Palestinian Prisoners Expected to Nix Leadership Councils in Protest Over Israeli Actions

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PFLP prisoners - but not Fatah - expected to announce dismantling their leadership, a move that will likely ratchet up tensions in security wings

Israel Prison Service officials escorting a prisoner in the security wing of an Israeli jail, May 3, 2017
Israel Prison Service

Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel are expected to announce Thursday that they are dismantling the prisoner representative councils, meaning the end of formal leadership for prisoners.

The announcement will include prisoners from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but not Fatah.

Senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz that this move will increase the tensions in the security wings and that the Israel Prison Services will have a hard time controlling the environment due to the lack of leadership, which normally controls the prisoners.

Hamas prisoner leaders said Sunday they were expecting to resign from their leadership posts over a plan to install a device that blocks cellphone service in prisons. 

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In Israeli prisons' security wings, each wing has a head and a spokesman, who are selected in democratic elections held by the prisoners (in Hamas, every four months; in Fatah, every six months). These position holders enjoy status even outside of jail: Their role is a sign of success that is automatically translated into a boost of their families’ good name.

It is the job of the spokesman to maintain contact with the IPS personnel running the prisons, but the head of the security wing has more power: It is he who manages the affairs of the inmates and is entrusted with contact with the leadership of the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – conducted by means of family visits, attorneys and cellphones. The latter are forbidden, but it is clear to all that their presence is widespread.

Tension arose following violent clashes between Islamic Jihad prisoners and guards at Ofer Prison three weeks ago, a result of searches conducted for unauthorized cellphones. During the clashes, twenty prisoners were taken for medical treatment.

Last month, clashes broke out in three security prisons across the country, in protest against a snap search in prisoners’ cells. The search, in cells occupied by Islamic Jihad members, yielded weapons, mobile phones, SIM cards and written material held in violation of the rules. In response to the violent behavior at Ofer, Nafha and Gilboa prisons, tear gas was used. Three guards and six inmates were slightly injured, three of the latter requiring medical treatment.