Early on the morning of January 22nd some 150 Palestinian prisoners at Israel’s Ofer Military Prison in Ramallah were injured by a raid carried out by the Metzada unit, a subset of the Israeli military. Of the approximately 150 prisoners reportedly injured, 40 of them suffered head injuries and an additional six were treated for broken bones during a raid which saw the use of dogs, tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets, and sound bombs against prisoners. Three rooms were also destroyed by fire in what the Palestinian Prisoners Club (PPC) is calling the largest attack on Palestinian prisoners in more than a decade by Israeli armed forces. According to another prisoners rights group, Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), 20 prisoners have still not been returned to Ofer, nor been reported under treatment at hospitals, and have been designated by the PPS as missing. Over 1,200 Palestinians are imprisoned in Ofer, including 180 minors also subjected to the attacks.
The raid was reportedly orchestrated by Israel’s Security Minister Gilad Erdan as part of a sustained effort to strip away the rights Palestinian prisoners had been slowly accruing over the past decade. Since the raid at Ofer, Nafha prison in the northern Israeli region of Naqab and Gilboa prison in the south have also been raided with Erdan seemingly making good on his promise in recent weeks to reduce the standard of living for Palestinian prisoners to “the minimum required.” Erdan has also begun implementing changes, including blocking Palestinian Authority funds, ending separation between prisoners affiliated with Hamas and Fatah, and rationing prisoner’s access to water, the consumption of which he has called “crazy” and “another way for them [prisoners] to subvert the state.” Whereas these proposed implementations were considered election propaganda by the PPC when Erdan made them on January 2nd, the propaganda seems to have successfully made it’s transition into policy.
While Erdan has cited “riots” as the reason for the Ofer raid, the PPS has denied that as the cause. They claim that in recent days prisoners had refused a meeting with Israeli prison administrators, requesting first that a ban be lifted on the free movement of the Palestinian detainees within the jail. Until such lifting of the ban, prisoners argued they would not be able to meet with one another and discuss prison issues prior to speaking with administrators.
Refusals to take meetings with Israeli prison administrators, as well as retaliatory raids by the Israeli army, are quite common in Palestinian jails where human rights abuse is rampant and minor victories for prisoner’s rights often shortlived. I spoke with the nephew of a family friend in a village south of Bethlehem who served three years in Ofer Prison under “Edary,” or Administrative Detention, a prevailing Israeli practice of detaining prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial, illegal under international law. As his family has suffered subsequent retaliatory raids and detentions for previous outspoken statements on social media – not uncommon practice under Israeli occupation either – my friend asked not to be named but relayed that he had taken part in a three-month hunger strike while imprisoned in Ofer.
“We were twelve men in rooms that should hold only six. They would not let us see our families anymore. We could not hug our children or call our mothers. We passed pieces of paper on strings out the bars to talk and we did not eat for three months. We went on strike. All of us. Even the children. After four months, they let us see our families. After another three months, when I was about to be released, they stopped us again from seeing our families.”
He added that in addition to long stints of psychological tortures like solitary confinement, physical beatings and pressure to turn informant against fellow prisoners were not out of the realm of common experience in the prison. He explained that children are the most susceptible to such practices, as they are often blackmailed upon entering prison by Israeli interrogators with threats of creating photoshopped photos of them in sexual acts with other boys or older men. In Arab society, homosexuality is still considered taboo, and being outed as gay could result in a dire social fate for a Palestinian.
The commonality of this form of Israeli harassment causes a double risk even for minors who are released quickly without being blackmailed, as they can face suspicion from friends and family upon returning home so quickly – “Why were you released so suddenly when many other minors or their friends disappear for years on end?” The choice for children as young as ten and eleven can be between indefinite imprisonment in a jail privy to raids like Tuesday’s where 150 prisoners were injured and 20 currently gone missing, or selling out family and friends for fear of false blackmail by the world’s “most moral army.”