Palestinian Security Prisoners Report Progress in Negotiations With Israel

Israel Prison Service contradicts claim, says number of Palestinians participating in the strikes diminished

File photo: Guards escort a prisoner in Ramon Prison, 2017.
Israel Prison Service

Talks between Palestinian security inmates and the Israel Prison Service over the ongoing hunger strike the prisoners declared have progressed in the past few days, sources among the prisoners said Sunday.

The prison service has not confirmed this, and said that while Palestinians claim that around 400 prisoners are striking, only 100 have been designated as “refusing meals,” but are not maintaining a full hunger strike. 

According to the prison service, although the Hamas-led strike entered its seventh day on Sunday, only two prisoners in the Ohalei Kedar Prison have required medical care, indicating that the strike might not be complete.

The prisoners who are refusing their meals are drinking water and are in cells with other prisoners who continue to eat, the Prison Service said, adding it is thus unlikely they are actually on a hunger strike. 

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The strike was announced by Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners after a Palestinian prisoner tried to stab an Israeli prison officer at the Ktzi'ot prison in late March, a day after two other officers serving there were stabbed.

As a result, the Prison Service raised the alert level in all of the facilities for security prisoners to prevent further riots. The incident also heightened tensions between Hamas prisoners and the Prison Service following the installation of technology to block outgoing calls from prisoners’ contraband cell phones.

Sources among the prisoners said that except for a few Fatah prisoners, those participating in the hunger strike are members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and that some had been moved to isolation wings. 

The intent, according to prisoners, is to expand the strike in the next few days if their demands are not met, reaching its peak this week, when “Prisoners’ Day” is marked by the Palestinian Authority.

Sources among the prisoners are saying that another meeting was to be held Sunday between the prisoner leaders and senior prisons service officials, including the head of intelligence, Yuval Biton and representatives of the Shin Bet security service. “The strike will not continue for long. Israel has already given into the main demands. This is all an attempt to pressure Israel and influence events on the ground, and the Israeli surrender makes clear to the prisoners that Israel understands only force,” a prisoner said.

Negotiations, according to prisoners, are focusing on three issues. The removal of cellphone jammers from prisons, which Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has denied but prisoner sources said they will not be turned on, visits by families to prisoners from Gaza and the use of public telephones in the security wings. Prisoners said the prison service has already agreed to install phones some will be allowed to use once a week to speak to their families if they provide the names ahead of time and receive permission from the Shin Bet. However such restrictions are opposed and they are demanding to use phones three times a week, with the understanding that the Israeli authorities will be listening in.

The hunger strike was announced last Monday, the day before the Knesset election, by five of the Palestinian prisoner leaders, who were gradually to be joined by other prisoners. The day before, the prisoners announced they would postpone the strike in light of negotiations with the prison service due to promises that the cellphone jammers would be turned off that they claim to have received. Hamas' prisoner leaders first sought to bring Fatah prisoners in on the strike and when the latter asked to exhaust the negotiation option with Israel, Hamas prisoners started their strike hoping that the sensitive timing would lead a deal with Israeli authorities.