Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli detention centers are threatening a massive hunger strike in response to deteriorating conditions. This development came after Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, announced early last week that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) will begin rationing prisoners’ water supply and further restricting family visitation rights for those held in their facilities. In addition to these changes, the Israeli cabinet is also currently deliberating a resolution that would end the policy of prisoner separation between those affiliated with Hamas and those affiliated with the rival faction, Fatah.
As the region is already mired in an enduring ethno-political conflict, international NGOs are growing increasingly concerned by these actions, as well as other policies of the Netanyahu administration that infringe upon the human rights allotted to prisoners.
International organizations such as the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association hope to influence policies coming out of Tel-Aviv by exposing the deplorable conditions faced by political prisoners in Israel. According to an Al Jazeera interview with Amjad al-Najjar, spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners Club, the integration of Hamas and Fatah detention facilities will place prisoners in direct danger. Al-Najjar claims that the policy change could “cause fights to break out, which could even lead to killings inside the prisons… in light of the current political climate.” He then goes on to attest that this is not the only threat to the prisoners’ well-being, citing the use of isolation as a punishment and medical negligence as further examples of mistreatment in the camps.
This seemingly arbitrary escalation of already deplorable policies has the director of the Palestinian policy network Al Shabaka, Nadia Hijab, suspicious that the actions are being used to strengthen political support for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party ahead of elections in April. Given the corruption allegations currently faced by Netanyahu, Hijab attests that such publicity will “win over the Israeli right”, and refocus national attention on the Palestinian conflict.
Even as the regional conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians continues to escalate, this political exploitation of ethnic tensions by the Netanyahu regime is particularly concerning. Since Israel’s tumultuous geopolitical situation has always inspired the Israeli population to elect officials who advocate for safety and security, it is unsurprising that Netanyahu’s Likud Party is capitalizing on its rapport of combatting Hamas and Fatah.
However, the notion that Netanyahu’s government is mistreating prisoners to distract — in partial success — from a corruption scandal is indicative of a larger issue in contemporary Israeli democracy. It is essential that international community continue to push back against this aggressive policy, while insisting on government transparency and media coverage of the corruption scandal before elections to reinvigorate democratic norms in the country.
Regardless of the government in power in Tel-Aviv, however, the conflict still persists within the psyches of individuals on all sides. A recent poll taken by Foreign Policy attests that nearly three-fourths of Israelis do not believe that a peaceful solution to their conflict is even possible. Therefore, aggressive policies that advocate for continued construction of settlements within the West Bank continue to gain even more traction among the Israeli public because contemporary political discourse teaches that the only solution to the conflict is to continue to weaken the Palestinians. Before strides can be made to establish stability in the region, the political discourse must be changed so that people can believe peace is achievable.
Although the hunger strike will likely draw attention to the plight of Palestinians in the short run, Israeli elections in April will provide the international community with more insights into the developing political perspectives in the region. Should the Likud Party form another government, it is essential that the international community focus on discouraging corruption on the part of Netanyahu and advocating for a robust media presence to hold the government accountable. Conversely, should a more centrist party gain leadership, the international community should consider employing diplomatic efforts to improve the living conditions of both free and imprisoned Palestinians, as a power shift would be indicative of a shift in Israeli public opinion.
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