Israeli Prisons Brace For Terrorist Hunger Strike

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Israel Prison Service (IPS) is bracing itself for a hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners, those incarcerated in connection with terrorist attacks, due to begin on Sunday.

Officials say that the prisoners' demands are aimed at obtaining privileges, which will enable them to direct terrorist operations from within the prison walls.

There are some 3,800 - mostly Palestinian - security prisoners in Israeli prisons, including a small number of administrative detainees that have not yet been charged or brought to trial.

Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Friday that he completely rejected the terrorists' demands and that prison officials were taking stringent measures to prevent terror attacks from within the prisons.

The Palestinian security prisoners "can strike for a day, a month, even starve to death," Hanegbi was quoted as saying.

Lt. Col. Ian Domnitz of the IPS said that the IPS had intercepted intelligence information that the prisoners intended to begin a hunger strike on Sunday, even though press reports indicated that it would begin a few days later.

The prisoners have three core demands out of a list of 57 - the installation of public telephones; the abolition of strip searches; and the removal of glass partitions in between prisoners and visitors during family visits, Domnitz told reporters at a briefing earlier this week in Jerusalem.

"This is not a protest...about poor conditions," he said.

They have televisions, the possibility of going to the Supreme Court, visits from Arab members of the Israeli parliament. "[They have] numerous rights and privileges...that no other terrorist prisoner has in the world," Domnitz said.

"Those three demands are important to them, because if those demands are granted they can carry on with the terrorist activity...We see these demands as...their combat against the security of the prison," he added.

As Israel has arrested thousands of terrorists, among them senior leaders, during the last four years, it has had to deal with the phenomenon of terrorists actually directing attacks from within the prisons. Prisoners are no longer allowed to have cellular telephones.

"Prisoners in Israel Prison Service today are directing the same sort of horrendous acts that are carried out by terrorists outside. Some of them [the attacks] are born in prison. They have time to think, to plan and to communicate it," said Domnitz.

In one case, IPS intercepted a message that had been rolled up smaller than about the size of a third of a paper clip and hidden in someone's tooth in place of a filling.

According to Domnitz, the message asked that the lawyers of certain prisoners arrange for a court appearance on a specific day for the men.

As they were being transported, other terrorists would stage a traffic accident and when the escort vehicle slowed down, the drivers and guards would be shot and the prisoners freed. They were then told to flee, not towards the Palestinian Authority, but back into Israel.

No Force Feeding

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the last major prisoner hunger strike in Israel was in 1992.

The Red Cross, which monitors the conditions in the Israeli prisons and conducts regular visits with the prisoners, does not make public comments about the conditions in the prisons nor take part in any negotiations regarding demands of hunger strikers, said Simon Chorno, spokesman for the ICRC in Jerusalem.

The ICRC continues its visits of the detainees and brings a doctor to monitor the condition of the hunger strikers, said Chorno.

The doctor also explains to the prisoners the "medical implications" of their actions. However, no "force feeding" is allowed, according to international conventions, even if a person starves to death, he said.

See Earlier Story:

Jailed Terrorists Threaten Israeli Security, Prison Officials Say (July 2, 2004)

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