Much publicity surrounds the hunger strike by Palestinian inmates over conditions in Israeli prisons. The movement is being led by Marwan Hasib Ibrahim Barghouti, a Palestinian political figure convicted and imprisoned on 5 counts of murder. What many press reports fail to note is that this is more about attacking Fatah than Israel, although the latter brings welcome global condemnation. Barghouti is often thought of a successor to Abbas. His move is an attempt to send a message to the Fatah leadership and to Abbas, who excluded his representatives from a recently held Central Committee meeting which didn’t give him the position of deputy chair to the Palestinian Authority. He is influential even from jail.
What The Guardian and other papers failed to qualify is the prisoners demands go to wanting more TV channels and access to “mobile” phones. Banning the use of mobile phones in prison is a no brainer. Mobile phones are often smuggled into prisons but their ban makes complete sense and interference technology is often required as a safety precaution. Prisoner phone calls are monitored for obvious reasons. Access to education is a sticking point due to the rescinding of such rights for convicted terrorists in 2011. All other inmates are entitled to government sponsored education. Palestinian prisoners are after the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members which was a benefit that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) cancelled due to budget cuts.
The Israeli Prison Services facilities, interrogation rooms, and the IDF provisional detention centers are visited by the ICRC and other bodies. They meet all international guidelines. There are 7,000 Palestinian inmates. By way of reference there are 18,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, excluding 15,000 Israeli military personnel incarcerated for being AWOL (70%) or charged with disciplinary violations (25%).
While Israeli prison conditions may not be the pinnacle of luxury, compared to countries that fail international guidelines (e.g. Thailand where more than 260,000 inmates are incarcerated in 148 prisons with an original capacity of less than 120,000) where is the international outrage over that? Thai prisoners are regularly shackled, beaten and stuffed into overcrowded cells. In Venezuela this year a mass grave with 15 bodies – several of them beheaded – was discovered inside the General Penitentiary in Guárico. Corruption, weak security details, aging infrastructure, overcrowding, poorly trained and insufficient guards allow armed gangs to exercise effective control over inmate populations. The government still hasn’t properly investigated years of ‘missing’ prisoners that have been recorded as ‘escaped’. The 15 bodies were discovered by workers who were updating the prison’s infrastructure.