As readers may recall, one of the victories of the 1600 Palestinian hunger strikers was that for the first time since 2007, families from Gaza would be able to visit their loved ones in Israeli prisons. In compliance with the agreement, Israeli Prison Services (IPS) has announced that 47 family members will be allowed to visit a total of 25 out of 479 prisoners from Gaza on an “experimental” basis. This reporter contacted a source in the IPS who agreed to provide further details off the record.
BW: What is the meaning of “experimental” in this context?
IPS: It means that both the prisoner and the family members permit us to experiment on them, and that if the experiment is a success, we may continue to try it with other families and other prisoners.
BW: What constitutes “success”?
IPS: If the news media are glowing with praise for Israeli policies and if Palestinian, Arab and world media stop criticizing us, this will encourage continuation of the experiment.
BW: Some of the reported conditions on family members are that they may not bring food or clothing or anything else to their loved ones, and that prisoners at Rimon prison are currently not eligible for visitations. Why is that?
IPS: This is because we are afraid that the food and clothing might be inferior to what they have now, and we don’t want any prisoners to suffer. As for Rimon prison, the conditions are so luxurious that we don’t want other prisoners to become jealous.
BW: I understand that only wives, fathers and mothers are permitted to visit, but no brothers, sisters or children. Some prisoners are not married and others may have lost their parents to Israeli weaponry or even natural causes. Can no one visit them?
IPS: We cannot be responsible for family circumstances. Let them marry their siblings or children and make application.
BW: Only 25 prisoners are being allowed to receive visitors at this time. How can family members improve their chances of being selected?
IPS: I’m glad you asked. We have a programme designed to help. Privileges of this kind are often granted to persons who help to provide us with information that we request and who perform services on our behalf. Interested parties may inquire with the neighborhood Shin Bet intelligence office.
BW: You speak of privileges, but aren’t family visits considered a right under the Geneva conventions? And didn’t you already agree to this demand from the hunger strikers?
IPS: Of course, but Israel has a policy of ignoring international law and breaking agreements, and is only making an exception in this case in order avoid further negative coverage in the media. Besides, as we said, this is being tried on an “experimental” basis, and you can be sure that we will continue it only if it results in more effective ethnic cleansing or more appreciation for our peaceful intentions or a combination of the two. We are only following the example and advice of our closest international partner, the United States.