Ben-Gvir seeks to tighten noose around prisoners

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  September 14, 2023

Israel’s interior minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is pushing forward new policies against Palestinian political prisoners – whom Israel calls “security” prisoners. These policies only serve as punitive measures to tighten the noose around prisoners’ necks.

One major change would be to reduce the number of visits from once a month to once every two months.

Palestinians have the right to family contact under international law. “This includes family visits while in detention,” the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been facilitating Palestinian family visits to Israeli detention centers since 1968, said.

The group called “on all relevant Israeli authorities to safeguard the rights of protected persons in Israeli custody” and uphold international law.

“In the first six months of 2023 alone, more than 29,000 family members were able to visit their loved ones in detention,” the Red Cross said.

“This provides much needed contact for both those in detention and their family members, fulfilling a basic and universal human need.”

The implementation of the proposed Ben-Gvir policy has become a tug-of-war. The occupation’s security establishment, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the head of Israel’s domestic spy apparatus, the Shin Bet, as well as the Israel Prison Service and the Israeli police commissioner have weighed in to oppose Ben-Gvir’s initiative.

Netanyahu postponed making a decision about whether to implement Ben-Gvir’s policy until after Jewish holidays.

This will apparently block, at least temporarily, Ben-Gvir’s plans to reduce family visits. Although Netanyahu’s office said the decision is made by the prime minister and cabinet alone, Ben-Gvir’s office insists the decision will be implemented regardless of Netanyahu’s statement.

Ben-Gvir said on Wednesday that his Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party will not be voting with the coalition until the policy is implemented.

‘Vengeful discrimination’

Meanwhile, three human rights organizations have filed a petition to Israel’s high court protesting a new law that excludes security prisoners from early release eligibility.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, human rights group Al-Mezan and Adalah, a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, filed the petition on behalf of three Palestinian prisoners.

The groups say the legislation “creates arbitrary, sweeping and vengeful discrimination, contrary to constitutional and international law, and contravenes the goal of said legislation, to ease the prisons’ overcrowding.”

The petition argued that “the exclusion of security prisoners is not founded on any relevant differences between the prisoners but rather for purely punitive purposes,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The distinction is particularly “ludicrous” given that the law was implemented precisely to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

“These conditions are especially severe in the prison wings designated for security prisoners,” the groups stated.

The attorney who submitted the appeal, Rabea Eghbariah, said the “law marks another escalation of discriminatory, severe and oppressive actions against Palestinian prisoners.”

She added that “the government that initiated this illegitimate law is acting knowingly and deliberately, in contradiction to basic laws and in violation of international legal principles.”

It further entrenches “the state’s ongoing efforts to deepen and solidify a system of apartheid in imprisonment that is based on Jewish supremacy.”

Hunger strike

Meanwhile, veteran Palestinian hunger striker Maher al-Akhras is refusing food to protest his detention by Israeli authorities last month.

He has been on hunger strike for over three weeks.

An Israeli military court brought a list of charges against Al-Akhras, but he denied all accusations. He is imprisoned in harsh conditions, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.

Al-Akhras has previously refused food for 103 days in a hunger strike that brought him to the brink of death to protest his detention without charge or trial by Israel. Al-Akhras triumphed and ended his strike after Israel agreed not to renew his administrative detention.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada