JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli prison forces attacked a number of Palestinian prisoners and their relatives during a family visit to Eshel prison on Monday morning, with security guards using pepper spray on both the prisoners and their family members and beating them with batons, relatives told Ma’an.
The father of prisoner Omar al-Sharif told Ma’an that the families had traveled from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem to Eshel prison more than 100 kilometers away in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
The families arrived at 7:30 a.m. and were not allowed inside until 12 p.m., he said, when both men and women were subjected to invasive and “provocative” searches at the hands of the Israel Prison Service (IPS).
Heated arguments erupted in the visitation room, until a group of IPS officers stormed the room and attacked prisoners and their family members with pepper spray and beat them with batons, before the prisoners were handcuffed and the visitors were forced out.
The father of prisoners Muhammad and Ahmad al-Bakri told Ma’an that IPS officers had treated visiting relatives harshly since they arrived to Eshel early in the morning.
“After going through inspections at the entrance and passing through the metal detectors, female IPS soldiers searched the women inside a separate room, and forced them to take off their headscarves and jewelry.”
Al-Bakri described the search as “an unprecedented provocation.”
An IPS spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment on the incident.
Improving conditions for family visits to Palestinian prisoners was a central demand of a 40-day mass hunger strike launched in Israeli prisons that ended last month.
Ahead of the hunger strike, international human rights organization Amnesty International denounced
Israel for its “unlawful and cruel” practices towards Palestinian prisoners in a report.
One relative of an imprisoned Palestinian told the organization: “The Israeli authorities play with our emotions, they torture us and punish us. They try to break us, to tire us, so that we would want to visit our relatives less because of all the humiliation, searches, abuse and insults by soldiers or prison guards.”
According to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, the journey to prison for most residents of the occupied West Bank visiting detained relatives takes between eight to 15 hours depending on the prison and place of residence, while relatives of prisoners are routinely subjected to lengthy body searches and sometimes strip searches.