The Palestinian Authority’s minister for prisoner affairs said on Monday that hundreds of PA Arabs in Israeli jails have joined a hunger strike to protest against worsening their prison conditions, which have been described as a "summer camp" by irate Israelis.
In contrast, kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been held incommunicado by Hamas for more than five years under unknown conditions, nor has he been allowed a single visit by the International Red Cross.
In June, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the benefits and privileges enjoyed by terrorists in Israeli prisons would be reduced due to Hamas’ refusal to allow Shalit visits. That statement is now being used by the PA to justify the hunger strike.
Speaking to the Reuters news agency, Issa Qaraqa said that some 500 prisoners in Israeli jails were refusing to eat, rapidly swelling the ranks of a protest which began last week.
The hunger strike, which began last Wednesday, was to last three days but Qaraqa had warned that it could last longer “as a kind of warning to the Israeli administration.”
The strike is also meant to protest what Qaraqa termed last week Israel’s “policy of solitary confinement.” He said that “around 200 prisoners from the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] and some others began an open-ended hunger strike yesterday to protest the continued solitary confinement of their secretary general Ahmed Saadat for the last four years.”
Qaraqa also claimed that Israel has been holding some terror prisoners in solitary confinement for ten years, failing to mention the excellent conditions and benefits given to Arab prisoners, including murderers who have expressed no remorse, in Israeli prisons. Jonathan Pollard has been held in a US prison in solitary confinement for longer.
Rights groups told Reuters the clampdown announced by Netanyahu included preventing access to books, educational programs and new clothes, expanding solitary confinement, cutting back on family visits and forcing detainees to meet their lawyers with their hands cuffed.
Meanwhile, a senior Hamas official warned that terrorists would simply abduct more Israeli soldiers to push their demand for a mass-release of prisoners.
“More of Shalit’s kind are coming,” Hamas lawmaker Ismail Al-Ashqar was quoted by Reuters as saying. He added that the “effort to kidnap soldiers will continue until prisoners are freed.”
Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for Israel's Prisons Service, told Reuters on Monday that only 160 prisoners were on a hunger strike and that some of them stopped eating six days ago.
“They are all under medical supervision and none is in danger,” she said calmly, adding that they were all drinking water.