The hunger strike begun by 1,200 Palestinian security prisoners in Israel this week was in part the result of a worsening of their conditions. They know their conditions will never match those of criminals jailed in Israel, but they are demanding a return of the privileges that have been taken away from them.
The Israel Prison Service distinguishes between the legal rights of prisoners, and the privileges they are allowed, which are based directly on their behavior in prison and the time they have spent there.
By law, the prison service is obligated to provide prisoners with adequate conditions for proper personal hygiene, to provide medical treatment, a bed, mattress, blanket, personal items and a place to store them, reasonable lighting and ventilation, as well as a daily walk outside in the fresh air. While the prison service cannot restrict a prisoner’s legally mandated rights, additional privileges are subject to the decision of the prison warden.
The granting and withholding of privileges is often used as a tool for controlling prisoners and encouraging them to behave appropriately.
Israel Prison Service regulations state that revoking privileges must be done on an individual basis for each prisoner, but in exceptional cases these privileges may be revoked collectively when, for instance, it is impossible to discover who is responsible for a violation of rules.
There are stark differences in the prison conditions of criminal inmates and security prisoners. Lawyers visiting their criminal clients will not have their documents searched. A meeting between the lawyer and prisoner is held without any barrier and in a way that protects lawyer-client confidentiality. In comparison, for security prisoners, the lawyer is separated from the client by a barrier, and the lawyer may bring only writing implements and legal materials into the prison.
While criminals are entitled to phone calls, security prisoners are not. In special cases, the prison service district commander is allowed to approve one telephone call to a first-degree relative, with the approval of the Shin Bet security service.
Prisoners convicted of criminal offenses are entitled to a 96-hour furlough, at most, from prison after serving a third of their sentence, while security prisoners are never entitled to such leave. Jewish security prisoners may ask for special leave for family events, which requires approval from the Shin Bet.