Hundreds of Palestinians organized small protests on Tuesday across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in solidarity with prisoners held inside of Israel, following tensions at Ktzi’ot Prison in the southern Negev Desert where two guards were stabbed earlier this week.
The protests took place in front of offices for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the West Bank cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarem and Jenin, as well as in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Demonstrators condemned what they called “the recent Israeli suppression of prisoners.”
The ICRC provides services to Palestinians prisoners and facilitates family visits for relatives in the occupied Palestinian territory.
On Sunday Palestinian prisoners affiliated with Hamas wounded two Israeli guards in a stabbing attack who were airlifted to the nearby Soroka Medical Center for treatment. Israeli media reported that 11 Palestinian prisoners were also injured during clashes inside of the prison following the attack.
Israel’s Security Minister Gilad Erdan described the incident as a “terrorist attack on Israeli citizens from within the prisons.”
Local outlets stated that the violent encounter was part of a dispute over the Israeli guards planting mobile phone jammers inside of the prison.
On Tuesday, protesters chanted against searches inside of inmate rooms at Ktzi’ot Prison and complained they have not received updates since the weekend. Many have relatives detained inside Israeli prisons and jails.
Ahmad Nassar, 26, said he took part in the Nablus demonstration because his brother is imprisoned in Ktzi’ot, but he has not heard from him since the escalations began. “We received a call from a prisoner who informed us that rooms in Ktzi’ot are being raided every day since the incident,” he said.
Nassar explained cellphones are vital to prisoners, as many are held inside of Israel yet denied family visits with relatives in the West Bank. “The smuggled mobile phones are the only communication with families on the outside,” he reasoned.
Saed Awwad, 60, is concerned that his son was involved in the confrontations and wonders if new charges to be brought against him. After 12 months of administrative detention his son was due to be released on Monday, but “He was not released. I don’t even know where he is. I contacted the Red Cross and they don’t have any information,” he said.
The ICRC announced over its Arabic Facebook page that their staff are in touch with the Israeli Prison Service and they are contacting family members as much as possible. Still, Palestinian protesters said they are frustrated by the lack of updates they have received.
Yasser Mansour, a Hamas activist, protested in Nablus. He was released from Ktzi’ot Prison 10 days ago after three months in administrative detention. “The tension was clear two weeks ago. It all happened because of the Israeli decision to disturb mobile signals,” he said.
Mansour said conditions at Ktzi’ot are poor. Some prisoners sleep in tents and caravans, but among detainees placement in the facility is seen as an advantage. It is known for an abundance of smuggled mobile phones.
In Jenin, Leen Hamarsheh, 45, said she was on a ICRC bus on Sunday to visit her two imprisoned sons in Megiddo Prison in norther Israel. “Although I had an Israeli permit, it was taken from me by Israeli security forces at the Jenin checkpoint without giving a reason,” she claimed.
Israel imprisons 5,248 Palestinian security detainees, including 294 from the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem from data released Wednesday. Another 645 Palestinians, of whom 13 are from the Gaza Strip, are held in Israeli prisons on the charge of entering Israel illegally.
Photos by Ahmad Al-Bazz and Mohammed Za’noun/ActiveStills