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Palestine: Prisoners protest against 'repressive measures' in Israeli jails

Tensions have been rising inside cells since prison authorities scaled back outdoor time
Palestinian women attend a protest in solidarity with female Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails in Gaza city on 22 December 2021 (AFP)
By Shatha Hammad in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine

Palestinian prisoner groups announced on Thursday plans to protest against what they say describe as escalating repression by Israeli prison authorities. 

The Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), an umbrella advocacy group, said inmates refused to leave their cells for daily checks and to go to the prison yards for a fifth day this week amid mounting tensions.

Prisoners have also announced the dissolution of their representative bodies that coordinate with jail authorities, meaning that each prisoner is free to do what they want to voice their grievances.

Protests will be staged on Friday and Monday, the PPS said. 

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Prisoners say that on 5 February Israeli authorities reduced the duration of inmates’ outdoor time, in violation of arrangements already in place. 

Previously, prisoners from different sections were allowed to be in the yards together for about six hours a day, divided into two shifts, the first roughly between 8am and 11am and the second between 3pm and 5pm.

Now, both the duration and the number of those allowed outdoors at the same time has been scaled back. 

The prisoners have rejected the new measures, saying they infringe on rights they won over years of hard-fought peaceful protests, including numerous hunger strikes.

Amid the tensions, the PPS said specialised police and counter-riot units were deployed to control the outbreak of any potential unrest.

On Wednesday, special forces stormed prison cells in Ofer military prison, assaulting inmates and threatening them with more punitive measures, after a purported escape plan was uncovered earlier in the week. 

Growing crackdown

Qadri Abu Bakr, head of the Palestinian Authority's prisoners' commission, told Middle East Eye the recent measures by Israeli authorities are a continuation of a growing crackdown on inmates.

Abu Bakr said that since the September prison break last year, when six Palestinians escaped the maximum-security Gilboa jail and were later rearrested, Israeli authorities have increased their “repressive policies”. 

"The prison administration continues to repress the prisoners and take away what they have worked so hard to achieve over the years, which are simple rights," Abu Bakr told MEE. 

'The prison administration continues to repress the prisoners and take away what they have worked so hard to achieve over the years'

- Qadri Abu Bakr, PA prisoners' commission

He described the crackdown as “collective punishment”, which prisoners had agreed with jail authorities to halt after the unrest that followed the Gilboa prison break.

Days after the six men tunnelled out of their cells last year, the Israeli prison service imposed "punitive measures" on detainees, the PPS said. 

Prisoners were banned from leaving their cells and deprived of using facilities such as sinks, kitchens and cafeterias.

Prison authorities also announced plans to relocate and separate some 400 inmates affiliated with Islamic Jihad, the movement to which five of the six prisoners belonged. 

The measures were widely contested and led to protests and riots with some cells being set ablaze. Israeli troops were deployed to bring the unrest under control. 

There are more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 34 female prisoners and 180 minors, according to Palestinian prisoner groups. About 500 are administrative detainees who are held without trial or charge. 

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