The father of a young Israeli-American man convicted of hoaxing US Jewish community centers and other targets around the world with thousands of bomb threats claimed Monday that his son had been on a five-day hunger strike in protest of “severe” treatment he has endured in prison.
While the father said his son — who turned 20 on Saturday and whose name remains under gag order in Israel — began eating again on Monday after the effects of the strike took their toll, he asserted that the young man plans to go on another hunger strike in the near future if his treatment inside the prison does not improve.
“They are treating him like a typical prisoner even though he is autistic and has a brain tumor,” the father told The Times of Israel. The teen’s parents have maintained their son’s behavior stems from a brain tumor and the fact that he is on the autism spectrum.
Despite the father’s claims, a spokesperson for the Israel Prisons Service flatly denied that the 20-year-old from Askelon had ever launched a hunger strike or that he had suffered any mistreatmeant at the hands of prison guards.
A source with knowledge of the case said that the convict — currently placed in a special psychiatric ward — has regularly been trying to harm himself.
The source said that the young man’s delicate mental state would have prevented him from carrying out any form of hunger strike, but that his father has been trying to convince him to do so in order to apply pressure against the prison service and the court.
The father nonetheless insisted that the hunger strike had taken place.
“They have been placing severe pressure on him for a year and a half and it got to a point where he could not take it anymore,” he said.
The Ashkelon native added that it was dangerous for his son to remain behind bars.
“All the medical experts claim that he is not fit to be in prison, but the State of Israel is ignoring this,” the father said.
The convict’s father said that last week one of the prison guards twisted his son’s hand to the point where he thinks it cracked. He asked to have it x-rayed, but claimed the prison authorities refused to do so because he submitted a complaint against the guards.
His father also told The Times of Israel that the prison service has been imposing very strict conditions on his son that have included not allowing him to go out into the prison yard and forcing him to shower with his legs cuffed.
While the Israel Prisons Service spokesperson did not relate to the specific examples cited by the young man’s father, he asserted that the prisoner was not being abused and that any seemingly extreme precautions have been taken to ensure that the convict does not harm himself.
In June, the man was found guilty of hundreds of counts of extortion, publishing false information that caused panic, computer offenses, and money laundering, among other charges.
Authorities say he made thousands of threatening calls, mostly to community centers and schools in the US, from January to March 2017, using an online calling service that disguised his voice and allowed him to hide his identity. He also targeted hundreds of airlines and airports, malls, and police stations, in the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Britain, and tried to extort Republican State Senator Ernesto Lopez from Delaware.
His threats caused fighter jets to scramble, planes to dump fuel and make emergency landings, schools to evacuate, and numerous other chaotic consequences. In some cases, he allegedly threatened to execute children he claimed to be holding hostage.
He has admitted to making some 2,000 fake bomb threat calls to hospitals, airlines, schools and various Jewish institutions out of boredom.
The hoax bomb threats, which came in the midst of a far-right surge in the US, sent a chill through Jewish communities and raised fears of anti-Semitism.
His lawyer told Israeli news outlets in June that the teen had attempted suicide at least five times while in prison, since his arrest last March. Earlier this year, he briefly escaped police custody after a hearing at a Jerusalem District Court.
In addition to facing a possibly long jail sentence in Israel, the teen has also been indicted on hate crimes charges by the US Department of Justice that would carry a hefty prison term there.
His sentencing hearing in Israel is set for October 9.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.