Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch indicated that Israel should reduce its use of administrative detention against Palestinian suspects, a senior official said on Thursday, amid an ongoing wave of hunger strikes among Palestinian detainees.
According to the official, Aharonovitch's remarks were made during a special meeting he convened to discuss the hunger strikes on Tuesday, when he said "we have to make sure that we’re making suitable use [of administrative detention], according to need."
According to the Israeli Prison Service, 300 Palestinian prisoners are currently being held under administrative detention in Israeli prisons, compared to as many as 1,500 five years ago.
Despite the drop, officials at the Justice Ministry, the Public Security Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry have all said, the policy should be downsized even more.
Aharonovitch's reported remark were made following a recent wave of hunger strikes, inspired by Islamic Jihad operative Khad er Adnan who staged a hunger strike for over two months beginning late last year to protest Israel's administrative detention policy.
Adnan was eventually released after the Palestinian Authority, as well as a number of civil rights NGOs and foreign governments applied considerable pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on the issue.
In February, international pressure, along with the fear that prison riots would erupt if Adnan died in the hospital, prompted Israel to reach a deal, in which he was released from administrative detention.
On April 17, Palestinian Prisoner Day, a massive hunger strike was initiated, encompassing 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, mostly held for security-related offences. In addition, the health of three prisoners is deteriorating after being on hunger strike for almost two months.
At this point, Israel has not felt international pressure regarding the issue, but Foreign Ministry officials estimate that several European Union states would begin filing protests, especially around the issue of administrative detentions, if the hunger strikes persist.
On Wednesday, UN envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry released a statement saying he was "deeply troubled" by the hungers strikes, adding that the sides had to “find a solution before it is too late,” and urging Israel to "preserve the health of the prisoners."
In recent weeks, Aharonovitch held two sessions discussing the hunger strikes, with the Tuesday one being the latest, participated by representatives from the Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry, as well as IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Prison Service (IPS) officials.
An Israeli official with knowledge of the details, and who asked to remain anonymous as a result of the subject's sensitivity, indicated that in both meetings on the issue, Aharonovitch stressed that the use of administrative detention needed to be reduced to a minimum.
Moreover, Tuesday's session reportedly included a presentation which recommended "to exhaust investigation and evidence collections that would allow to open a criminal procedure prior to appeal to the Civil Administration."
During the discussion, Aharonovitch reportedly supported that approach, saying that while the detentions were a "very important tool to aid security," Israeli had to "use it only if there's a need and not in all cases."
Negotiations are taking place between the IPS and the prisoners leadership, led by IPS chief Aharon Franco, who even held a meeting with a few senior Palestinian convicts a few days ago, including Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti.
Franco reportedly received from the prisoners a list of demands that, if met, would stop the hunger strike.
A senior official indicated that along with some outlandish demands such as installing plasma screens in the cells and diversifying canteen foods, the list also included significant requests such as allowing family members of Gaza inmates to visit prisons in Israel and cancelling the sanctions imposed on the prisoners prior to the Shalit deal, put in place to force Hamas to compromise its demands.
During the session on Tuesday, several officials stressed that allowing visitation rights to the Gaza convicts would significantly aid efforts to end the hunger strike. Coordinator of Government Activities in the West Bank Eitan Dangot expressed his objection to allow such rights.
Dangot said that the visitation rights were cancelled a as part of a government policy to "separate" Gaza from the West Bank in order to pressure Hamas and support the Palestinian Authority.
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