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How Israel's 'civil war' is hurting Palestinian prisoners

How Israel's 'civil war' between Ben Gvir and Prison Service is hurting Palestinian detainees
6 min read
West Bank
31 August, 2023
Tensions between Palestinian inmates and Israeli authorities have been brewing for months. Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian prisoners have declared hunger strikes five times, only to be called off on the first day after reaching a deal
Some 5,000 Palestinians are currently held in Israel's jails. [Qassam Muaddi/TNA]

Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are suffering a severe deterioration in their conditions as a result of the political civil war brewing between the ruling far-right coalition and institutions like the Israeli Prison Service. Already incarcerated in humiliating conditions, their situation is set to get worse as Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir is leading a personal crusade against them, clashing with the IPS.

Palestinian sources spoke at length to The New Arab about the on-and-off escalation between the prisoners and Israeli authorities, which has been ongoing for months, underscoring how Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are trapped in internal Israeli differences.

Tensions between Palestinian inmates and Israeli authorities have been brewing for months. Since the beginning of the year, Palestinian prisoners have declared hunger strikes five times, only to be called off on the first day after reaching agreements with the Israeli prison services.

Earlier this month, over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners surprisingly declared a collective hunger strike after Israeli forces violently raided two sections of the Negev prison and placed some 47  Palestinian prisoners under solitary confinement.

The strike was called off after the Israeli prison services apparently complied with the demands of Palestinian prisoners. According to the Prisoners' Club, all isolated and transferred prisoners at Negev were returned to their shared cells with other prisoners.

"The occupation's security minister has often forced the escalation with prisoners while the prison services try to maintain stability", Aayah Shreiteh, spokesperson for the Prisoners' Club, told TNA. 

"While the minister, Ben Gvir, introduces restrictions on prisoners for his own political gain. The prison services try to reach agreements with the prisoners' movement before their protests escalate beyond control", she pointed out. "It is an Israeli internal political struggle, and Palestinian prisoners pay the price of it".

Ben-Gvir's crackdown

Meanwhile, ten Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails continue their individual hunger strikes against their continuous detention without charges.

Escalation in Israeli prisons has accompanied the increasingly hard-line discourse of Israeli security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir against Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli forces' raid on Palestinian prisoners in Negev two weeks ago followed a visit by Ben-Gvir, in which he called on further restricting detention conditions for Palestinian prisoners.

Since the beginning of the year, Ben Gvir introduced a series of restrictions to Palestinian prisoners' conditions, including reductions in the quantity and quality of food, time in the sun, family visits and shower time.

In July, the director of Israeli prison services, Katy Perry, announced that she would quit her job at the end of the year, following months of clashing with Ben Gvir over the running of prisons.

"The occupation's prison services are not necessarily more humane", a source for the Palestinian Addameer prisoners' support association, who asked not to be named, told TNA.

"It is rather an administrative institution, which, contrary to Ben-Gvir, has decades of experience confronting the Palestinian prisoner movement, is more pragmatic and doesn't have the same political gain calculations", the source noted.

"A massive, unified hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in all Israeli jails means that the prison services will have to run a round-the-clock operation to control the Palestinian inmates' sections, deploying thousands of security personnel, transferring, isolating, and interrogating them", she explained.

"This is particularly risky under the current conditions of the West Bank, where tensions are already high, and confrontations are daily, outside prisons, and where almost every household has a member who is currently or was formerly in prison", she added.

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Uniting Palestinian prisoners

According to the source, leading a unified hunger strike in all prisons "is also a difficult task for Prisoners, as communication between jails is very complicated, and there is rarely a consensus between all components of the prisoner movement on such a move".

In late March, the 'Higher Emergency Committee - UEC', a unified leadership body of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, declared a general hunger strike against Ben-Gvir's measures after two months of preparation and escalating protest actions. The strike was called off on the first day.

According to Palestinian analyst and former prisoner in Israeli jails, Esmat Mansour, "the UEC as a leadership body has shown a lot of flexibility, being able to go from a point of zero action to full confrontation, and back, in a period of days, because it has been forced to do so", said Mansour.

"Even though its decisions, in protesting Israeli measures, are a matter of national consensus among prisoners, they are, as the name suggests, emergency decisions", remarked Mansour. "The UEC declares a hunger strike when there is really no other choice and calls it off when an agreement is achieved without risking the lives of prisoners".

"The rest of the time, every single tactic of prisoners' struggle is a matter of debate, and there is rarely a consensus", he added.

"Palestinian prisoners have been fighting for more than a year now, only to maintain their current status quo, in the face of Ben-Gvir's attacks, and not for advancing their rights even a little", he added.

Administrative detention: An ongoing battle

Eight of the ten hunger strikers are held without charges under the Israeli administrative detention system. The longest-running of the strikers are administrative detainees, 34-year-old Kayed Fadfus and 47-year-old Sultan Khlouf, who have been refusing food for 28 days.

Fasfus was detained last year without charges. He was released after a 131-day-long hunger strike, which caused him severe health deterioration.

Although Kayed Fasfus's condition is currently stable, Sultan Khlouf's health is at risk of severe deterioration, according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Club.

"Sultan Khlouf has diabetes and blood pressure problems, and his liver began to present irregularities as well", Ayah Shreiteh from the Prisoners' Club told TNA.

"None of the detainees has been transferred to the prison clinic yet, but we fear that their health conditions will deteriorate very quickly", Shreiteh said.

Palestinian detainees' families are protesting in Ramallah. [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinian administrative detainees continue to stage protest actions at the Israeli Ofer detention centre near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, led by a recently formed leadership committee of administrative detainees.

Protests include refusing to stand out for morning counting, exceeding the allowed time in the courtyard, and interrupting the daily assigned routine.

Administrative detainees demand the halt of the widespread use of administrative detention, ongoing since last year, against former Palestinian prisoners, community leaders, activists and students.

According to the Prisoners' Club, the detainees' protest also demands that the number of times an administrative detention order can be renewed be limited.

The number of Palestinian detainees without charges has reached 1,200 out of 5,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including 33 women and 165 minors.