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Israel Police declares attack on prison wardens ‘act of terrorism’

Armed Israeli police entered Ofer Prison on 21 January, 2019
Armed Israeli police stand outside prison cells in Ofer Prison on 21 January 2019

Israel Police has declared that an attack on prison wardens last weekend constitutes an act of terrorism, meaning it will now be investigated by the country’s top crimes unit.

The incident – in which two Israeli wardens were stabbed by prisoners – took place on Sunday evening at the Al-Naqab (Ketziot) facility, located near the Egypt-Israel border southwest of Beersheba. It has since been used as a pretext for Israel to launch a severe crackdown on Palestinians languishing in its jails, which has included holding them in solitary confinement, forcing them to sleep while handcuffed and imposing heavy fines on them.

A statement today by the police spokeswoman said that “we will not allow nor accept attempts to harm [Israeli] men and women in uniform,” before adding: “We are committed to act [on] and investigate this grave case.”

Israel Police’s decision to declare the incident an act of terrorism means that, rather than being investigated by the police, the affair will now be handed to the Lahav 433, a unit which “oversees serious and international crimes,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

The Lahav 433 unit has come to international attention for its role in investigating the myriad corruption allegations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often known as Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000. In February, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended that, after years of investigation, Netanyahu should be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He is now expected to appear before court in July.

READ: Israel’s Netanyahu could face new corruption charge in submarine affair

The decision to treat Sunday’s incident as an act of terrorism is in stark contrast to the way in which Israeli forces’ attacks on Palestinian detainees are treated. In March, three Israeli soldiers were sentenced to only 190 days in prison for brutally beating a 50-year-old Palestinian man and his 15-year-old son while they were in custody. The Jaffa Military Court charged the soldiers with aggravated assault and aggravated battery, but the defence and prosecution teams were advised to reach a plea bargain to reduce the soldiers’ prison time.

Shortly after the legal proceedings were finalised, the court cleared for publication a video of the brutal assault, in which the soldiers can be seen hitting the two Palestinians on the head. “It’s your party, say hello,” the soldiers tell the father and son, while forcing them to say hello to the camera. The Palestinians cry out in pain as they are hit repeatedly. According to a subsequent report by Haaretz, “one detainee’s injuries [sustained during the beating] were so severe that investigators could not question him immediately following the incident.”

READ: Israel guards handcuff 90 Palestinian prisoners overnight

Israel has been strengthening its crackdown on Palestinian prisoners in recent 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.

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”. The Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association – better known as Addameer – issued a statement on Monday calling these crackdowns “systematic” and “opposed by all international conventions related to the protection of prisoners.”

Addameer estimates there are 5,440 Palestinian political prisoners being held by Israel. Of these, there are 497 administrative detainees, with almost 500 serving sentences longer than 25 years. Among these are 209 children, 46 of whom are under 16 years old, and 48 women.

READ: Israel re-arrests previously jailed Palestinian-Belgian man

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