Text size

The thousands of Palestinian security prisoners planning to launch a hunger strike Sunday "can strike for a day, a month, even starve to death," as far as he is concerned, Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told reporters Friday.

Hanegbi said that the mass hunger strike was designed to put a dent in Israeli policy aimed at preventing security prisoners from planning terror attacks in their cells.

Security officials at the jails are taking measures to prevent these attacks, Hanegbi said, adding that he had no intention of relaxing the rules.

Some 4,000 security prisoners announced earlier this month their intention to embark on the hunger strike to lay claim to a number of privileges they say have either been restricted or taken away by the Prisons Service.

The prisoners, who are expected to start the protest by August 18 at Nafha prison, are demanding public telephones in their cell blocks, the removal of glass separating them from visiting relatives, and an end to what they call "intrusive" body searches.

"I reject outright all the terrorists' requests," Hanegbi said Friday, claiming that the strike was being organized by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

He was speaking during a press conference at the Public Security Ministry in Jerusalem after a meeting with national police chief Moshe Karadi and Prisons Service director Ya'akov Ganot to discuss possible scenarios ahead of the hunger strike, which is set to take place in 20 prisons across Israel.

Security sources and the Prisons Service intelligence service say the real motivation for the strike has nothing to do with the prisoners' demands. They argue that the prisoners are losing ground in the public consciousness of Palestinians, which is also manifested by significantly lower stipends being given to their families.

What is certain is that the prisoners are threatening to extend their hunger strike in a dramatic fashion, some even hinting that they would be willing to in fact die of hunger, imitating inmates in Turkey and Northern Ireland.

It is still unclear whether the hunger strike will include female security prisoners, and it is certain that none of the teenage prisoners will be allowed to participate.

In talks between prisoner representatives and prison officials, the Prisons Service's inclination has been to meet some of the prisoners' demands, such as limiting the number of prisoners who are not allowed to receive visitors. However, these do not include the main demands of the prisoners, which have been rejected due to security considerations.

The Prisons Service says that there is a great deal of coordination among the prisoners in the various prisons, including the preparation of terrorist attacks.

"We have often found [during body searches] maps of the prisons or routes of buses carrying prisoners to court. The aim is clear: carry out a terrorist attack," officers at Shikma prison say.

Officers also reject the prisoners' demand for telephones. "

They do not want the telephones to say hello to their families. "They intend to give orders for terrorist attacks," says the superintendent of the Shikma prison, Yosef Mikdash.

Ganot has said that if the hunger strike goes ahead, the prisoners will suffer the loss of existing privileges. The sanctions against the prisoners will include an end to all family visits as well as a loss of television and radio privileges.

The Prisons Service's two special units with expertise in crowd dispersal have made preparations in the event of a potential conflagration due to the hunger strike.

Preparations have also been completed for the possible mass evacuation of injured or ailing prisoners to hospitals.