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Clashes outside Ramallah prison ahead of Prisoners Day

'Around one million Palestinians have been in Israeli jail or detention, and every family suffers from this'
Masked Palestinian youth carry a tyre during a protest outside Ofer prison. (MEE/Oren Ziv)

Hundreds of Palestinian protesters marched on Thursday to the gates of the Ofer military prison, near Ramallah, to show solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners, one day before the Palestinian Prisoners Day.

Protesters were chanting slogans calling for the release of prisoners and were holding photos of jailed political prisoners, currently held by Israel.

The Israel army used tear gas and rubber coated bullets to dispersed the crowd, as the protesters were trying to reach the main gate of the prison. 

As the protest march arrived near the prison, Palestinian youth from the nearby town of Betuniya started hurling stones at the Israeli soldiers.

Israeli army jeeps drove out the prison compound, shooting dozens of tear gas canisters, coving the whole are with a cloud of tear gas.

One man was injured in his leg after he was directly hit with a tear gas canister, and dozens were injured from inhaling tear gas. 

A few protesters managed to go through the tear gas cloud, and arrive near the prison's gate, waving Palestinian flags near the border policemen guarding the prison. One of them was activist Abdallah Abu Rahme, who told MEE: "We came here to express our protest against the imprisonment of our friends, our people. Around one million Palestinians have been in Israeli jail or detention, and every family suffers from this."

Regarding the effect of the actions outside the prisoners, Abu Rahme said: "I have been jailed inside Ofer prison myself, and the solidarity action are so important for the people inside the jails, to make them have some hope."

The Ofer military prison is the only Israeli prison in the West Bank. It can hold up to 1,500 prisoners.

Many protesters were holding photos of Khalida Jarrar, a female member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), who is being held in administrative detention, and had her hearing yesterday in the military court, which is located near the prison.

In her court hearing, the judge decided to keep her under administrative detention to ensure that she will not be released from prison on bail.

Jarrar is one of 13 PLC members currently in detention. She was arrested on 2 April after Israeli forces raided her house in Ramallah.

Salah Kawaja, who came from the town of Nili'n to join the protest, told MEE: "All year we focus our protests against the settlements and the wall, but today we are here to support our prisoners. Imprisoning people is one of the methods Israel use to try and break the Palestinian resistance against the occupation. The Israeli army is killing and injuring people, and Israel is using also its legal system to try and put an end to the popular resistance." 

According to Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, there are 6,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, 434 in administrative detention, 23 women and 163 Palestinian minors.

A Palestinian youth, who joined the protest and did not want to be identified, told MEE: "We have clashes here every week, after school or after the Friday prayers, we go near the prison and throw stones and clash with the Israeli soldiers. Many of my friends were arrested and held for months in this prison. Many times the army raids our town and arrests youths from their homes, saying they took part in the clashes."

After an hour of clashes between the Palestinian youths and the Israeli army, heavy rain started, and most of the protesters made their way back home. One of the Israeli border policemen chased Palestinian youths, as they were running up the hill overlooking the prison. He did not manage to catch anyone, but he came back carrying a few Palestinian flags that protesters left behind, and carried the flags into the military prison. 

Every year on 17 APril, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel take part in a solidarity day with the Palestinian prisoners. On Friday, the weekly protests against the wall and the settlement in Bil'in, Nil'in, Kfar Qaddum and Nabi Saleh will be held in solidarity with the Palestinian political prisoners.