Israeli Army Warns Moving Prisoners Could Increase Tensions After Two Israeli Guards Stabbed

Following riots and an incident in which Hamas prisoners stabbed two guards, the Shin Bet and army express concern over plans to move 100 Hamas prisoners

Emergency forces at Ktzi'ot Prison in southern Israel, March 25, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The tension in the security prisons continues to run high, with prison officials fearing possible disturbances by security prisoners, after rioting and the stabbing of two prison guards in Ketziot Prison on Sunday. Several inmates were also hurt during the confrontations.

At a situational assessment conducted by acting Israel Prison Service Commissioner Asher Vaknin, there were warnings presented of plans by Hamas prisoners to get violent against staff members, and of fears of widespread disturbances in the security prisoner wings. The prisoners have been protesting restrictions on prisoners’ cell phone usage, including the installation of jamming systems.

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Haaretz Weekly Episode 20Haaretz

“Israel for years raised up the snake and now it can’t take off the snake’s head,” a senior Fatah prisoner told Haaretz through an intermediary. “Hamas, with the help of the Israeli government, is solely responsible for the escalation that could set not only Gaza on fire but the West Bank. Israel’s insistence on installing jamming systems is superfluous. The cell phones can be confiscated by the prison service, but now, on the eve of elections in Israel, they chose to install the jammers. Hamas, using the Qatari money that Israel has been giving it, uses the money to fire on Israel and now both of them are bringing down the whole region.”

According to this prisoner, there’s no doubt that the rocket fired on the Sharon region was revenge for the injuries to Hamas prisoners in Ketziot.

“It’s not 99 percent clear, but 101 percent. Immediately after the firing they said the missile fell for the prisoners who were hurt; now, fearing a response, they’re saying it was a mistake, but we have no doubts at all. It’s escalation and behavior that we haven’t had since the 1980s; to try to murder a prison guard is an attempt to escalate the whole region.”

The problem, continued the senior Fatah prisoner, “is that they could take to the streets in the West Bank, too, since the Palestinian Authority has paid only 40 percent of the last salary because Israel hasn’t transfer the [tax] money, so what do they expect, that people should live without salaries and keep quiet? The Israeli government and Hamas don’t want quiet. They want to use the prisoners for election purposes, they open a front at Al Aqsa, while at the same time Hamas is willing to go to war over the demand to get rid of the jamming. We aren’t interested in escalation, but what are they going to war here for, over cell phone jamming? Why go so far?”

Last week there were discussions between the prime minister and representatives of the security establishment regarding the ongoing installation of jamming systems in the prison wings holding security inmates. During the discussion it emerged that the Prison Service was about to move some 100 Hamas prisoners into a new wing in Ramon Prison in which jamming devices had already been installed. According to security sources, while the army and the Shin Bet security service expressed support for the project, they warned that this was a sensitive time and that the move could lead to escalated tensions and violence.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told participants that since 2016 there had been 14 “terror guidance channels” identified as coming from the prisons, all being operated through smuggled cell phones, and that jamming the phones was necessary to prevent the planning of attacks. Senior prison service officials said that failing to move the prisoners into the new wing would be perceived by the prisoners as weakness.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the Prison Service recommendation, and the prisoners were moved to the new wing where the jammers were installed. That same evening cells in the new wing were torched. This led to punitive steps against the prisoners, the dispersal of the some 100 prisoners to other prisons and then to Sunday’s stabbing and rioting.

The prisoners argue that the jamming systems emit radiation that puts their health at risk. Along with the formal argument, prisoners say the cell phones are not used to arrange terror attacks but to speak to their friends and families.

The Shin Bet said in response, “Since the issue was discussed by the political echelons, we cannot comment on positions that were presented during the discussions.”

Plans to launch a mass hunger strike on April 7 haven’t changed, but apparently only Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners will participate, with Fatah taking other protest measures.