Around 250 Islamic Jihad prisoners were set to begin a hunger strike on Wednesday in protest of new Israeli policies toward Palestinian detainees, the Palestinian Prisoners Club announced.
Since six Palestinian security prisoners fled Gilboa Prison in northern Israel in early September, the Israel Prisons Service has taken a number of measures in an attempt to reduce the chances of another escape.
The policies have included breaking apart clusters of Islamic Jihad prisoners, moving some to other jails as well as solitary confinement for certain inmates. Family visits have also been postponed. The fugitives — since recaptured — were also dispersed to five prisons across the country.
“There is only one demand: return the situation to the way it was before [the escape],” Prisoners Club director Qadura Fares told The Times of Israel in a phone call.
The Prisoners Club is a Palestinian organization that advocates on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli jails. While the organization used to be financially supported by the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah has reportedly ceased funding the body for at least three years.
An Israeli Prison Services spokesperson said the jails have yet to see a formal hunger strike begin, however. Normally, the prisoners themselves would send a letter to the prison administration announcing their intention to commence such a strike.
With the hunger strike set to begin in Israeli jails, Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhaleh said the terror group would be willing to go to war on behalf of its prisoners.
“Palestinian Islamic Jihad will not leave its members in Zionist prisons to be victims at the hands of the enemy. Accordingly, we will stand with them and support them with everything we have, even if this means we must go to war for their sake,” said al-Nakhaleh.
“No agreements or any other considerations will prevent us from that,” he said.
The dramatic flight of the Palestinian fugitives captivated both Israelis and Palestinians, although Israeli forces later caught all six and returned them to prison two weeks later. They were charged with escaping prison, which carries a maximum additional sentence of seven years under Israeli law.
Five out of the six prisoners — who all hailed from around the West Bank city of Jenin — belonged to Islamic Jihad, a small Iran-backed Islamist terror group. The sixth, Fatah member Zakaria Zubeidi, masterminded terror attacks during the Second Intifada as a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Another five Palestinian prisoners, all from the Jenin area, were charged with aiding the fugitives last week. The five are accused of standing watch to make sure that any approaching guards did not discover the digging in the cell. Some also helped with getting rid of soil dug out of the tunnel, prosecutors said.