Mandela.

marwan barghouti wall palestine

Portrait of Barghouti on the West Bank wall — Photo: Eman

Though the story looks bound to mushroom in the region, four months into 2017, this latest chapter in the eternal Israeli-Palestinian struggle is merely background noise to other huge — once unthinkable — news stories. Take, for example, the U.S. dropping the "mother of all bombs" in Afghanistan last week.

And then there's the daily updates of Israel's neighbor Syria being decimated by the nation’s civil war, bringing us "scenes of a world devoid of rules: children killed by poisonous gas, the bodies of prisoners who were tortured or burned alive and a multitude of national armies and rebel groups that hack each other to pieces," as one one Süddeutsche Zeitung writer put it.

In Europe, meanwhile, nationalism is sweeping the ballot boxes, as it apparently did in Turkey's referendum Sunday as well. Oh, and thanks to the rising tensions between the U.S. and both Russia and North Korea, there’s suddenly the return of worrying about a real threat of nuclear war.

"I don’t wish to alarm you," Paul Mason from the Guardian writes, "but right now the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable."

Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict merits our attention. But don't blame us for being distracted.

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