Prison Services to probe Barghouti op-ed, lawyers' visits may be barred

Joint List MK wants to visit Palestinian terrorists in prison again.

Jailed Fatah official Marwan Barghouti (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jailed Fatah official Marwan Barghouti
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Imprisoned terrorist murderer Marwan Barghouti may be barred from meeting with his lawyers, if a Prisons Service investigation finds they helped him smuggle an article to The New York Times, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Tuesday.
“We still don’t know how [Barghouti was able to submit the article from prison],” Erdan told Army Radio. “I certainly see the publication of the article as a serious incident, and I instructed the Prisons Service to investigate and send me their findings.”
Erdan implied that he is considering not allowing lawyers to visit Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences plus 40 years for orchestrating terrorist attacks, murdering five people and wounding many others.
Barghouti published an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday explaining the current  hunger strike, in which over 1,000 security prisoners are partaking. in which some 1,000 security prisoners are participating.
Politicians in Israel expressed outrage not only that an article by a convicted terrorist was published, but that he was identified only as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.”
The Times added an editor’s note on Tuesday stating that Barghouti was convicted of “five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization.”
Deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren suggested on Army Radio on Monday that The New York Times bureau in Jerusalem be closed.
“If someone in the paper helped him [smuggle the article out of prison], The New York Times should be held accountable,” said Oren.
Erdan noted that if the article “was leaked by his lawyers, we need to draw conclusions, just as we did when [former Joint List] MK [Basel] Ghattas was caught smuggling phones [to convicted terrorists in prison], and that led to the end of the bizarre phenomenon of MKs visiting security prisoners.”
Ghattas resigned from the Knesset and will serve two years in prison as part of a plea deal, which included a conviction carrying moral turpitude, meaning he also lost some benefits that former MKs receive.
The public security minister added that if necessary, he will take “additional steps” related to visits to security prisoners.
As these are prisoners who have been convicted of terrorist offenses, their right to have a lawyer visit is not the same as the right to a lawyer during a trial. Legally, Erdan would not be able to bar all security prisoners from seeing their lawyers, but he could do so temporarily for specific prisoners.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Barghouti to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying that calling Barghouti a political leader is like referring to Assad as a doctor.
“They are murderers and terrorists,” Netanyahu said at a Mimouna event in Dimona.
“We will never lose our sense of clarity, because we are on the side of justice and they are on the side that is neither just nor moral.
“This moral clarity, the readiness to defend our country, the readiness to fight those who would destroy us, is one of our greatest strengths,” he added.
Despite Erdan’s statements, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) submitted a request to be allowed to visit Barghouti, saying lawmakers should be permitted to see security prisoners.
“Erdan should immediately cancel his order,” the lawmaker said on Monday. “The order is meant to isolate and weaken Palestinian prisoners... and prevent the exposure of severe violations by Israeli authorities against prisoners on hunger strike.”
Touma-Sliman also took issue with the decision to put Barghouti in solitary confinement, which she said “shows the authorities’ obtuseness and refusal to hold a dialogue.”
“Any harm that will be caused to hunger-striking prisoners is the Israeli government’s sole responsibility, and [the government] will be responsible for any escalation that takes place,” she added.
In the Army Radio interview, Erdan said that Barghouti was in solitary confinement not because of the Times article; rather it was a punishment for breaking Prisons Service rules by “inciting the hunger strike.”
Erdan also expressed skepticism that the hunger strike is actually for improved conditions for Palestinian prisoners, pointing out that Barghouti is one of the contenders vying to eventually take Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s place.
In addition, Erdan said security prisoners do not deserve better conditions and that his policy is not to negotiate with hunger strikers.
“These are terrorists, convicted murderers, who get exactly what international law requires,” he stated.
“There is no real justification for this strike... Terrorists aren’t in prison to get good conditions. They’re there to be punished. A hunger strike shouldn’t change our behavior as the state toward the prisoners.”
Erdan also pointed out that there is a law allowing doctors to force-feed prisoners on a hunger strike, although the Israel Medical Association has said its doctors would break the law.
The Prisons Service prepared field hospitals to deal with the hunger-strikers when needed, in order not to burden civilian hospitals, the minister said.
According to a service spokeswoman, Barghouti, along with the other prisoners on hunger strike, were “separated because some of their privileges are denied and we do not want other prisoners to suffer from that.”
The prisoners on hunger strike were also separated to ensure proper medical care, the spokeswoman said.
In a statement on Monday, the Prisons Service said that some 1,100 prisoners from the Gilboa, Megiddo, Nafha, Ketziot, Shikma, Ramon, Hadarim, and Nitzan prisons are on hunger strike.
“It should be emphasized that the Prisons Service does not conduct negotiations with the prisoners,” the statement said.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also took to his Facebook page on Tuesday to comment on the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners, saying that he hopes to see MKs from the Joint List join without cracking at night to eat.
“When it comes to the hunger strike by terrorists in Israeli jails, I take the approach of Margaret Thatcher,” he wrote. “In addition, I hope to see Knesset members from the Joint List and Sheikh Raed Salah join the hunger strike without cracking and without eating chicken at night.”
Eliyahu Kamisher, Yonah Jeremy Bob, and Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.