Palestinian hunger striker rejects conditional release offer


An Arab-Israeli Knesset member who is representing Palestinian hunger striker Mohammad Allaan rejected Israel’s offer that Allaan be released on condition that he leave the country for four years.

Mohammed Jabareen of the Joint Arab List party said Monday that Israel’s offer “proves Allaan isn’t really dangerous.”

Allaan is on the 62nd day of a hunger strike protesting his being held without charges in administrative detention since last November on suspicion of membership in the terrorist group Islamic Jihad.

“If he can direct terror activity once released, he can do the same from abroad,” said Jabareen, an attorney. “He should be released immediately so that his torture ends.”

Allaan lost consciousness on Friday, but doctors at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, where he is hospitalized, managed to stabilize his condition, according to The Times of Israel.

His hunger strike prompted Israel to pass legislation last month permitting force-feeding. The Israeli Medical Association has announced that it plans to challenge the law in the Supreme Court and urged physicians not to comply with it.

Victims’ reps seek to block Palestinian prisoner release


A group representing Israeli victims of terrorism filed a petition to block the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Twenty-six prisoners expected to be set free early Tuesday as part of the revived Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were transferred to Ofer Prison in preparation for their release.

On Monday, the organization Almagor, which represents victims of terrorism, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to prevent the release of six of the prisoners, who are residents of eastern Jerusalem and hold Israeli identification cards.

The prisoners, who will be released at 1 a.m. Tuesday, were being examined by the Red Cross and by doctors, and their identities were being checked.

It is the third round of Palestinian prisoner releases since the American-backed peace negotiations began in July.

[Related: Israeli ministers endorse legislation to annex part of West Bank]

The list of prisoners was published late Saturday night on the Israel Prison Service website. Anyone who objects to the release of a prisoner must appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court within 48 hours.

The prisoners to be released committed their terrorist acts before the Oslo Accords, and have served at least 19 years in an Israeli prison, according to a statement released Saturday night by the Prime Minister’s Office. “If any of those to be released resume hostile activity they will be returned to serve the remainder of their sentences,” the statement said.

Twenty-three of the prisoners were convicted of killing Israeli soldiers, civilians or Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.

Demonstrations against the release including family members of terrorist victims have been held outside the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence for the last several days, with a large-scale protest and vigil planned for Monday night. While the group’s request to hold the large-scale protest beginning on Sunday night through the release was at first denied, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told demonstrators he would see to it that they be allowed to hold the protest.

Palestinian prisoner release causes Israeli political stir


A planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners has provoked feuding within Israel's governing coalition, already under strain from U.S.-brokered peace talks.

The inmates, all of whom were convicted of murder in the killing of Israelis before or just after the first interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords were signed 20 years ago, were due to go free after midnight on Tuesday.

Cutting short their life sentences has been particularly grating for many Israelis because prisoner releases were a Palestinian condition for reviving peace talks last August that few people on either side of the conflict believe will succeed.

In all, 104 long-serving prisoners will go free. A first group of 26 was let out two months ago in keeping with understandings reached during shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The release of terrorists in return for (Israeli chief negotiator) Tzipi Livni's dubious right to meet (Palestinian counterpart Saeb) Erekat is very grave,” the Jewish Home party, a far-right member of the government, said in statement at the weekend.

Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett, then tried to get a proposal to freeze further prisoner releases past a ministerial committee, where members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party voted it down on Sunday.

“The picture is now clear: the government, unlike one of its member-parties, is acting in the national interest…this government is moving the peace process forward,” Livni, head of the small, centrist Hatnuah party, wrote on her Facebook page after Jewish Home's proposed law was rejected.

[Former Shin Bet head: Release of Palestinian prisoners no threat]

The squabbling did not end there. Bennett criticised Likud ministers, saying: “The release of terrorists is immoral, it weakens Israel and endangers its citizens, and we will continue to fight it in a democratic way”.

In an apparent attempt to appease Jewish Home and hardliners within Likud, government officials said new housing projects would be announced soon in West Bank settlement blocs that Israel intends to keep in any future peace deal.

Israeli political commentators suggested that Bennett, whose party has 12 of parliament's 120 seats, had latched on to the prisoners issue as a way to swing Netanyahu's traditional right-wing supporters his way and establish himself as an alternative leader for the camp.

TRADE-OFF

Yuval Steinitz, Israel's strategic affairs minister and a Likud member, made clear in a radio interview on Monday that by agreeing to the prisoner releases, the government effectively had quashed a Palestinian demand to halt settlement building.

“The issue of freeing prisoners is certainly most painful for all of us. But strategically, the price of freezing construction in settlements would be much higher,” Steinitz said.

For Palestinians, who view settlements that Israel has erected on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as obstacles to a state, brethren jailed by Israel are heroes in a fight for independence.

On the other side of the divide, families of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks held a vigil outside Ofer prison in the West Bank, where the prisoners slated for release were being held.

And at a military cemetery in Jerusalem, opponents of the release placed black signs, with a drawing of a bloody hand, on graves.

“As far as we are concerned, your death was in vain,” read the placards, signed “Government of Israel.”

Editing by Angus MacSwan

Israel should not release prisoners for peace


Releasing Palestinian prisoners as a political gesture erodes Israel’s democratic fabric and challenges the country’s core sense of justice. Ironically, it is the dissemination of justice and the people of Israel’s faith in that justice that has kept their society together. 

The citizens of a democratic country expect and believe that evil will be punished and that good will prevail. They believe that the government they elected protects them and ensures that those who murder do not go free. The exception to that expectation occurs only when the murderer is exonerated or pardoned. And when pardons do come, society takes notice and asks if the person really did the heinous act. The pardon is the safety valve that corrects the mistakes of justice.

Israel, like all democracies, relies on a series of check and balances. 

The prime minister of Israel and his cabinet are legally responsible for foreign affairs and for the safety and security of the state. About that there is no question. That ruling, just issued by the Israeli Supreme Court, paved the way for convicted Palestinian terrorists to be transferred to Gaza and to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The court ruled against the challenge of releasing the prisoners. They said that the prime minister had absolute authority in the matter. 

[PRO: Israel should release prisoners for peace]

Here is the problem: These were neither military prisoners nor security prisoners. The released prisoners and their fellow cell and soul mates awaiting imminent release were tried and convicted in civilian courts. And even if terror and nationalistic agendas were part of their collective diabolical mindset, all of these prisoners, each and every one, was tried for and convicted of murder and/or attempted murder.

Not one of these prisoners was pardoned. Not one was granted amnesty. They were all simply released in a political deal.

[Related: Who Israel released]

Justice, judgment and punishment were shoved aside. Checks and balances were thrown out. The political side trampled on the judicial branch. Had these prisoners been under military jurisdiction, I would not have liked the decision, but I would understand it. The military convicts and frees according to different standards. If these were high-security prisoners, I could understand that, too. But they are not.

