Hamas Prisoners' Hunger Strike Aims to Pressure Israel Into Prisoner Swap, Palestinian Official Says

Prisoners plan to stop eating next week in protest over installation of cellphone reception blocking equipment, and presented a long list of demands to avert the strike

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

A threatened hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners aims to put pressure on Israel to advance toward a prisoner exchange with Hamas, said a senior figure linked to Hamas’ prison leaders.  

The prisoners have threatened to eschew the intake of any food or water beginning on Sunday in protest against the recent installation of cellphone reception blocking equipment in the Ramon and Ketziot prisons.

The plan is for the more prominent jailed Palestinians to start the strike and for other prisoners to join in later. In addition to rejecting the intake of food provided by the authorities, prisoners have threatened to stop purchasing any source of nourishment from prison canteens as well.

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Prison officials worry about the prospect of having to evacuate large numbers of prisoners to hospitals in the event that the lack of liquid intake leads to serious medical complications.

Intelligence reports also warn that Hamas inmates may attack prison guards during the strike, similar to a stabbing last week. Another fear is that any deaths that may be caused by the strike could trigger an escalation in violence in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Hamas has issued a long list of demands to avert the strike, including an insistence that the authorities remove the equipment disrupting cellphone service, a demand which the defense establishment has thus far rejected. Prisoners are also demanding the cancellation of punishments against inmates involved in recent riots such as the transfer of some prisoners to Ketziot, permitting family visits for prisoners from Gaza, stocking additional goods in the canteens and expanding television service for inmates.

“Israel’s aggressive actions against the prisoners are the cause of the hunger strike,” and the strike will be open-ended, someone close to the Hamas prisoners told Haaretz.

“The equipment that causes cancer and harms prisoners’ health and any further harm done to the prisoners are Israel’s responsibility,” the source said.

He accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan of exploiting the prisoners for political purposes.

Police are investigating claims by prisoners that Prison Service guards were severely violent with them after the stabbings at Ketziot last week. Some prisoners have accused guards of beating bound inmates with batons, even after the main suspect in the stabbings had been subdued. A number of sources say these incidents were photographed by prison security cameras.

Eleven prisoners were treated at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva after that incident. Two were listed in serious condition. Prisoners said they were beaten all over their bodies for about 20 minutes after the stabbings took place.

The Prison Service said a preliminary examination shows the guards had to extricate their wounded colleagues from a life-threatening melee, and then get the situation in that prison wing under control to avoid further violence. The incident is being investigated further and the results will be presented to all relevant parties, the Service said.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel filed a complaint on behalf of six prisoners from Ofer Prison this week, who said they were attacked by Special Forces during a search of their cells in January. They say foam-covered bullets were fired at their rooms, that they were handcuffed and later beaten by guards.