Israel has imposed heavy fines on Palestinian prisoners in Al-Naqab (Ketziot) and Ramon prisons as part of a series of crackdowns which have seen their cells raided and phone signals jammed.
The Israeli Prison Service today imposed fines on 96 prisoners being held in Al-Naqab prison, located near the Egypt-Israel border, southwest of Beersheba, and on 74 prisoners in Ramon prison, located near Mitzpe Ramon deep in the Negev desert. The fines are thought to amount to 250,000 shekels ($68,000) and will be deducted from the prisoners' stipends, Ma'an reported.
Israel has also imposed other measures on the prisoners, including holding them in solitary confinement, forcing them to sleep while handcuffed and preventing their families from visiting.
The news comes just days after Israeli prison guards attacked Palestinian prisoners in Al-Naqab, raiding their cells, targeting them with teargas and severely beating them. Israel claimed this came following the stabbing of two Israeli wardens by prisoners on Sunday evening, which it says escalated into a riot.
Chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners' Affairs Commission, Qadri Abu Baker, said that over 25 prisoners were injured in the crackdown, 15 of whom sustained life-threatening injuries. The prisoners were subsequently transferred to Israel's Soroka hospital in Beersheba for treatment, according to Wafa, though it is unclear whether their condition has improved since then.
Commentators have drawn links between Israel's crackdown on prisoners and its attack on the besieged Gaza Strip this week. Claiming that a rocket hit a town north of Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, Israel on Monday launched an attack on the coastal enclave, hitting a mosque and the office of Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh. Images of the destruction have since revealed that, contrary to the Israeli army's claims that it only targeted military positions, civilian infrastructure including Palestinians' homes was also hit. Thirty homes were completely destroyed and a further 500 severely damaged, with ten Palestinians wounded by the air strikes.
A senior prisoner affiliated with Fatah – the Palestinian faction which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank – yesterday told Haaretz that "it's not 99 percent clear, but 101 percent [clear]" that the two incidents are related. The prisoner continued: "Immediately after the firing [of the rocket] they [Hamas] said the missile fell for the prisoners who were hurt [in Al-Naqab]; now, fearing a response [from Israel], they're saying it was a mistake, but we have no doubts at all."
The prisoner also said he believes Israel is pursuing a particularly heavy-handed approach to Gaza and Palestinian prisoners in light of its upcoming general election, which is slated for 9 April. He explained: "The Israeli government [doesn't] want quiet. They want to use the prisoners for election purposes [and] open a front at Al-Aqsa," likely referring to Israel's recent crackdown on Palestinian worshippers and the closure of Al-Rahma gate at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Some Israeli politicians have also drawn links between the crackdown on prisoners and Gaza in their election campaigns. Bezalel Smotrich – the head of the National Union party which forms part of the Union of Right Wing Parties – said on Monday: "The Hamas camps in Israeli jails must be closed and the conditions of the prisoners must be reduced to the minimum required by the international conventions. We must return to targeted killings [in Gaza] and return the terrorists to their hideouts, and we must also remove 40 buildings for every missile fired into Israeli territory."
The fines against Palestinian prisoners are just the latest in a series of Israeli crackdowns on Palestinian inmates in the past two months. In February, Israel's prison administration installed phone jamming devices at Al-Naqab and Ramon prisons. The devices produce powerful radiation and stop radio and television signals from penetrating into the area, in a bid to stop prisoners maintaining contact with the outside world.
The Palestinian Prisoners' Movement warned that Israel is trying to "burn us and kill us through the devices, and we will stand up against them at any cost". In March it emerged that the prisoners were suffering from depression, headaches and fainting as a result of the radiation from the devices, with experts saying this can lead to "genetic deformities of human cells and cancer".
Human rights organisations have condemned these events, with the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Associations – better known as Addameer – issuing a statement on Monday to say: "We are following up closely and with much concern, the systematic increasing crimes carried out by the Israeli prison services against the Palestinian prisoners. [These] violations are opposed by all international conventions related to the protection of prisoners."