Look at crimes perpetrated by some of these 26 released murderers, 14 of whom are now at home in Gaza, the others released to roam the West Bank: 

• Abu Moussa Salam Ali Atiya had been jailed since 1994 for the murder of Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg. His victim was born in Poland in 1927, and most of his family was deported to and murdered in Sobibor. Rotenberg and his brother were sent to a labor camp. He survived the Nazis. And then, on March 29, 1994, as Rothberg knelt down to lay a floor he was axed to death by two Arab laborers. One of them was Ali Atiya. 

• Kor Mattawa Hamad Faiz had been in jail since 1985 for the murder of Menahem Dadon and attempted murder of Salomon Abukasis. 

• Sha’at Azat Shaban Ata was convicted of helping murder a 51-year-old woman named Simcha Levi. Levi made her living transporting Palestinian day laborers from the Gaza Strip to work in Jewish settlements. In March 1993, she picked up three men disguised as women. They were her murderers; they beat and stabbed Levi to death.

• Salah Ibrahim Ahmad Mughdad was jailed since 1993 for the murder of Israel Tenenbaum. Tenenbaum was born in Poland in 1921, survived the Holocaust, and came to Israel in 1957 and bought a farm. After a life of work in agriculture, he retired and became a night watchman at a small hotel in the seaside city Netanya. Tenenbaum was murdered on the job.

Many of the victims were older and Holocaust survivors. Their murderers are now free. Twelve of the victims were Arab. Their murderers, too, are now free. In the coming days and weeks, more murderers will be set free. The sides have just begun talking. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, has already achieved victory. 

Now we wait to see what emerges at the negotiating table. We wait to see if anything emerges at the negotiating table. It might; it might not. Whatever the outcome, these released murderers will not be returning to an Israeli prison.


Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson, 2007).

PRO/CON: Should Israel release prisoners for peace?


PRO: Israel should release prisoners for peace

by Yael Maizel, J Street

The headline jumped out at me as I opened the paper last Sunday to read the news: “Netanyahu releases 104 Palestinian prisoners to re-launch peace talks.” As a longtime advocate for a two-state solution, I have frequently thought about the difficult concessions and tough decisions that Israel will face along the way to peace, understanding that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require real sacrifice and compromise. But the news hit particularly close to home that day, reminding me exactly how personal and painful these sacrifices can be.

In September 1993 I was 11 years old. I remember watching the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn with my sixth grade Jewish Day School class. I remember my parents who grew up in Jerusalem amidst the war and turmoil of the 60s and 70s, explaining to my brother and I what a historic moment we were witnessing.

Read more.


CON: Israel should not release prisoners for peace

by Micah D. Halpern

Releasing Palestinian prisoners as a political gesture erodes Israel’s democratic fabric and challenges the country’s core sense of justice. Ironically, it is the dissemination of justice and the people of Israel’s faith in that justice that has kept their society together. 

The citizens of a democratic country expect and believe that evil will be punished and that good will prevail. They believe that the government they elected protects them and ensures that those who murder do not go free. The exception to that expectation occurs only when the murderer is exonerated or pardoned. And when pardons do come, society takes notice and asks if the person really did the heinous act. The pardon is the safety valve that corrects the mistakes of justice.

Read more.

Who Israel released


Just after midnight yesterday, 26 Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel as part of a confidence-building measure aimed at bolstering renewed Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

Per Israel’s Government Press Office, the following is a list of the prisoners and their crimes. Virtually all were directly involved in the murders of Israeli, and the majority were serving life sentences.

Fayez Khur: Aged 51, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On May 10, 1983, he murdered Menahem Dadon in the Gaza Strip, and was involved in the murder of Salomon Abukasis in the Gaza Strip on February 14, 1983. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Salah Mugdad: Aged 47, a Fatah activist from Kfar Bracha in Samaria in the West Bank. On June 14, 1993, he murdered Israel Tenenbaum, a guard at the Sirens Hotel in Netanya. Sentenced to life imprisonment, which was then commuted to a 32-year sentence.

Samir Na’neesh: Aged 46, a Fatah activist from Nablus in the West Bank. On February 14, 1989 he murdered a soldier, Binyamin Meisner, by throwing a building block at him in the Kasbah in Nablus. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Yusef Irshaid: Aged 45, a Fatah activist from Jenin in the West Bank. On June 15, 1992, he took part in the murder of a Druze Israeli citizen, Mufid Cana’an. In the years 1991-92 he took part in the murder of three Palestinians suspected of collaboration with Israel. He also planned a car bomb attack in Afula and made attempts to kidnap a soldier. Sentenced to five life imprisonments.

Mustafa al-Haj: Aged 45, a Fatah activist from Brukin in the West Bank. On June 17, 1989, he stabbed Steven Frederick Rosenfeld to death with a knife close to Ariel. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Salameh Musleh: Aged 44, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On May 20, 1991, he took part in the murder of Reuven David in Petach Tikva, when he and his accomplice beat him to death. Sentenced to life imprisonment, which was then commuted to a 30-year sentence.

Atiyeh abu Musa: Aged 42, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On March 29, 1993, he murdered Isaac Rotenberg with an axe on a building site in Bat Yam. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Salah Mukled: Aged 40, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On March 29, 1993, he stabbed Yeshayahu Deutsch to death with a knife in the hothouses of Kfar Yam. In that same year, he also carried out shooting attacks. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mohemed Sawalha: Aged 40, a Fatah activist from the village of Azmut in West Bank. On December 2, 1990, he took part in a stabbing on a bus in Ramat Gan, in which Baruch Heisler was murdered and three other passengers were injured. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Atef Sha’ath: Aged 49, a Popular Front activist from the Gaza Strip. He collaborated in the murder of Simcha Levy on March 12, 1993. Sentenced to 29 years imprisonment.

Yusef Abed al-Al: Aged 42, a Popular Front activist from the Gaza Strip. On April 18, 1993, he took part in the murder of Ian Feinberg in the Gaza Strip. On July 3, 1993, he murdered a Palestinian who was suspected of collaboration. Sentenced to 22 years imprisonment.

Midhat Barbakh: Aged 38, a Popular Front and Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On January 21, 1994, he stabbed his employer, Moshe Beker, a citrus grower from Rishon Letzion, killing him. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Ali Rai: Aged 56, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On January 21, 1994, he murdered Morris Eizenstat in Kfar Saba. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mohamed Nashbat: Aged 52, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On September 20, 1990, he took part in the stoning and lynch of a soldier, Amnon Pomerantz, in al Burej in the Gaza Strip. Sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

Samir Murtaji: Aged 42, a Hamas activist from the Gaza Strip. In the years 1993-94, he murdered four Palestinians who were suspected of collaboration. He was also involved in kidnapping other Palestinians suspected of collaboration. Sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

Hosni Sawalha: Aged 39, a Fatah activist from Azmut, a village in the West Bank. He took part in a stabbing on a bus in Ramat Gan on December 2, 1990, in which Baruch Heisler was murdered and three other passengers were injured. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Faraj Rimahi: Aged 48, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. Murdered Avraham Kinsler on June 6, 1992 and planned to murder more Israeli citizens. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Ala Eddin Abu Sitteh: Aged 43, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On December 31, 1993, he took part in the murder of Haim Weizman and David Dadi in Ramle. After stabbing them both to death with knives, the murderers desecrated their victims’ bodies. Sentenced to two life imprisonments.

