Palestinian Prisoners' Hunger Strike Ends After Reaching Deal With Israel

Israel agrees to install public phones in cells ■ Israeli and Palestinian sources negate each other on removal of cellphone jammers

Palestinian security prisoners in Nafha Prison, January, 2019.
Reuven Castro / Walla

The hunger strike organized by Palestinian prisoners in Israel has ended after the Prison Service agreed to install public phones in prisoners' cellblocks and allow them to make supervised calls to relatives, sources among the prisoners said on Monday.

They added that while Israel agreed to remove its cellphone jammers only if all the prisoners’ cellphones are taken, the prisoners won’t need cellphones if public phones are installed and properly maintained.

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“We’ve proved that the person running the jail is Mohammed Arman rather than Gilad Erdan,” one veteran prisoner said, referring respectively to the leader of the strike and the public security minister.

“Our conclusion from the latest events is that only those who stab [wardens] and torch their cells get what they want,” he added.

Sources among the prisoners said Israel had agreed that each prisoner would be able to speak with a direct family member approved by the Shin Bet security service up to three times a week.

They also said that contrary to what Israel claims, the jammers won’t be activated, and prisoners who were transferred from Ketziot Prison to Megiddo Prison following prison riots will be returned to Hamas cellblocks.

Arman is considered the most senior Hamas prisoner in Israel. He is serving 36 life sentences for his role in three Hamas terror attacks – at the Moment Café in Jerusalem, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Mount Scopus campus, and a billiards club in Rishon Letzion – plus one attempted attack, on the Pi Glilot gas storage site.

He led the other Hamas prisoners in the hunger strike that began eight days ago.

An Israeli security official said the prisoners promised to turn all their smuggled cellphones over to the Prison Service in exchange for installation of the public phones. But he insisted that the jammers won’t be removed.

In fact, he said, the Prison Service has made it clear to the prisoners that public phones will be installed only in cellblocks that have cellphone jammers.

The official confirmed that the public phones will be available only for calls to direct relatives who have been approved by the Shin Bet.

Israel however, did not accept the Palestinians’ demand to reinstate family visits for prisoners from the Gaza Strip, the official said. Reinstating those visits, which Erdan had canceled, was one of the Hamas prisoners’ main demands, but Israel insisted it was a non—starter.

Israel also rejected Hamas’ demand that prisoners transferred to other jails after last month’s riots at Ramon Prison be returned. During those riots, the prisoners set fire to cellblocks where cellphone jammers were installed.

The Prison Service has for years opposed installing public phones in the jails due to Shin Bet objections. But during the recent strike, it was actually the Shin Bet that proposed public phones as an alternative.

In closed discussions, Shin Bet officials said they changed their minds because it was possible to listen in on calls from public phones.

On Saturday, the Palestinians said that some 400 prisoners were participating in the strike. But according to the Prison Service, only about 100 were actually returning meals uneaten. It also said that only two prisoners, in the Ohalei Kedar Prison, needed medical treatment.

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.