At a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced that the “party was over” for Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons.
It may be hard to believe that 6,000 Hamas and Fatah killers and handlers are living it up behind bars, particularly since they go on periodical hunger strikes to obtain better conditions. But Erdan’s list of new restrictions should put to rest any skepticism on that score.
The main bombshell he dropped on the failed suicide-bombers and successful stabbers who didn’t make it to Allah’s paradise was that they would stop being grouped in cell blocks according to their terrorist-organization affiliations.
“There will no longer be separate Hamas and Fatah wards,” he said, explaining that the current situation enables each group to become even more radicalized, to use their power against wardens and to make Israeli intelligence-gathering on their organizations’ activities extremely difficult.
Another terrorist prisoner benefit that is going to be revoked, according to Erdan, involves the flow of money that the prisoners receive from outside sources, such as the Palestinian Authority, which pays stipends to terrorists and their families from a “Martyrs’ Fund.” Today, each prisoner is allowed to receive up to NIS 1,600 (about $430) per month. What the prisoners have been doing is pooling the cash, and collectively purchasing groceries and other equipment with which to prepare their own meals, rather than eat the food provided by the Israel Prison Service (IPS).
From now on, Erdan said, a cap will be put on the money that these prisoners receive, and their cooking fests—not enjoyed by Israeli criminals—will be prohibited. “If they don’t like the IPS food, let them not eat it,” he said. In other words, tough luck, not pot luck.
An additional restriction is being imposed on water consumption. “We educate our children to ‘preserve every drop,’ ” said Erdan. “Yet the terrorists have unlimited access to faucets and showers.”
It is a privilege that they purposely abuse by leaving taps running for hours at a time. As a result, these terrorists have been using five times more water than average Israeli consumers. From now on, they will be forced to shower at certain hours and for a limited number of minutes.
Finally, the practice of having a ward “spokesman” to liaise between the terrorists and the prison administration is being canceled. Until now, this function was performed by inmates chosen by their peers to represent each terrorist organization for the purpose of presenting demands to prison personnel. From now on, according to Erdan, there will be a rotation of intermediaries to deal with general prison issues, not representatives of terrorist organizations.
“Worsening the terrorists’ conditions is necessary both to create deterrence and fulfill our moral duty to terror victims and their families,” he explained.
The most shocking aspect of his decree—described by the Israeli media as “dramatic”—is how pathetically mild it is. The fact that terrorists have been treated to cushier conditions than other incarcerated criminals is beyond scandalous.
In the first place, unlike other inmates, terrorists cannot be rehabilitated. They are motivated by a fanatical religious/political ideology that, if anything, becomes heightened in prison. And when they are released—either for time served or as part of a swap brokered between the Israeli government and terrorist leaders—they do not skip a beat before reoffending.
Secondly, Hamas is refusing to reveal the whereabouts of two civilians in captivity—Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu and Bedouin Israeli Hisham al-Sayed—and rejecting the demand to return the remains of two Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whom the terrorist organization kidnapped and killed during “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza in 2014.
Part of the idea behind Erdan’s new rules is to exert pressure on Hamas to release the two live and two dead Israelis. The notion that forcing the group’s members to take normal-length showers and eat prison food, no matter how tasteless, is going to serve as leverage with Hamas is ridiculous.
This is not to say that the plan is pointless, however. Though the goal to annihilate Israel is common to both Hamas and Fatah, the two terrorist entities hate each other as much as, if not more, than they do the Jews. Making their incarcerated members share quarters, therefore, makes sense. Let them take out their animosity and frustration on one another behind prison walls in the way that they do on the outside. Undoubtedly, this will make the job of prison guards much more difficult. But it will be well worth it for the rest of us.
The only question now is how long it will take the United Nations and the International Red Cross to condemn Israel for being a prison party-pooper.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”
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