Ayman Abu Sitteh: Aged 42, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On December 31, 1993, he took part in the murder of Haim Weizman and David Dadi in Ramle. After stabbing them both to death with knives, the murderers desecrated their victims’ bodies. Sentenced to two life imprisonments.

Esmat Mansour: Aged 36, a Democratic Front activist from Deir Jarir, a village in the West Bank. On October 29, 1993, he aided the terrorist cell that murdered Haim Mizrahi in a chicken farm in Beit El. He led the murderers to a hiding place behind the chicken coops, brought rope to tie up the victim and helped them load the dead body into the trunk of the car. Sentenced to 22 years imprisonment.

Khaled Asakreh: Aged 41, a Fatah activist from Rafida, a village in the West Bank. On April 29, 1991, he murdered Annie Ley, a French tourist in Bethlehem. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Nihad Jundiyeh: Aged 40, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On July 14 1989, he took part in the murder of Zalman Shlein in Gan Yavne. During questioning, he admitted to planning two more attacks that were not carried out: a stabbing in Gan Yavne and forcing a bus off a cliff. Sentenced to 25.5 years imprisonment.

Mohamed Hamdiyeh: Aged 41, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. On July 14, 1989 he took part in the murder of Zalman Shlein in Gan Yavne. Sentenced to 25.5 years imprisonment.

Jamil Abed al-Nabi: Aged 50, a Hamas activist from the Hebron area in the West Bank. He was involved in planning and carrying out the shooting in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron that occurred on October 25, 1992. In the attack, an IDF soldier, Shmuel Gersh, was killed and another soldier wounded. Sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.

Taher Zaboud: an Islamic Jihad activist from Silat al Harithiya, a village in the West Bank. He took part in a shooting that occurred on September 22, 1992 near the settlement Gadish. He was also involved in an unsuccessful attempt to murder a police officer in Umm al-Fahm. Sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.

Borhan Sabiah: Aged 42, a Fatah activist from Rai, a village in the West Bank. He was convicted of murdering six suspected collaborators. Sentenced to six life imprisonments.

Israel should release prisoners for peace


The headline jumped out at me as I opened the paper last Sunday to read the news: “Netanyahu releases 104 Palestinian prisoners to re-launch peace talks.” As a longtime advocate for a two-state solution, I have frequently thought about the difficult concessions and tough decisions that Israel will face along the way to peace, understanding that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require real sacrifice and compromise. But the news hit particularly close to home that day, reminding me exactly how personal and painful these sacrifices can be.

In September 1993 I was 11 years old. I remember watching the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn with my sixth grade Jewish Day School class. I remember my parents who grew up in Jerusalem amidst the war and turmoil of the 60s and 70s, explaining to my brother and I what a historic moment we were witnessing. The world was full of hope that an end to the conflict was in sight. Not even a full month later, on October 9 of that year, we lost my cousin Eran in a devastating terror attack. He was 23 years old, had just finished his army services and was headed to college in a few weeks. He and his best friend Dror decided to take one last hike before the semester began. They stopped at a swimming hole in Wadi Qelt, outside of Jerusalem where they were ambushed and murdered by masked gunmen.

My cousin’s death underscored for me how closely intertwined the story of the state of Israel is with my own family’s personal narrative. From my Sephardic grandmother whose family settled in the old city of Jerusalem more than a century ago, to my paternal great-grandparents who arrived as part of the Second Aliyah, and lastly to my maternal grandparents for whom Israel was a place of refuge after fleeing the Holocaust, every photo in our family album depicts another chapter in the state’s history and development. Losing Eran was perhaps the most painful chapter in this story. For the last 15 years, when I visit Mount Herzl to see the graves of Israeli statesman and Zionist leaders like Theodore Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin, I also make a stop at the monument for victims of terror to lay a stone over Eran’s name.  

[CON: Israel should not release prisoners for peace]

My experience is unfortunately not a unique one. Nearly every Israeli today knows a family that has lost a loved one in the violence of terror or war. And while my cousin’s murderers will not be set free during this round of prisoner releases — because they were never caught — the announcement touches a raw nerve. It’s reminder of the terrible price we have paid in these years of conflict. However, it is precisely because of this price that we know how much we stand to lose without peace.

The resumption of diplomatic negotiations are just the starting line for what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult process with more tough decisions along the way. But we know that for Israel’s survival as a democratic Jewish homeland, there is no choice but to pursue this path.

In his open letter to the Israeli people, Netanyahu explained that these painful concessions were necessary for Israel’s long-term national interests, writing, “From time to time, prime ministers are called on to make decisions that go against public opinion — when the matter is important for the country's well-being.”

The anger and frustration around the announcement are understandable.  I was personally troubled that the Prime Minister decided the prisoner release was politically the “easiest” to make as a first step, rather than agreeing to a settlement freeze or negotiations based on the 1967 lines.

Ultimately though, these abstract “long-term national interests” have a direct bearing on the lives of ordinary families like mine. And, at the same they are larger than any one individual or their family. They are about the needs and desires of people on both sides of the Green Line to live in peace and security, dignity and freedom. And it is about the future that we as Jews see for the state of Israel. Without a negotiated two-state solution to this conflict, we will be faced with an even more painful choice between the country’s Jewish and democratic character.

This October will mark 20 years since Eran’s passing and as we head into this difficult milestone, I find myself asking what this next chapter in Israel’s history will bring for me and my family. The recent news out of the renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations remind me of how challenging the road ahead will be, as old wounds are reopened and painful compromises are made. But my cousin’s legacy has also taught me that inaction is not an option; there is simply too much at stake.


Yael Maizel is J Street's Southwest Field Director.

IDF attempted ’08 operation to capture Hamas commander to swap for Shalit


Israel attempted to capture the former head of Hamas’ military wing in 2008 in order to exchange him for then-captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, according to newly released documents.

The operation involved special forces and the top brass of Israel’s defense establishment. Soldiers were dispatched to Gaza to nab Ahmed Jabari, formerly the head of Hamas’ military wing, as he was driving to visit one of his two wives, the Times of Israel reported. The Israel Defense Forces then planned to offer Jabari in exchange for Shalit, whom Hamas had captured two years earlier.

But the operation was aborted when Jabari’s car made an unexpected turn.

