The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Sunday a new bill that would regulate and define the measures prison authorities can take to prevent inmates — especially those convicted of security-related offenses — from unauthorized mobile phone use that has, in the past, allegedly enabled them to direct terror-related activities or encourage attacks on Israel.
The development came hours after top security prisoner Abdullah Barghouti gave a telephone interview with Hamas radio using a mobile phone smuggled into his cell.
Barghouti was put in solitary confinement, and Palestinian Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karake later said the convict had begun a hunger strike in protest.
The Israel Prison Service tries to prevent phones from being brought into prisons without approval and blocks the signals in prison wings that house security convicts. Current policies determine which prisoners are allowed access to mobile phones, but the regulations can sometimes be unclear.
The new bill classifies access to cell phones for prisoners based on the crimes of which they are convicted, and in particular if they are terror- or security-related offenses.
The bill, sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, noted that in recent years jailed terrorists have become increasingly more involved in efforts to direct and promote attacks against Israel, including kidnappings.
Mobile phones have become a key method of connecting the operational requirements of those planning attacks with the experience possessed by those behind bars, the bill said.
“The phones smuggled into prison are used not only by individual prisoners but also by the organizations’ leadership for the purposes of establishing and keep up contact with existing infrastructure in the field, commanders in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and abroad, as well as coordination between the leadership in different prisons and to preserve organized and military activity in the prisons and outside of them,” the bill noted.
Due to the vague nature of current guidelines, prison authorities in the past were sometimes forced to appeal to the High Court to obtain permission to confiscate or embargo prisoners’ phones, the report said.
During the radio interview, which lasted roughly four minutes, Barghouti urged Hamas and Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, its military wing, to reach a deal with Israel on prisoner releases.
“We are steadfast and waiting patiently, according to your promise to us,” he said. “We will continue adhering to it whether we are released today or in another thousand years.”
He also called on Hamas’s military wing to have no mercy on “the Israeli enemy.”
Barghouti is a Hamas commander and bomb-maker who was sentenced to 67 life terms for his involvement in several terror attacks, including the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in August 2001, which killed 15 Israelis and wounded some 130. Abdullah Barghouti is a relative of Marwan Barghouti, the former head of Hamas’s rival organization, Fatah, in the West Bank. Marwan Barghouti is serving five life sentences for his own role in terror attacks against Israel.
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.