JERUSALEM, Aug 15 (JTA) — For once, it is the Palestinian terrorists already behind bars — rather than those still at large — who are giving Israel a headache. At least 1,500 inmates at three security prisons in Israel declared a hunger strike Sunday, demanding improved conditions and threatening that the protest could spark violence at Israeli military detention centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel was unmoved. “We will not relent,” said Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, advising the Palestinian prisoners “not to do it.” The internal security minister was blunter still. “As far as I am concerned, these terrorists can go on hunger strike for a day, a week, a month — or until death,” Tzachi Hanegbi told reporters. The Prisons Service has its own SWAT team for dealing with jailhouse disturbances, but the hunger strike was seen as more of a political than a tactical threat to Israel. “Whenever the Palestinians are at a loss for a new diplomatic maneuver, they play the ‘prisoner card,’ ” a senior source in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office said. After President Bush launched the peace “road map” last year, Israel released 330 Palestinian inmates as a goodwill gesture, although such amnesties were not meant to take place until the late stages of the plan’s implementation. Nonetheless, the Palestinian Authority cried foul at the relatively small number of prisoners who went free — some 7,500 are held in Israel overall — and complained that most had been jailed for minor crimes. Similar charges were sounded Sunday. “Peace with Israel cannot be achieved until all prisoners are released,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The striking inmates’ demands include removal of glass partitions in prison visitor sections and installation of public telephones. To Israel, this sounds too much like an attempt to facilitate easier communications with Palestinian terrorist groups on the outside. Even the Palestinians make no secret of the fact that their most celebrated prisoner, West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, has frequently used cell phones smuggled into his jail cell to coordinate accord between the various armed factions. “The prisoners’ demand that they should be allowed to continue to plan and direct terror attacks from inside Prisons Service facilities is unacceptable and contravenes all existing security rules,” the Prisons Service said in a statement. “Over the years, the prisoners have been awarded a number of privileges, which are not defined by law, including access to television, radio, newspapers, university education, additional special food, electronic games, etc.” Should any of the striking inmates reach critical levels of emaciation — an eventuality unlikely in the near future as they are taking liquid — the Prisons Service plans to turn to an ethics committee that will decide if force-feeding is in order.
Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strike