File photo: Independent Media

RAMALLAH – Tensions in Israeli prisons and on Palestine's streets are rising as about 400 Palestinian political prisoners embark on a hunger strike to press for improvements in their conditions that include the removal of phone jamming devices.

Families of the prisoners are holding daily sit-ins outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the El Bireh municipality adjoining the West Bank city of Ramallah as well as in the Gaza Strip. 

Mothers hold up posters of their jailed sons, while fathers call for international intervention. The pain on the faces of family members is evident.

On a daily basis protesters move through the streets of Ramallah, banging drums and imploring - through microphones - for the suffering of  prisoners to be addressed.

The issue of political prisoners is an issue close to the majority of Palestinians as most families have had at least one member who has been jailed by Israelis.

At the end of February 2019, there were 5,248 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners being held in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities, including 294 from the Gaza Strip.

Another 645 Palestinians, 13 of them from the Gaza Strip, were in IPS prisons for being in Israel illegally. The IPS classifies these Palestinians – both detainees and prisoners – criminal offenders, explained Israeli rights group B’tselem.

So sensitive is the issue that prison clashes have led to clashes in the streets of Palestinian cities and towns as protesting youths take on Israeli security forces.

Although there are major political differences between the different Palestinian factions on a wide range of issues when it comes to prisoners and their treatment they are united.

Prior to the hunger strike, recent violent clashes between prisoners and special IPS riot control units in the Negev and Ofer prisons resulted in dozens of Palestinians being hospitalised with broken teeth, bones and other injuries after prisoners set fire to their mattresses and stabbed several prison guards.

The prisoners, angry over the conditions they are held under, have demanded the lifting of collective punishment imposed by the prison administration on prisoners since 2014, in addition to the sanctions imposed recently, specifically after the crackdown on prisoners in the Negev desert and Ofer.

The IPS recently installed phone-jamming devices in prisons holding Palestinian political prisoners while simultaneously carrying out surprise raids into prison cells in search of hidden phones. 

Palestinians say the phone jamming devices are carcinogenic and have demanded that public phones be installed in prisons so they can make calls to their loved ones.

They have also called for improved conditions for child detainees, stopping the policy of medical negligence and providing necessary treatment for patients, as well as for prisoners wounded during the recent clashes. 

The policy of solitary confinement also needs to be ended and family visits reinstalled, the prisoners demand.

A mass hunger strike in 2017 drew international headlines after 1,500 Palestinian inmates launched a similar strike leading to a number being hospitalised in critical condition and near death after refusing both food and water.

The 40-day hunger strike raised tensions with Israel as protests in support of the prisoners spilled over into clashes in the occupied West Bank and along the Israel-Gaza border. The strike was suspended after a deal was reached with Israel.

It is predicted that unless there is a resolution of the current prisoner issue the recent calm established in the Gaza Strip could unravel while the West Bank already tense over tax money being withheld by Israel, regular settler attacks on Palestinians and their property and the new incoming extreme right-wing Israeli government could cause the situation to explode.

African News Agency (ANA)