After indirect negotiations with Hamas, Shalit was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011. In November 2012, Israel assassinated Jabari at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Rocket explodes in Israel, first attack from Gaza since November truce


A rocket fired from Gaza exploded in Israel on Tuesday, the first such attack since a November truce and an apparent show of solidarity with West Bank protests after the death of a Palestinian in an Israeli jail.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's West Bank-based Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the rocket strike, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency said. No casualties were reported.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, said it was investigating. There was no military response from Israel, hours after the rocket slammed into a road near its southern city of Ashkelon.

The rocket was the first to hit Israel since a November 21 truce brokered by Egypt that ended eight days of cross-border air strikes and missile attacks in which 175 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

Tuesday's strike came after a surge of unrest in the West Bank, that has raised fears in Israel of a new Palestinian Intifada (uprising).

On Monday, thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank turned out for the funeral of Arafat Jaradat, 30, who died in disputed circumstances in an Israeli prison on Saturday.

Israeli police shot and wounded five Palestinian youths during confrontations in Bethlehem and outside a West Bank prison later the same day, leaving a 15-year-old boy in critical condition, Israeli and Palestinian medical sources said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, commenting on the incident, said troops had opened fire at Palestinians who threw homemade hand grenades at a Jewish holy site called Rachel's Tomb, in the Bethlehem area.

Before the rocket attack from Gaza, media reports said Israeli officials had hoped the Palestinian protests were winding down a week after they were launched in sympathy with four prisoners on intermittent hunger strikes.

The U.S. State Department said American diplomats have contacted Israeli and Palestinian leaders to appeal for calm.

The United Nations coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, called for an investigation of Jaradat's death. Jaradat had been arrested a week ago for throwing stones at Israeli cars in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials said he had died after being tortured in prison. But Israel said an autopsy carried out in the presence of a Palestinian coroner was inconclusive.

Palestinian frustration has also been fuelled by Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured in a 1967 war and deadlocked diplomacy for a peace agreement since 2010.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Shalit reveals how he survived in first public interview since freedom


One year after his release, Israeli Channel 10 News aired parts of an interview with former Hamas captive Gilad Shalit on Oct. 11, during which Shalit revealed details of how he survived his ordeal and spent his days in captivity.

“During the day, I played all kinds of games with them, like chess and dominos. I also played all kinds of odd games with myself, mainly games related to sports. I would form a ball out of socks or shirts and try to aim for the garbage bin. I would invent all kinds of activities and also write things at times. For example, I would play the geographical game known as ‘country-city,’” Shalit said.

Shalit said he didn’t maintain a consistent diary. “I wrote all kinds of random notes and followed sports events. I would draw a map of Israel, Mitzpe Hila [where he and his family reside] and all the homes there, just to remember the place and imagine it. I did that in the early days of captivity, so that I wouldn’t forget. Some [captors] didn’t like the fact that I was writing things down. They thought I was gathering information.”

Regarding the moment of his release, Shalit only remembers feeling tense. “During the ride (to Egypt), I felt very anxious. I didn’t know if something would happen, if they would try to hurt me, or something would go wrong at the last moment. When I got out of the vehicle and realized I was in Egypt, I felt relief. I saw dozens of people, hundreds of them, after being in contact with only a few people for all those years. There were so many people there. It was a strange feeling, a sense of shock. I also began to feel relieved.”

Read a translation of the full interview on the Israelife blog.

Shalit gives first interview in Israel since release


Gilad Shalit in his first interview in Israel since his release spoke of how he passed the time in captivity and his sense of great “relief” upon being set free.

Israel's Channel 10 played excerpts from the interview, undertaken near the first anniversary of Shalit's release by Hamas in a prisoner exchange from his more than five-year captivity in the Gaza Strip. The full interview will be broadcast in coming days, according to Channel 10.

Shalit, who was an Israeli soldier when he was taken captive, said he played board games with himself and made a basketball out of socks that he aimed at the wastebasket. He said he also drew maps — of the country, of his community and of his favorite places — so he would not forget them.

Speaking of his release, Shalit said he felt a sense of great “relief” when he crossed into Egypt and that he was disconcerted by the “flurry” of people around him after only seeing a few people for nearly six years. Shalit said he felt a lot of “pressure” during the trip from where he was hidden to the Rafah border before being set free.

He added wryly that when he was forced to be interviewed on Egyptian television, the interviewer was the first woman he had seen since being taken captive.

Read a translation of the full interview on the Israelife blog.

Alan Gross’ health deteriorating, wife says


The wife of Alan Gross said after visiting him in Cuba that the jailed contractor’s health continues to deteriorate.

“While his spirit remains strong, I fear he is not going to survive this terrible ordeal,” Judy Gross said in a statement released by the family’s lawyers Sept. 11, just after she returned from a four-day trip to Cuba.

Cuban authorities insist that Gross is in “normal” health. He reportedly has lost more than 100 pounds since his arrest in 2009, and his family says he is suffering from degenerative arthritis. His mother is dying and one of his daughters is battling cancer.

Gross, 63, of Potomac, Md., was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for “crimes against the state.” He was arrested in 2009 for allegedly bringing satellite phones and computer equipment to members of Cuba’s Jewish community.

On Sept. 11, Gross’ legal team filed a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention seeking a finding that Gross’ detention is “in violation of Cuba’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, including the right to receive and disseminate information freely through any media of choice.”

Israeli officers get 30 months for dumping Palestinian prisoner


Two Israeli police officers convicted of leaving a Palestinian car thief to die were sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Assaf Yekutieli and Baruch Peretz were convicted in May by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court of being responsible for the death of Abu Jariban when they dumped him on the side of the road two weeks after he was seriously injured in a car accident while driving a stolen vehicle. Jariban, of the Gaza Strip, was in Israel illegally when he was injured.

Jariban’s condition seemingly had stabilized and he was released from a hospital into the custody of the officers, who left him after discovering that there was no room for him at an Israel Prison Service’s medical facility. He was found dead two days later; the causes were exposure and dehydration.

The court said the sentence was more severe than those given in similar cases because of the officers’ appalling behavior.

Attorneys for Yekutieli and Peretz said they would appeal the ruling.

Imprisoned Palestinian soccer player will end fast


A soccer player from Gaza held by Israel without trial for nearly three years has agreed to end his three-month hunger strike in exchange for hospital treatment and an early release, his lawyer said on Monday.

Mahmoud al-Sarsak, 25, was detained under Israel’s “unlawful combatants” law, and is the latest of a number of Palestinian prisoners to end fasts after winning guarantees of release from their Israeli jailers.

“There has been a written agreement with the Israeli side for him to be released on July 10 and to be moved for medical treatment to a civilian hospital,” Sarsak’s lawyer Mohammed Jabarin told Reuters.

“There had been a substantial deterioration in his health and he needs special care. He will not return to prison,” Jabarin added.

Israel’s Prisons Authority had no comment.

Israel detained Sarsak on suspicion of having ties with the Islamic Jihad militant group. He was held under a law introduced after it pulled troops out of Gaza in 2005 which permitted Israel to jail “unlawful combatants” without trial.

