Israeli special units have escalated their repressive tactics against Palestinian political prisoners in the past days,. These attacks have led to an ongoing mass protest inside Ofer prison, called “the battle of unity and dignity” by the prisoners. Repressive forces raided Section 17 of Ofer prison on 20 January, followed by Section 15 and other sections on 21 January. The repression continued as Section 2 in Megiddo prison was also attacked by these repressive forces, who claimed to install jamming devices to prevent mobile phone communications.
These violent raids have involved the use of dogs, batons, tasers, large-scale damage and confiscation of prisoners’ belongings by the heavily armed units. Most concerningly, these armed units (including the Masada, Dror, Yamaz and Yamam units) fired tear gas bombs and rubber-coated metal bullets inside closed prison rooms, endangering prisoners’ health and even their lives. An estimated 150 Palestinian prisoners were injured in these attacks. Some suffered the effects of tear gas, others were bruised and wounded, while still more suffered fractures to the jaw, nose or head. There are between 1,000 and 1,200 Palestinian prisoners held in Ofer, including hundreds of Palestinian children.
Israeli forces put the prison under a complete closure, cancelling legal visits and court appearances. Prisoners have continued their protests in response. The prisoners are returning their meals from the Israel Prison Service and refusing to go out to the recreation yard. On Wednesday, 23 January, several prominent prisoners, including Ziad Bseiso and Mohammed Abu Armaneh, announced a hunger strike, demanding the return of previous conditions prior to the raid in Ofer prison.
Karim Ajwa, a Palestinian lawyer, visited prisoners in Ofer on Wednesday, the first day that legal visits were allowed after the attacks. Ajwa reported that prisoners said that the media reports about conditions in the prison only hint at “1 percent” of the terror imposed by the occupation forces. They also said that 40 members of these repressive units and armed police remain in the prison yard, their sections have been turned into isolation sections, the “canteen” (prison store) closed and the prisoners’ electrical appliances confiscated.
These attacks mark an ongoing escalation against Palestinian prisoners as announced by Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Public Security responsible for the Israel Prison Service. In various pronouncements, Erdan has vowed to escalate repression against the Palestinian prisoners, amid the upcoming Israeli elections in which attacks on Palestinians are being touted as electoral propaganda. Thousands of books have been confiscated, women prisoners were moved en masse after the installation of surveillance cameras and prisoners’ access to water has been cut. Erdan also announced a plan to stop Palestinian prisoners from cooking food for themselves or even buying cooking supplies from the “canteen.”
It should be noted that Erdan is also the Minister of Strategic Affairs in the Israeli regime, charged with attacking Palestine solidarity organizing and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement around the world.
All of these attacks mark an effort to roll back achievements that have been won by the Palestinian prisoners only through years of hard-fought struggles, hunger strikes and collective action. They are also an attempt to defuse the power of Palestinian political leadership behind Israeli bars.
The invasion of Ofer prison is one of the most severe attacks by repressive forces on Palestinian prisoners since 2007, when a “morale-building operation” for these same forces in Negev Ketziot prison included the murder of Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Ashqar. Invading forces shot Ashqar in the head after prisoners protested the violent invasion at 2 a.m., killing him instantly. One officer of the repressive Masada forces involved in the attack recommended increased prison raids after the killing.
The prisoners originally rejected a meeting with the prison administration; after arriving at a collective consensus and demanding time for a meeting between all of the political organizations in the prison, the prisoners’ representatives put forward their demands in a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Another “decisive” meeting will follow on Wednesday, 23 January, depending on the administration’s response to the prisoners’ demands.
Prisoners have emphasized the importance of popular support for the struggle inside Israeli jails. Ali al-Maghrabi, a former prisoner, said that “the success of any protest stap carried out inside the prisons of the occupation depends 60 percent on the volume of external support, media coverage and organizations concerned with the issue, and 40 percent on the prisoners’ internal cohesion, determination and unity.”
A wide range of statements have poured in from Palestinian political organizations and figures; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine urged mobilization for the prisoners on Wednesday, while Archbishop Atallah Hanna urged broad solidarity with their struggle. The National and Islamic Forces in the Gaza Strip held a press conference expressing the urgent need for action and warning of a “revolution” within the prisons.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network expresses its strongest solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners in Ofer and all Zionist jails. We urge all supporters of justice for Palestine to resist these attacks by protesting and organizing in support of the prisoners’ and their struggle for liberation. In particular, we urge the escalation of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns for the economic, academic, military and cultural boycott of Israel – especially as the same officials directing the attacks on the prisoners are also trying to stop this growing global movement. Demonstrations, solidarity hunger strikes and call-in campaigns can escalate pressure on international governments to end their complicity with the occupier’s crimes in Palestine.
The prisoners in Ofer prison issued a statement, translated below:
“The Zionist occupier has declared war on the prisoners in its jails and it began this war in Ofer prison. We are facing a new stage of Zionist repression that threatens our lives as prisoners. We have become the strongest issue in the corridors of government and among the Zionist parties in a feverish competition to confiscate our rights and destroy our achievements gained through sacrifice, blood and martys.
“The prison administration, backed by political cover and reinforced with special repressive units (Masada-Dror-Yamaz-Yamam) has been engaged in an operation since Sunday, 20 January 2019, through Monday evening, 21 January: breaking into several sections of Ofer prison, carrying out provocative searches, destroying our possessions and torturing us through strip searches and verbal abuse. We defended our dignity as we could as the prison rooms and sections were turned into a real battlefield, using rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas against us at zero distance. They used dogs, batons and tasers, resulting in the injury of over 100 prisoners, the burning of several rooms, the confiscation of our possessions and closure of all sections. The situation is highly tense and we will take escalating protest steps in the coming hours.
“In face of this unprecedented, bloody escalation, we affirm the following:
1) We call this battle by the name, “the battle of unity and dignity,” a confirmation of our unity and brotherhood and our commitment to preserve our dignity
2) We are the prisoners and in the face of this bloody onslaught, we will stand united to confront this arrogance, armed with the justice of our cause and with the use of all means of legitimate defense against this wave of violence against us.
3) This violent attack on the prisoners comes within the framework of organized state terror and the use of the prisoners’ issue as an outlet for the Israeli government before the public.
4) We warn against using the prisoners’ issue as a lever for the Israeli parties to attract the Israeli voter. We will cause every bet to fail.
5) We call on all international and human rights organizations, especially the International Committee of the Red Cross and international human rights bodies, to uphold their humanitarian, moral and legal responsibilities to stop the crimes committed against us and compel the occupation to abide by international laws and norms that protect our rights.
6) We call on all free media outlets to carry our stories and stay current about ongoing events in the prison, exposing the occupier’s violation of our freedoms and our rights.
Our people are steadfast. Today is a day of fulfillment, we are part of you and you are part of us. We are shortening our years for the sake of our homeland, so do not limit your use of your time for our stolen freedom. We look forward to great public interest and support throughout Palestine, confirming to the occupier that the prisoners are a red line that cannot be crossed.
And victory for us, God willing, as we stand united and confident in the fairness of our cause and our choices.
Your brothers, the prisoners of Ofer prison
Palestinian National Liberation Movement – Fateh
Islamic Resistance Movement – Hamas
Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine”