Photo Credit: Flash90
PA Arab demonstrating outside the Ofer security prison, March 30, 2016.

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced sweeping reforms to reverse allegedly cushy prison conditions for convicted Palestinian terrorists, sparking protests from the terrorist movement Hamas and prisoners.

Ben-Gvir said he wants to “ensure that the murderers of Jews are not getting better conditions,” adding Palestinian prisoners should no longer receive “fresh pita (bread)…every morning as if they were in a restaurant.”


According to the Israeli news agency TPS, Palestinian prisoners threatened last week to engage in a campaign of violence and disobedience, including a mass hunger strike during Ramadan, against Bev-Gvir’s new measures.

Israel’s public news organization Kan News reported that representatives of the prisoners sent a letter Ben-Gvir, declaring “blood will be spilled” if prisons conditions are changed. The prisoners added that they will respond “with a war of liberation.”

Earlier this month, the minister ordered the shut-down of bakeries run by inmates in two prisons. He also ordered the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to reduce shower time to four minutes and restrict usage of running water to one hour for each prisoner wing.

TPS reported that Palestinian prisoners were discovered “to be deliberately wasting thousands of liters of water by letting showers and faucet taps run for hours at a time.”

In the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the U.S. and EU-designated terrorist organization Hamas, protesters displayed placards stating, “Ben-Gvir, go to hell.”

A former senior IPS commander described the independence enjoyed by the prisoners to TPS. “Conditions given to them in the wings – there are 10-15 cells around a courtyard, and a room assigned to be a supermarket. They have a supermarket. Fresh fruit, huge apples, metal cans … meat, fresh breads, whole trucks of bread every day,” the source said. “Illusory conditions, it’s unbelievable. Beyond the food, they have the supermarket that has everything good. Sweets everything.”

Palestinian prisoners warned in their letter to the minister that his measures will lead to a “war” outside the prison system and will hit the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem.

“The current situation in Israeli prisons where Palestinian convicted murderers are held is borderline absurd and a threat to Israel’s national security. No other western democracy allows convicted felons to organize themselves inside prisons, to dictate terms to prison management, and to conduct effective and independent communications with the outside world,” retired Israeli General Shalom Kaatabi told Fox News Digital.

Kaatabi was appointed by former National Security Minister and now Israeli’s U.N. ambassador Gilad Erdan to chair a committee tasked with recommending a policy for Israeli prisoner services.

He noted that “The committee filed a report with extensive conclusions and recommendations regarding the conditions in which convicted Palestinian murderers were to be held in order to generate deterrence while naturally respecting their basic human rights as convicts.”

Kaatabi, who is a senior member of the Israeli Defense Security Forum said that “Families of convicted terrorists receive monthly stipends and substantial financial support from the Palestinian Authority, while the convicts themselves enjoy communal and social conditions, are incarcerated according to their organizational affiliation, which means that Hamas terrorists share cells only with other Hamas terrorists and Fatah terrorists are incarcerated only with Fatah terrorists. This is absolutely absurd.”

Yishai Fleisher, an advisor to Ben-Gvir, told TPS that “Terrorists who murder and maim for jihadist and Israel-hating reasons should not expect a fun and rewarding life filled with fresh pitas, entertainment, and university courses waiting for them. Israeli prison should be a form of deterrence, and not a reward.”

Ben-Gvir is considered as part of a new generation of firebrand politicians who want to shake up the Israeli defense and security system, with a view toward a harder line against Palestinian terrorists. Ben-Gvir has faced criticism from Democratic politicians in the U.S. as well from the Israeli center and left-wing parties.

Kaatabi, who was a police commander in Judea and Samaria—the biblical names for the West Bank said “For a very long time, incarceration in Israeli prisons has become desirable for Palestinian terrorists instead of deterring. The current minister of national security is determined to implement the recommendations made by the committee which I headed, which were also presented to previous governments.”

The veteran counter-terrorism expert Kaatabi, who served as a commander of the police senior officer’s academy, added “I expect each and every step made by the Israeli government to be met with fierce Palestinian resistance, but we must not allow ourselves to be manipulated by external influence or the media and focus on the bigger strategic importance of fighting terrorism effectively while creating a deterring factor of incarceration. As a fighting democracy, Israel must stand strong, defend itself and its citizens while adhering to international norms and democratic principles.”

Palestinian sources told TPS that “the approximately 4,800 Palestinians will collectively refuse to cooperate with prison officials by not obeying orders, locking themselves in their cells, refusing to let guards search their cells, and not wearing prison uniforms.”


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Benjamin Weinthal is a Writing Fellow for the Middle East Forum.