'This Is a Test': Israel Prepares for Clashes With Hamas Prisoners Over Crackdown on Cellphones

The installation of a cellphone disruption device has sparked a crisis between prison officials and jailed Hamas leaders who are calling for a 'prisoners' movement'

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Israel Prison Service officials escorting a prisoner in the security wing of an Israeli jail, May 3, 2017
Israel Prison Service guards with a security prisoner. Israel's High Court of Justice has ruled that the country's prison conditions are inhumane.Credit: Israel Prison Service
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The Prison Service is preparing for confrontations in its security wings after Hamas leaders at an Israeli prison announced their resignation from their posts as prisoner representatives over the a plan to install a device that blocks cellphone service in prisons. 

Leaders in other prisons also said they intend to resign.

The Prison Service obtained intelligence indicating that prisoners are planning to create disturbances and stage acts of resistance following the installation of the device at Ketziot Prison.

The device, which will also be installed at other prisons as well, has created a crisis in relations between prison officials and jailed Hamas leaders.

>> Read More: Israeli politics and SpongeBob: Conversations with Palestinian security prisoners

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.

An announcement disseminated on social media over the weekend, in the name of a “prisoners’ movement,” stated that the “Prison Service and politicians have launched a war against us. We urge the Palestinian public to support our struggle. This is a test, a time to open hearts and prove commitment to prisoners... don’t leave us alone on the battlefield, we’re experiencing an unprecedented attack, we must fight back. We’ve become a bargaining chip in the election, can you agree to that?”

>> Read more: The Israel Prison Service’s brutal raid on Palestinians ‘to locate unauthorized cellphones’ | Analysis 

The Prison Service has reinforced its staff at all prisons that hold security prisoners, particularly at Ketziot, Nafha and Ramon prisons, as part of its preparations.

A Prison Service spokesperson said in an official statement that they are on high alert for protest measures by Hamas. "As a result of the IPS's activity to thwart terror-related attempts from within the prisons, and following Hamas's announcement of protest measures, the IPS is preparing for various scenarios," the spokesperson said. 

"It has been made clear to prisoners that such acts would be met with a strong response. The IPS will continue to maintain its control in the prisons and prevent any hostile activity, as part of maintaining the security of the State of Israel," the statement added. 

According to an assessment by a senior prison service official, Hamas members are behind this announcement, but there is concern that jailed Fatah leaders will also announce their intention to resign. Prisoners claim that the installed device endangers their lives, also noting the government’s decision to interfere with Palestinian Authority payments to prisoners.

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.

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