Israel Expected to Free 300 Palestinian Prisoners Due to Overcrowding

Ahed Tamimi’s brother is among the security prisoners expected to be freed ■ 1,000 prisoners to be released overall after Knesset passes bill to ease prisons conditions

Megiddo Prison in northern Israel July 24, 2018.
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Some 300 security prisoners are expected to go free after the Knesset passes a bill in the upcoming fall session that is meant to ease overcrowded prisons conditions, Haaretz has learned. The 300 prisoners are among about 1,000 prisoners to be released on the day the law goes into force, December 20.

The bill was introduced after the High Court of Justice ruled that the incarceration conditions infringed on prisoners’ human rights, and instructed the state to ensure that each prisoner had living space of 3 square meters.

The bill, which has already been approved by the Knesset Interior Committee, calls for shortening sentences of hundreds of prisoners by two to five months. Prisoners sentenced to up to four years will have their sentences reduced by a few weeks to a few months, no matter what the nature of their crime. Because all prisoners are also entitled to a one-third reduction of their sentence for good behavior, the new law will mean that some prisoners will be released after serving only half their sentence.

The new law would quadruple the time already on the books for “administrative release,” release of prisoners a few weeks before their sentence is up.

Prisoners sentenced to more than four years will receive the additional reduction only if they have already been granted one-third off for good behavior.

According to the information obtained by Haaretz, the new law will apply to all prisoners who meet the criteria in terms of time served, including 300 Palestinian security prisoners. According to data provided by the Israel Prison Service to the High Court of Justice, security prisoners are incarcerated under the worst conditions. In the Ofer Prison, for example, prisoners have 2.2 square meters of living space, and in Megiddo and Ramon prisons, the figure is 2.4 square meters per prisoner.

Senior prison service officials said they are still not sure which prisoners are to be released in December, but they expect between 280 to 300 security prisoners to be among the 1,000 to be freed.

After the bill was approved by the Knesset Interior Committee a senior law enforcement official told Haaretz that its significance would “have to be assessed in the years to come.” According to the official, “many prisoners will be released without having undergone or completed rehabilitation, and others who did not receive one-third off for good behavior are getting out without rehabilitation oversight and there is concern that many will return to a life of crime and end up back in prison. This step is far from a perfect solution to the problem of overcrowding, but the [High Court] ruling left few alternatives.”

The security prisoners expected to be eligible for early release include Waed Tamimi, sentenced to 14 months for throwing stones at Border Police officers. He is the brother of Ahed Tamimi, the high-profile Palestinian teen who served eight months behind bars for slapping a soldier. His sentence is expected to be shortened by 16 weeks, which means that he will get out in March 2019.

Another Palestinian prisoner who could be released early if the law passes is Hani Dari, who transported the terrorists who, after entering Israel illegally, stabbed to death Border Police officer Hadas Malka at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Dari, who did not know his passengers’ intent, was convicted of negligent manslaughter, and sentenced to 14 months in prison, which he began serving in April 2018.

Other, non-security prisoners who could benefit from the new law are former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.