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Israel's Ben-Gvir orders closure of Palestinian prisoner-run bakeries

The far right minister of security says Palestinian prisoners getting fresh bread every day is an 'absurdity'
Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks to bystanders as he walks to the site of an attack in a settler neighbourhood in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on 27 January 2023 (AFP)

Israel's national security minister has ordered the closure of Palestinian prisoner-run bakeries in the country's jails.

Itamar Ben-Gvir's office said in a statement that the move was aimed at denying "benefits and indulgences to terrorists" in Israel, which it said were denied to regular prisoners.

Palestinian prisoners in Rimon and Ketziot security prisons operate in-house bakeries which provide bread to other inmates.

'How can they get fresh bread every day? What is this absurdity?'

- Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's national security minister

Speaking to Israel Hayom, Ben-Gvir said he "went crazy" after learning of the existence of the bakeries.

"Prisoners cannot get such a privilege. How can they get fresh bread every day? What is this absurdity," he was quoted as saying.

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The move was criticised as vindictive by rights groups and the Palestinian Authority.

Muhammad Shehada, heads of communications at Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, tweeted that the move was "small minded".

"Does he get a kick out of being redundantly cruel?"

The Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners' and Ex-Prisoners' Affairs also condemned the "extremist" Ben-Gvir's decision in a statement, describing it as "terrorist aggression" against the prisoners.

Since taking the role last year, Ben-Gvir - head of the far-right Jewish Power party - has provoked controversy both in Israel and internationally for pushing for hardlined reforms to the judiciary and security.

Within the first week of the new government’s formation, he announced his plans to implement several punitive measures against incarcerated Palestinians.

Approximately 140 Palestinian prisoners have been transferred to Israel's infamous Nafha prison, located in the southeast Naqab (Negev) desert in recent weeks. The prison is notorious for its terrible living conditions that some prisoners describe as “inhumane”.

"The situation in prison over the last couple of weeks has been terrible. The transfer of these prisoners is an attack on their lives," the commissioner of Palestinian prisoner affairs, Hassan Abid Rabbah, told Middle East Eye last week.

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"Israeli media is talking about transferring 2,000 prisoners between jails. It is a strategy to weaken and destabilise Palestinian resistance within the prisons."

There are currently more than 4,700 Palestinians prisoner in Israeli jails, according to Addameer monitoring group.

The leaders of American Jewish organisations have also expressed deep concerns over proposals by the new coalition government - headed by Prime Minister Benajamin Netanyahu - to greatly expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, curb minority rights and increase control over Israel's judiciary.

In late December, hundreds of rabbis in the US signed a petition to block far-right members of the incoming Israeli government from speaking at their synagogues and to their communities.

That same month, a Jewish human rights group representing more than 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America stated that the new government was a "stark display of rising fascism and racism".

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