He denies the allegation, and has never been formally charged.

Sarsak, who has played for the Palestinian national team, was detained while he was leaving Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave ruled by the Islamist Hamas faction, to travel through Israel to join teammates in the occupied West Bank.

Sarsak began his hunger strike a few months ago to protest his detention, but has intermittently ingested fluids such as milk and a glucose drip, Jabarin and Israeli officials said.

Israel struck a deal last month with representatives of 1,600 Palestinian prisoners to end hunger strikes of up to 27 days, agreeing to demands to stop solitary confinements, allow family visits and improve prison conditions.

Israel has also freed three other prisoners in the past few months, ending lengthy hunger strikes on their part.

The Palestinian Football Association had raised Sarsak’s case with international soccer authorities and appealed to them to prevent Israel from hosting the European under-21 championships next year, but the request was rejected on Monday.

Michel Platini, the president of UEFA, European soccer’s governing organization, said he had asked the Israeli soccer body to raise Sarsak’s case with the government but the tournament would go ahead as planned.

“I am sure the (head of the Israeli FA) will alert his country’s authorities as quickly as possible to the great concern caused…” he said in a letter to Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Association.

“The Israel FA earned the right to host this tournament… We cannot hold (it) responsible for the political situation in the region or for legal procedures in place in its country.”

Israeli and Palestinian teams do not compete against each other as the Israelis play their matches in Europe while the Palestinians are members of Asia’s soccer body.

Additional writing by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Myra MacDonald

Congress holds hearing on Chasid imprisoned in Bolivia


A retired FBI official told a House subcommittee that the imprisonment of a New York Chasidic Jew in Bolivia is “state-sponsored kidnapping.”

Along with the ex-official, Steve Moore, the U.S. House of Representatives human rights subcommittee on Wednesday heard testimony from the family of Jacob Ostreicher, who was arrested a year ago by Bolivian police after it was alleged that he did business with “people wanted in their countries because of links with drug trafficking and money laundering.” Ostreicher, a father of five from the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, belonged to a group of investors that sunk $25 million into growing rice in lush eastern Bolivia.

The hearing was chaired by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), who said in his opening statement that the U.S. government “must do everything we can to correct the ongoing, extreme injustice being perpetrated against Mr. Ostreicher and secure his freedom as quickly as possible.”

Committee members heard from Ostreicher’s wife, Miriam Ungar, and his daughter, Chaya Weinberger. Both pleaded for Ostreicher’s release by the Bolivian government.

“He, together with all those who love him and want him home are waiting,” Weinberger said during her testimony. “We are waiting to see the demonstration of liberty on which our country is based upon,”

Moore said that “In Jacob’s case there is a complete absence of any concrete, tangible evidence on even a microscopic scale which would indicate that he had in any way shape or form participated in a crime in Bolivia. Nor is there even evidence that a crime has even been committed.”

A number of U.S. lawmakers have joined Ostreicher’s family in saying that the U.S. State Department has not provided an adequate response to Ostreicher’s incarceration.

Last week, Smith made a formal request to the U.S. assistant secretary of state of Western Hemisphere affairs, Roberta Jacobson, to personally intervene in the Ostreicher case.

Jan Karski, from hell on earth to recipient of U.S. presidential honor


By the time he was 26, Jan Karski had been imprisoned by the Soviets, tortured by the Gestapo, and nearly drowned while escaping from a hospital in German-occupied Slovakia.

Had he chosen then to end his service in the World War II-era Polish underground, few would have challenged his decision. Instead, he to chose to risk his life again, to bring news about Hitler’s mass murder of European Jewry to the outside world.

At a White House ceremony on May 29, Karski will be awarded, posthumously, a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his courage and sacrifice, and taking action when, as President Obama recently said, “so many others stood silent.”

Karski, a Polish Catholic, was smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, as the Nazis were deporting hundreds of thousands of Warsaw’s Jews to the gas chambers of Treblinka. Walking through the ghetto, he saw corpses piled in the gutter, emaciated children clothed in rags, dazed men and women slumped against decrepit buildings.

At one point, gunfire erupted and Karski’s comrades pulled him into a nearby apartment. He saw two uniformed teenagers with pistols in the street. “They are here for the ‘Jew hunt’,” Karski was told. For sport, Hitler Youth members would venture into the Jewish part of the city and shoot people at random.

Days later, Karski and a compatriot, disguised as Ukrainian militiamen, took a six-hour train ride to a site in southeastern Poland called Izbica. It was a “sorting station;” when Jews were shipped to a death camp, Karski learned, the Germans would first take them to Izbica, rob them of their last belongings, and then send them off to the gas chambers.

Having seen hell on earth, Kaski now was determined to alert the world to what he had witnessed. His life in danger at every step, he traveled by train across occupied Belgium, Germany, and France. Thanks to an injection from a sympathetic dentist that swelled his jaw, Karski was able to avoid conversation that might have revealed his Polish identity. He hiked across the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, and from there traveled to London.

Karski was able to secure a meeting with British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, but Eden showed little interest in Karski’s account of the slaughter of the Jews. The prime minister, Winston Churchill, was said to be too busy to see him at all.  Karski did succeed in generating a number of sympathetic reports in the British press and BBC Radio.

The enterprising young Pole arrived in the United States in July 1943. One of his first meetings was with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Karski described the Warsaw Ghetto, the Izbica transit station, and the systematic annihilation of European Jewry. Frankfurter’s response: “I am unable to believe you.”

On July 28, the young Polish courier met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the Oval Office, for more than an hour. Karski began by describing the activities of the Polish underground. The president listened with fascination, asked questions and offered unsolicited advice, some of it a bit eccentric—such as his idea of putting skis on small airplanes to fly underground messengers between England and Poland during the winter. But when Karski related details of the mass killings of the Jews, Roosevelt had nothing to say. The president was, as Karski politely put it, “rather noncommittal.”

Roosevelt seemed to view the suffering of the Jews as just another unfortunate aspect of what civilians suffer in every war. He did not believe it was justified for the U.S. to use its resources to rescue Jews from the Nazis. And he did not want hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees on his hands, clamoring to be admitted to the United States.

Although disheartened by his encounter with the president, Karski did not give up. He authored a harrowing first-person account of the situation in Hitler’s Europe, “Story of a Secret State,” and spent much of 1945 delivering hundreds of lectures around the United States about his experiences.

In the waning days of World War II, Karski was called upon for one last mission—this time, for Herbert Hoover.

The former president feared the new Soviet-backed regimes in Eastern Europe would confiscate, alter, or destroy documents relating to the activities of the governments-in-exile that had fled to London when the Nazis invaded. The

Kremlin had every incentive to delegitimize the regimes they had supplanted.  Hoover recognized that the documents would be a crucial source of information about the exiles’ wartime efforts, including their attempts to publicize the plight of the Jews and promote rescue. So he enlisted Karski to save the historical record.

