Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails called for a hunger strike to begin on Sunday as a protest against cell-phone jamming equipment prison officials set up. Israeli prison officials have been negotiating for the last two days in an attempt to avert the strike.
Though it is against the law for security prisoners to possess cell phones, visitors smuggle them in. A Prisons Service official said over the weekend that 14 separate incidents of illicit phone calls meant to instigate terror attacks were identified in recent months.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan addressed the potential hunger strike while speaking to a cultural group. Erdan said it was “a crazy thing that terrorists in prison can be in contact with terror groups.”
He noted that part of the prisoners’ strategy is to overload the prison healthcare system.
“This is the pressure that they are trying to apply. Believe me, terrorists dying from a hunger strike is the last thing that bothers me,” he said.
“Our assessment is that [the strike] will take place in stages,” a Prisons Service official said. “Each time a different group of prisoners will join the strike, replacing the group that preceded it. We know how to contain any action by the security prisoners, and we have the medical crews that can provide solutions if they are needed.”
The official added: “We will use tried and tested measures, such as immediate punishment for the leaders of the protest and the prisoners who participate. We will bolster our forces [in the prisons] to prevent escalation.”
The prisoners claim the jamming equipment poses a health risk. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Prisoners Committee said the “jamming devices are believed to have severe medical implications, including dizziness, headaches, and links to cancer.”
Four prisoners began the hunger strike on Sunday and it is expected that another 25 will join in. It was expected that 1,400 more might join them by April 17th.
Media reports on Sunday claimed that the Israel prison authorities agreed to remove the jammers but Erdan denied the report by tweet.
“In light of false Palestinian reports I would like to make clear: The jamming of cellphones has not been suspended in the Israel Prison Service security prisons and no such suspension has been proposed!” Erdan tweeted Saturday night.
Two weeks ago, Palestinians prisoners stabbed two Israeli guards at the Ketziot prison in southern Israel on Sunday, injuring one of them seriously. The attack sparked a riot in which 11 inmates were also reported hurt.