An investigative report has revealed horrendous abuses against Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, with video footage showing a barbaric crackdown by Israeli officials on Palestinian detainees demanding their rights and better conditions during incarceration.
The investigation by the Qatari TV channel Aljazeera included video footage from surveillance cameras inside Israeli jails showing brutal abuse by members of the Israeli Prison Authority at the Naqab Prison in 2019.
It included vicious beatings and assaults on detainees that left many of them brutalised, as well as audio recordings by Palestinian prisoners testifying to their harsh treatment, torture and oppression.
The details were also reported in the Israeli media, but the Israeli authorities have not taken any action against the perpetrators of the abuses, instead promoting them to more senior positions.
Personnel at Israeli prisons often use ferocious methods against Palestinian detainees to deter them from protesting against the conditions in the jails. Sometimes, the protests can lead the prisoners to strike out against their jailers. In one incident, Palestinian prisoners poured hot water on a prison guard’s face, and in another a detainee stabbed a guard at the Naqab Prison to protest against the abusive treatment.
Israeli brutality against Palestinian detainees increased after six prisoners escaped from the Gilboa top-security prison in Israel in September. In retaliation for the jail break, the Israeli guards imposed collective punishment on the detainees, who in turn escalated their protests. Hundreds began an open-ended hunger strike until their jailers agreed to some of their demands.
Israeli abuses against detainees have also caused Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip to threaten another military confrontation with Israel. Islamic Jihad and its military wing earlier declared a state of “military alert,” but mediation has succeeded in defusing the situation.
Meanwhile, Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons have been continuing their protests in solidarity with six prisoners on hunger strike for more than 100 days because they were arrested but not charged. The prisoner movement in Israeli jails has seen prisoners refusing to eat in solidarity with those on hunger strike.
The Aljazeera report showed video footage of two people said to be members of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad and kidnapped by a group calling itself “Freedom”. The captives said on camera that their names were David Berry and David Benrozi, and they pleaded for Israel to work for their release.
In the video, the kidnappers said the fate of the captives was linked to the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. They showed identification documents and photographs of one of the captives wearing a disguise before his kidnapping, but they did not reveal where he was kidnapped or where he was being held.
Ofir Gendelman, spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, denied that two Israeli officers had been kidnapped outside Israel, asserting that the two men who appear in the video are not Israelis and have no connections to Israel.
Gendelman described the video footage of alleged Mossad officers as another “hopeless attempt by Hamas” to garner support among Palestinians “through promoting lies”.
The developments add new momentum to efforts to reach a prisoner-exchange deal between Israel and Hamas, which has admitted to capturing four Israelis, including two soldiers taken during military operations as part of Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014.
Egypt is leading mediation efforts on this issue, but leaked reports indicate a chasm between the demands of each side. Israel wants to link a prisoner-exchange deal with reconstruction in Gaza, while Hamas adamantly rejects this and wants to keep the two issues separate.
Hamas also demands that Israel release all prisoners re-arrested after their release as part of the 2011 prisoner-exchange deal, which saw the release of 1,050 Palestinian detainees in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured in a military operation on the Gaza Strip-Israel border in 2006.
Israel’s fragile coalition government led by Bennett is not ready to make a deal with Hamas on exchanging prisoners, especially since it knows it will pay a serious price for any deal that includes releasing Palestinian prisoners serving long jail sentences. Israel claims these prisoners “have blood on their hands” by participating in or plotting operations that have killed Israelis.
Egypt may succeed in finding a solution that meets the demands of both sides, ending a controversial issue which is now in its seventh year. Ismail Radwan, a leading Hamas figure, said that only when the Israelis were “ready to pay the price” would there be a prisoner-exchange deal.
He accused Israel of evading any possible deal that would be acceptable to the Palestinian factions.
Hamas says that the prisoner issue is a top priority for the group, but it refuses to discuss details of the negotiations on the issue. Israeli officials have also avoided revealing any information about the talks, due to pressing domestic issues such as the country’s budget, consolidating the government coalition, mitigating the impacts of Covid-19 and Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The latter Israel views as a top priority.
There are 4,850 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 43 women and 225 children held at 23 jails, prisons and detention centres. More than 500 prisoners are said to be suffering from illnesses, including cancer, according to figures from the Palestinian Commission for Detainee and Ex-Detainee Affairs.
Some 550 detainees are serving sentences longer than 99 years, while 34 have spent more than 25 years in Israeli jails in often appalling conditions.
Palestinian prisoners often resort to hunger strikes to fight for their rights and improve their circumstances. Some go on individual hunger strikes, while the larger prisoner movement leads mass strikes involving many prisoners.
The largest was in 2017, when thousands of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails participated in hunger strikes until their demands were met.