When IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz this week examined the readiness of military units at the Central Command and near the Gaza Strip, in preparation for the possibility of violent protests to mark Nakba Day tomorrow, Tuesday, he was acutely aware of the possibility that the success of his forces’ best laid plans depended on the physical well being of some 1600 Arab terrorists.
Over the past week there has been concern that this year’s ‘Nakba’ events would be more intense than usual, because of Palestinians prisoners who are on a hunger strike in Israeli jails. The Chief of Staff reportedly told GOC Central Command Brigadier General Nitzan Alon: “We are hoping for the better and getting ready for the worst.”
On Monday night, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners agreed to end their hunger strike after winning concessions from Israel to improve their conditions, both sides announced.
Some inmates had gone without food for as long as 77 days, with a few in a life-threatening state.
Earlier in the week, concern had been rising about the effect the death of one of the strikers might have on Tuesday’s protests.
Nakba Day (“day of the catastrophe” in Arabic) falls on May 15, the day of Israel’s declaration of independence. On this day Palestinians commemorate their displacement following Israel’s 1948-49 War of Liberation against invaders from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Estimates within the IDF are that the demonstrations will concentrate in the areas of Bethany, Qalandiya, Ma’avar Rachel, the Erez Crossing and inside Arab towns, but there is little fear that the protests might spill over into violence against Israeli soldiers. Judging by the tepid response on the part of Palestinians to the “March to Jerusalem” last March, there isn’t much lust for large scope violence on the Arab side.
A senior Central Command officer told the Walla news service that “the prisoners’ strike will bring more civilians out into the streets, but the PA security apparatus won’t allow demonstrations and rallies to deteriorate into chaos.”
All of that could have changed dramatically if any of the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails were to die.
Indeed, Amin Shoman, head of a monitoring group of Palestinian political factions, said that if Israel did not confirm the Egyptian-brokered deal, prisoners were going to intensify their fast and break off further talks with prison authorities.
“The prisoners will stop taking vitamins and water and stop negotiations with the Israel Prisons Service if they get a negative answer,” he told AFP.
Ten prisoners were placed under medical supervision last week.
According to a Palestinian negotiator, Israel agreed to allow Palestinian prisoners to receive family visits. The visits from Gaza were halted in 2006 after Gaza-based terrorists had captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The negotiator said that Israel also agreed to curb its policy of placing prisoners in solitary confinement, to permit prisoner phone calls and to let prisoners engage in academic studies.
But it does not look as if Israel’s security apparatus is prepared to do away with administrative detentions, which the hunger striking prisoners were protesting..
While 308 Palestinian prisoners are being held in detention as security risks because of their active affiliation with terrorist groups, the vast majority of Palestinian security prisoners, 3,097 out of 4,424, are in Israeli jails after having been convicted on a range of violent crimes—from rock throwing to multiple murders—as active members of terror organizations in Gaza and Judea and Samaria.