Crisscrossing Europe during the first six months of 1946, Karski secured tens of thousands of documents, publications and photographs, which were deposited at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Together with Karski’s own papers, it remains one of the most important collections in the United States pertaining to World War II as well as a valuable resource for Holocaust researchers.

Little by little in recent years, the Karski story has begun to gain public attention – -and was even included in Disney’s new series of animated shorts about America’s response to the Holocaust (http://www.TheySpokeOut.com). It’s not clear what role, if any, the film had in highlighting Karski as a candidate for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and coauthor, with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, of the new book, “Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and Bipartisan Support for Israel.”)

Cuban official: Cuba is ready to negotiate status of Alan Gross


Authorities in Cuba are ready to negotiate the status of jailed American Alan Gross, a senior Cuban official said.

“We have made clear to the U.S. government that we are ready to have a negotiation in order to try and find a solution, a humanitarian solution to Mr. Gross’ case on a reciprocal basis,” Josefina Vidal, the top official in the Cuban Foreign Ministry handling North America, said in an interview on CNN on May 10.

Vidal would not offer specifics, but prompted by interviewer Wolf Blitzer, she said the “Cuban Five”—five agents jailed or on probation in the United States for espionage charges—were a concern.

“Cuba has legitimate concerns, humanitarian concerns related to the situation of the Cuban Five,” she said.

Vidal said the Cuban system does not allow for a humanitarian release for Gross, who was sentenced last year to 15 years on espionage charges related to his U.S. State Department-backed project to hook Cuba’s Jews into the Internet.

“It is not conceived in the Cuban system that persons in this situation can be allowed to travel abroad,” she said.

Gross, who is Jewish, has asked to be allowed to visit his 90-year-old mother, who is dying of cancer.

Palestinian inmates agree to end hunger strike


Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails agreed on Monday to an Egyptian-brokered deal aimed at ending a mass hunger strike that challenged Israel’s policy of detention without trial and raised fears of a bloody Palestinian backlash if any protesters died.

Most of some 1,600 prisoners, a third of the 4,800 Palestinians in Israeli jails, began refusing food on April 17 although a few had been fasting much longer – up to 77 days.

Their protest centered on demands for more family visits, an end to solitary confinement and an end to so-called “administrative detention”, a practice that has drawn international criticism on human rights grounds.

Palestinian officials said Egypt had drafted an agreement in Cairo with representatives of the Palestinian prisoners, and that inmates met during the day and had agreed to the terms.

There was no immediate word from the prisoners as to whether any had actually ended their strike.

An Egyptian official involved in the talks said that under Monday’s deal to end the strike, Israel had agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners and lifted a ban on visits to prisoners by relatives living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Israel also agreed to improve other conditions of detention, and to free so-called administrative detainees once they complete their terms unless they are brought to court, the Egyptian official said.

Gaza’s Hamas leaders hailed the strike as a successful campaign against Israel and celebrations quickly spread to the streets where motorists honked horns, and passersby embraced and shouted “Allahu Akbar,” the Arabic for “God is great.”

“This is a first step toward liberation and victory,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Islamist group.

Israel saw the deal as a goodwill gesture to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds sway in the West Bank, a territory separate from Islamist-ruled Gaza. The territories, where Palestinians want a state, were captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel had “negotiated an end to the strike” in answer to a request from Abbas.

“It is our hope that this gesture by Israel will serve to build confidence between the parties and to further peace,” Regev said.

The hunger strikers included militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which reject peace with Israel, as well as members of Abbas’s Fatah group.

PLEDGES TO EASE CONDITIONS

Israel’s Prisons Authority, confirming the deal to end the prisoners’ action, said “an agreement has been signed to bring about the end of a 28-day hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners.”

Prisoners who sign a commitment “not to engage in actions contravening security inside the jails” would have prison conditions eased.

In a statement, the Israeli authority said that improvements for such prisoners would include a lifting of solitary confinement and a possibility of relatives visiting from Gaza.

Relatives’ visits from Gaza were suspended after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants and taken to Gaza in 2006. He was released last October in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel did not say whether it would free any administrative detainees, but pledged in its statement that an inter ministerial team would look at prisoner requests and issue recommendations.

Around 320 of Palestinian prisoners are held in “administrative detention”, a security measure Israel defends as a precaution to protect undercover sources.

Many of the other prisoners have been convicted of serious crimes, including murder. Palestinian leaders say they should be treated as prisoners of war, something Israel rejects.

Israel says the detentions without trial are necessary because some cases cannot be brought to open court for fear of exposing Palestinian intelligence sources who have cooperated with Israel.

Palestinians jailed by Israel are held in high esteem by their compatriots, who see them as heroes in what they term a struggle against occupation.

Two inmates who helped to launch the strike, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla of Islamic Jihad, were in the 77th day of their fast on Monday.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court turned down their request to be freed from detention without trial but said security authorities should consider releasing them for medical reasons.

A month ago, Israel released hunger striker Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad member, amid concern he would die. He agreed to end his fast after 66 days in exchange for a promise not to renew his detention.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Jihan Abdallah in Ramallah and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Editing by Rosalind Russell

Palestinian hunger strikers denied release


Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal for the release of two hunger-striking Palestinians.

In its decision on Monday, the court reportedly said that Bilal Diab, 27, of Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, of Hebron, both members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, remained a terror threat to Israel and that a hunger strike is not enough of a reason to release them.

They have been on a hunger strike for 70 days and are hovering near death, according to reports.

The men are protesting being held in administrative detention. A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months; it can also be renewed.

Diab has been in an Israeli jail for nine months, and Halahlah has been in custody for 22 months.

The court said that the length of the time that the men had been in custody merited a review of the concept of administrative detention and that individual cases should be investigated more thoroughly.

Some 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on an open-ended hunger strike launched three weeks ago. The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; for allowing families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and allowing prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels. It is also protesting administrative detention.

Ten of the hunger strikers reportedly are currently under hospital supervision.

Hamas has threatened consequences if any of the hunger strikers die. “If that happens, you can expect both the expected and the unexpected from us,” Gaza City Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya said over the weekend.

Israeli prisons commissioner Aharon Franco last week told Palestinian hunger strikers that he had named a panel to address the prisoners’ demands, according to Arab news sources.

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with some 320 in administrative detention.

Two high-profile hunger strikers were released earlier this year after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners moved to hospital


Two hunger-striking Palestinians in Israeli jails have been moved to an Israeli hospital in poor condition, their lawyer said.

Bilal Diab, 27, of Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, of Hebron, are at risk of death, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. Both have marked their 63rd day without food. Eight other prisoners also have been hospitalized.

Israel’s Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal against their detention without charge on Thursday, according to Ma’an.

A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months; it can also be renewed.

Some 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on an open-ended hunger strike launched two weeks ago. The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; for allowing families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and allowing prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels. It is also protesting administrative detention.

