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Israeli bill curtailing rights of imprisoned Hamas members set to pass

Draft law tabled by Likud's Oren Hazan would forbid family visits to Hamas members in Israel's jails
Oren Hazan (R) standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L). (AFP)

A new bill that would forbid Hamas members in Israeli jails from receiving visits from relatives appears set to be passed into law.

The bill has received the support of the Israeli government and nationalist parties in the opposition, meaning it may well be adopted by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

The bill to “cancel visits for security prisoners who belong to a terror group that holds Israeli captives” passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday by an overwhelming vote of 58 to 11, with one abstention.

The only no votes came from the Joint List, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the left-leaning Zionist party Meretz.

According to the bill’s sponsor, ruling Likud party lawmaker Oren Hazan, its purpose is to cause a deterioration in the conditions of prisoners held by Israel who identify with Hamas, in order to pressure the movement to improve the conditions in which it holds Israeli citizens in captivity.

Public security minister Gilad Erdan spoke in support of the bill, saying that the conditions of Palestinian prisoners should be reduced to “the minimum of the minimum” permitted by international law, and that “every type of pressure available to the Israeli government should be applied – we never know where it will increase the chances of returning our soldiers and citizens”.

Hamas rules the besieged Gaza Strip and is thought to hold at least five Israelis prisoner there. However, it is not known for certain if the captives are alive or dead, because international aid organizations have not been permitted to meet the prisoners, or to verify their remains.

Anti-Hamas campaign

On Wednesday, Hazan said Israel holds Palestinian prisoners in conditions that are far too forgiving.

He said Hamas convicts were “beastly people, whose place is deep underground – no, not in tunnels – finely chopped up, buried under the ground".

“May their names be erased from history, from our lives – they get a country club, courtesy of prison services,” he added.

In its current version, Hazan’s bill would only permit Hamas members to receive visits from the Red Cross or from their own lawyers, not from family or friends.

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Hazan called the family members of Hamas convicts “scum” and panned the policy of allowing prisoners conjugal visits with their wives, saying: “Together they create additional little mini-terrorists”.

In December 2017, a bus from Gaza transporting Palestinians to visit their family members held in Nafha Prison in Israel was stopped midway through its journey and stormed by Hazan.

In a video that went viral after he himself posted it online, the Likud MK is seen boarding the bus with an Israeli television crew in tow, berating the riders and their kin.

Worried that Hazan’s offensive antics would provoke a Hamas attack on him, the Knesset granted him an extra security detail following the incident.

In late March 2018, the Knesset ethics committee suspended Hazan from attending parliamentary debates for a period of six months over the bus incident and a series of other outrages, including making sexist remarks towards female lawmakers.

Hazan was also docked one week of pay by the committee.

With preliminary parliamentary approval, the bill has been tabled for discussion by the Israeli parliament’s internal affairs and environment committee.