Op-Ed via Middle East Eye

What’s behind Israel’s crackdown on Palestinian prisoners?

This week, guards at the Israeli military prison Ofer conducted a series of large-scale raids on Palestinian prisoners.

Cells were ransacked, personal belongings were destroyed and invasive strip searches conducted. For many prisoners, the worst aspect was the confiscation of photos, letters and simple gifts from family members collected over the years - a lifeline for those who face decades of incarceration.

Prisoners were also made to take off their clothes and wait for inspection outside in the bitter cold.

These are not new methods or tactics, but rather ones that are used periodically as a form of collective punishment against Palestinian prisoners.

Collective punishment

The latest suppression in Ofer was met with collective resistance from prisoners, who refused to cooperate with Israeli forces. As a result, they were met with tear gas, tasers, beatings, police dogs and even rubber bullets shot at close range.

More than 150 had to receive medical attention, with six prisoners enduring fractures and more than 40 suffering head injuries. Many suffered from serious tear gas inhalation as a result of gas bombs being thrown into enclosed cells.

Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, subsequently issued a statement calling on the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate these “gross violations” of international law and to provide protection for Palestinian prisoners.

In response to this and in solidarity with prisoners, demonstrations were organised in both Ramallah and Haifa. At the latter demonstration, two Palestinian activists were arrested by Israeli police.

Torture and harassment

Indeed, the issue of prisoners is an important one in Palestinian society - and it affects many people. Since 1967, 40 percent of the adult male population in the West Bank and Gaza - or roughly 800,000 people - have been subjected to some kind of detention by Israel.

Most communities and families are intimately aware of what it means to have a loved one incarcerated. There are currently 5,500 Palestinian political prisoners, according to Addameer’s data.

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