Israeli prisons commissioner Aharon Franco on Monday told Palestinian hunger strikers that he had named a panel to address the prisoners’ demands, according to Arab news sources.

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with some 320 in administrative detention.

Two high-profile hunger strikers were released earlier this year after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Abduct Israelis to free prisoners, Gaza leaders say


Islamic leaders in the Gaza Strip called on Friday for militants to kidnap Israelis and use them as bargaining chips to secure the freedom of thousands of Palestinians prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Human rights groups say up to 2,000 prisoners have joined an open-ended hunger strike to protest against jail conditions and thousands of Palestinians staged a rally in the Gaza Strip to support their cause.

“We should work hard to get (Israeli) prisoners in our hands in order to secure the freedom of our prisoners,” Khaled Al-Batsh, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad, told the crowd.

“I say to all armed factions, the way to free the prisoners is through swaps … An arrest for an arrest, and freedom for freedom. This is the way,” he said.

Israel last year freed some 1,000 Palestinians in return for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier seized in 2006 and held by the Islamist group Hamas in secret captivity for five years.

Human Rights groups say at least 4,700 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails, many of them convicted for violent crimes. Palestinian leaders say they should be treated as prisoners of war, something Israel rejects.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, said Palestinian militant factions would “never abandon” the prisoners.

“The swap deal was a message to the (Israeli) occupation that the resistance and the Palestinian people will pursue every difficult avenue to break the chains of these heroes,” he said.

“We are in a battle for the prisoners, and we will either win, or we will win,” he added.

Friday’s rally saw participants waving both the green and black flags of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – a sign of growing ties between the two groups, which share the same Islamist ideology and advocate the destruction of the state of Israel.

Prisoners are seen as heroes in their communities and the mass hunger strike is putting pressure on the leadership to respond. Israel struck deals with two prisoners earlier this year to end their hunger strikes, but is resisting demands for further concessions.

At least two prisoners have been refusing food for more than eight weeks. A mass hunger strike by at least 1,200 was launched on April 17 and the Addameer prisoners’ association has said a further 800 have since joined the movement.

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Robin Pomeroy

Israel punishes Palestinian hunger-strikers


Israel has taken measures against some 1,200 Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike, denying them family visits and separating them from inmates not taking part in the protest, prison authorities said on Monday.

The open-ended strike, dubbed the “battle of empty stomachs” by organizers, began last Tuesday. The prisoners are demanding better jail conditions and for Israel to end detention without trial for Palestinians suspected of security offenses.

“Privileges such as family visits have been revoked and items such as electronics have been confiscated,” Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Prisons Authority, said.

Palestinian prisoners have long complained of the difficulty of securing family visits and the invasive searches visiting relatives have to go through.

The striking prisoners have said they would drink only water and salt until their demands are met.

Amani Sarahna of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, an advocacy group for Palestinians jailed by Israel, said prison authorities had conducted extensive searches in hunger strikers’ cells, taking away salt from those refusing to eat.

“All the prisoners’ belongings were confiscated except their towels and their shoes,” Sarahna said.

The start of the strike last week coincided with the release of Khader Adnan, a prisoner who refused food for 66 days before agreeing to a deal under which he was freed. Adnan is a member of Islamic Jihad which has vowed to destroy Israel.

Organizers have called for rallies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in the coming days in support of the 4,800 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Palestinian prisoners launch hunger strike


At least 1,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have launched an open-ended hunger strike.

The hunger strikes began Tuesday, on what the Palestinians observe as Prisoners’ Day, which honors prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

Another 2,300 prisoners declared that they would not eat on Tuesday in solidarity with the hunger strikers and returned their meals to prison guards. At least eight foreign activists who arrived in Israel on Sunday as part of a protest “fly-in” and remain in an Israeli prison also refused food, Ynet reported.

The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; for allowing families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and allowing prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels. It is also protesting administrative detention. A security prisoner in Israel can be held in administrative detention without charges for up to four months; it can be renewed.

Four Palestinian prisoners have been on extended hunger strikes and are in prison hospitals.

Two other high-profile hunger strikers were released after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike in mid-February when Israeli prosecutors agreed that his administrative detention would not be renewed. Hana Shalabi, a member of Islamic Jihad, agreed March 29 to end her 43-day hunger strike and be freed in exchange for spending the next three years in Gaza.

Palestinians in Israeli jails set to launch hunger strike


More than 1,600 Palestinians in Israeli jails reportedly are set to launch a hunger strike on what is called Palestinian Prisoners Day.

The coordinated hunger strike is scheduled to begin Tuesday, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported. But it is unclear whether Fatah and Hamas prisoners will begin the hunger strike together, Ma’an reported, citing Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian Authority prisoners’ affairs minister. Fatah officials believe that starting the hunger strike on Prisoners Day will harm negotiations with Israeli authorities, according to Ma’an.

The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; to allow families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and to allow prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels.

The news agency reported, citing the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, that four Palestinian prisoners now on hunger strikes are in an Israeli prison hospital and two others are in solitary confinement. The six are being held in administrative detention. A prisoner can be held in administrative detention without charges for up to four months; it can be renewed.

Two high-profile hunger strikers were released after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike in mid-February when Israeli prosecutors agreed that his administrative detention would not be renewed. Hana Shalabi, a member of Islamic Jihad, agreed March 29 to end her 43-day hunger strike and be freed in exchange for spending the next three years in Gaza.

Report: Pollard hospitalized, then returned to prison


Jonathan Pollard reportedly was hospitalized at a facility off his prison campus.

Israel radio and representatives of Pollard’s wife reported Friday that Pollard was taken to a facility outside the Butner Federal Correctional Complex, the prison complex in North Carolina where he is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Butner has a medical facility, suggesting Pollard had suffered an emergency condition that could not be treated by a conventional clinic, said Aaron Troodler, a spokesman for the campaign to release him.

Pollard, 57,apparently has since returned to the prison; an official at Butner told JTA on Friday that he was in his regular prison facility.

Pollard’s wife Esther had yet to reach him since learning of his hospitalization, Troodler said, and she called on his supporters to pray for his recovery and health.

Pollard, who has been imprisoned since 1986, reportedly has suffered from a variety of illnesses.

“There are many reasons to release him,” Troodler said. “This latest episode highlights how important the health factor is.”

Palestinian hunger striker in ‘mortal danger’


A Palestinian woman jailed in Israel who has been on a hunger strike for more than a month is in “immediate mortal danger,” a human rights group said.

Hana Shalbi, a member of Islamic Jihad, is in the 35th day of a hunger strike to protest being held under administrative detention without charges being brought against her.

Shalbi, 30, reportedly was taken to a hospital in Kfar Saba Monday and then returned to prison. She reported to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel that she was handled roughly during the transfers, including being “dragged across the floor.” She has only taken water since her arrest on Feb. 16.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is “gravely concerned for the life of Hana Shalabi and call for her immediate transfer to a hospital, with adequate care that is uninterrupted by frequent and unnecessary transfers.”

