Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have launched an open-ended mass hunger strike over deteriorating conditions inside.
About 30 inmates started the strike on Sunday, and up to 1,500 others will join them in the coming week, the prisoners – including administrative detainees – said in a statement circulated by local media.
The prisoners will reject the intake of any food or water, mainly in protest against the recent installation of mobile phone reception blocking equipment in the Ramon prison, a notorious Israeli military jail in the southern Negev region.
This equipment is a health hazard that harms the prisoners and may lead to cancer, the prisoners said in their statement.
According to Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the installations are necessary to halt “terror” activity – an allegation Palestinian prisoners deny.
They say without mobile phone service, they are unable to communicate with their family members, many of whom are unable to visit their jailed relatives.
Prisoners have long called for the installation of payphones, yielding only some results as part of demands associated with previous hunger strikes.
At times, prison authorities would resort to force-feeding, a practice criticised by the United Nations.
“Under no circumstance will force-feeding of prisoners and detainees on hunger strike comply with human rights standards,” the UN special rapporteur on the right to health had said in a 2015 statement.
In January, Erdan announced plans to “worsen” conditions for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including rationing water supplies and reducing the number of family visits.
He said, the plan – which needs parliamentary approval – will also see jails removing cooking rights and limiting prisoners’ access to television as well as blocking funds from the Palestinian Authority.
On Sunday, the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) said it would respond “forcefully and with determination” to ensure the installation of the jamming equipment would not be removed, according to an Israeli daily.
According to local media reports, the IPS said negotiations over conditions would resume after the Israeli elections, due to take place on Tuesday.
Palestinian prisoners are also protesting against the ban on family visits for prisoners from the besieged Gaza Strip, and are demanding the expanding television service and the stocking of additional goods in the prison canteens.
Prisoners who are on hunger strike are expected to be subject to punishment, including solitary confinement or transfer from one prison to another under the pretext of security.
Israel holds 5,450 Palestinian prisoners, including nearly 200 administrative detainees (people held without charge), according to the latest figures from Jerusalem-based Palestinian prisoners’ rights group, Addameer.
Most are held in jails inside Israel, in contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires that an occupying power hold prisoners from an occupied land within that area.
Israel has for years held Palestinians in overcrowded prisons with poor hygiene standards with many prisoners confined to a 2.9sq metres cell, according to Addameer.
Rights groups say more than 1,800 inmates are in need of medical care, with about 700 suffering from serious or chronic illnesses.