At least 23 other Palestinian political prisoners are on hunger strikes to protest the use of administrative detention as an indefinite form of detention without charge or trial, according to Physicians for Human Rights.

Shalbi’s hunger strike follows that of another Islamic Jihad member, Khader Adnan, who was protesting his being held in an Israeli prison without charges. Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike in mid-February when Israeli prosecutors agreed that his administrative detention would not be renewed.

Adnan was released from a hospital on Tuesday, where he had been for treatment ever since he ended his hunger strike.

A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months; it can also be renewed.

Shalbi is the third Palestinian prisoner exchanged for captive soldier Gilad Shalit to be re-arrested. Shalbi served 25 months in administrative detention prior to being set free.

Palestinian to continue hunger strike despite detention cut


A Palestinian woman on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison said she will continue to fast despite having her detention cut.

Hana Shalabi, 30, a member of Islamic Jihad, reportedly began a hunger strike 18 days ago after being put under administrative detention.

An Israeli military court on Monday reduced Shalabi’s six-month detention to four months, Reuters reported, in an attempt to convince her to end her hunger strike. 

Shalabi previously had been held for 25 months in administrative detention. She was released as part of a prisoner exchange in October for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. She is the third Palestinian prisoner released in the exchange to be arrested again.

Shalabi says she was subjected to a body search by a male Israeli soldier after her arrest and was assaulted when she resisted.

Shalabi’s lawyer, Fadi Qawasmi, said his client told him that she would continue her hunger strike in order to achieve her demands to end all administrative detentions, the Palestinian Ma’an news service reported.

Her hunger strike follows that of another Islamic Jihad member, Khader Adnan, who was protesting his being held in an Israeli prison without charges. Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike earlier this month when Israeli prosecutors agreed that his administrative detention would not be renewed.

A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months, but it can be renewed.

Thousands rally in Gaza, West Bank for hunger striker


Several thousand Palestinians rallied in Gaza and the West Bank Friday in support of jailed Islamic Jihad leader Khader Adnan, who is on the 62nd day of a hunger strike to protest against his detention by Israel.

“We are all Khader Adnan,” chanted crowds gathered in the Gaza Strip, with activists from the main political parties joining forces in a rare display of Palestinian unity.

Adnan, 33, has been refusing to eat since mid-December following his arrest in the occupied West Bank. He is being held under so-called “administrative detention,” which means Israel can detain him indefinitely without trial or charge.

The Islamic Jihad group, which advocates the destruction of the state of Israel, has said it will escalate violence if Adnan dies, following reports that his health was deteriorating.

“We will pursue our Jihad and resistance. We will sail in the sea of blood and martyrdom until we land on the shore of pride and dignity,” top Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam said during a Friday sermon at Gaza’s oldest al-Omari mosque.

The Physicians for Human Rights group in Israel (PHR), which has been monitoring Adnan’s condition in an Israeli hospital, said Friday he was “in immediate danger of death,” adding that he had suffered “significant muscular atrophy.”

The Israeli army has said in a statement that Adnan was arrested “for activities that threaten regional security.” It has not given further details.

Adnan owns a bakery and a fruit and vegetable shop in his West Bank village, Arabeh. He has served as a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad, which describes him as a local leader.

MORE HUNGER STRIKERS

At least 5,000 people took to the streets of Gaza, waving a mix of black Jihad flags, the green flags of Islamist group Hamas and the yellow flags of the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Witnesses said hundreds had also demonstrated in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinian officials said many other prisoners in Israeli jails had started hunger strikes to support Adnan, including Hassan Salama, a senior armed commander of Hamas who is serving life terms for masterminding suicide bombings against Israelis.

Palestinian prisoners have regularly staged hunger strikes in the past to try to gain better conditions or to denounce the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories.

However, such protests usually end quickly and officials said no-one had persisted for as long as Adnan, who is married with two children and whose wife is expecting a third infant.

The Islamic Jihad’s Azzam accused Arab states and Western powers of ignoring Adnan’s protest. “Shame on the nations of hundreds of millions (of Muslims) for the fact that Khader Adnan is still in prison,” he said in his Friday sermon.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, said it was pushing the Arab League and Egypt to press for the release of Adnan.

“The Palestinian people, with all its components and its factions, will never abandon the hero prisoners, especially those who lead this hunger strike battle,” said Hamas’s top authority in the Mediterranean territory, Ismail Haniyeh.

The PHR rights group said Adnan could die even if he broke his fast. “There is a risk to his health even if he starts eating now because his system has got used to not having any food at all,” a spokesman said.

Additional reporting by Jihan Abdallah in Ramallah; editing by Crispian Balmer

Cuban Jewish leaders meet with Alan Gross


Two Cuban Jewish leaders met with jailed American Jewish contractor Alan Gross.

Adela Dworin, president of the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana, and David Prinstein, the synagogue’s vice president, met Monday with Gross, 62, at a military hospital where he is being held. The visit, in honor of Chanukah, came at the request of the Jewish leaders, according to reports. Dworin reportedly brought latkes and chocolate gelt and lit a Chanukah menorah with Gross, a U.S. subcontractor jailed in Cuba for the last two years for “crimes against the state.”

Dworin said in a statement released to the media that Gross had told her that he gained some weight and that he was in “good physical shape” and walks five miles a day in the facility. Dworin, who has met with Gross on previous occasions, told CBS that he appeared to be in better spirits than in the past. She also released two photos taken of Gross during the meeting.

Gross’s wife, Judy, disputed Dworin’s characterization of her husband’s health.

“It was upsetting to see the photos of Alan from his visit with Adela Dworin,” she said in a statement. “To those of us who knew him before his incarceration began more than two years ago, he is now frail, weak, and appears decades older than the 60-year old man that we last saw on American soil.”

Gross reportedly is in ill health and has lost 100 pounds since being imprisoned.

Dworin said that Gross hoped for a normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and expressed the desire that he would be able to visit Cuba once his prison term is over.

Gross was not included on a list released earlier this week of nearly 3,000 prisoners whom Cuban leader Raoul Castro said he will release on humanitarian grounds.

Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba. He was arrested in 2009 as he was leaving Cuba.

Gross’ family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.

Gilad Shalit undergoes surgery to repair abduction injuries


Gilad Shalit has undergone surgery to repair wounds from his 2006 abduction.

The successful surgery Friday at Rambam Hospital in Haifa removed seven pieces of shrapnel in Shalit’s hand, according to news reports.

Shalit was released from captivity two and a half weeks ago in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian prisoners. He will spend his second weekend of freedom at Rambam for observation.

Earlier this week, a lawmaker from the haredi Orthodox Shas Party, Menshulam Nahiri, criticized Shalit for not spending his first weekend in synagogue.