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RAMALLAH: A ‘punitive’ Israeli plan to shift 2,000 Palestinian prisoners to new jails will add to instability in the country’s prison system and escalate tensions in the West Bank, a senior prison rights official told Arab News.

The move aims to “destroy the centers of power of the prisoners” by relocating senior inmates, including Marwan Al-Barghouthi, who played a key role in the first and second intifadas.

On Monday, Al-Barghouthi was transferred to Nafha Desert Prison along with about 70 other prisoners.

In a provocative move last Thursday, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir toured Nafha, angering Palestinian inmates.

According to prisoners’ rights groups, 4,760 Palestinian inmates are held in Israeli jails.

Inmates could escalate the situation inside prisons in response to the move, sources told Arab News, adding that widespread protests could break out in the West Bank in solidarity with prisoners.

Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Arab News that the measures, which were ordered by Ben-Gvir, would add to instability inside Israeli prisons.

“Ben-Gvir’s threats against the prisoners are serious and they are gradually being implemented. The prisoners will respond to these punitive measures,” Fares told Arab News.

Inmates have long been kept along familial lines in Israeli prisons, an unofficial policy that aimed to ease travel burdens for visiting family members.

However, due to many Israeli prisons sharing the same access days, the move will make it impossible for families to visit inmates across separate prisons.

Another source of anger at the move concerns the relocation of university-educated inmates, who provide other prisoners with informal lessons behind bars.

Al-Barghouthi’s younger brother, Muqbil, told Arab News: “Punitive measures will harm the prisoners, but the threats are not new to them as they were preceded by the measures and threats of former minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan.

“The prisoners are united in their rejection of the punitive measures from Ben-Gvir, and the Palestinian public will not leave them alone.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Parliament’s approval of an extension to emergency regulations on settlements in the West Bank has been widely condemned.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the “apartheid law” was an attempt by Israel to legitimize settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The Anti-Apartheid Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization condemned the Knesset’s approval of the law, which passed for the first time in 1967 and must be renewed very five years.

The PLO labeled the regulations a “racist colonial law” that grants settlers the same rights as citizens.

It added that the regulations share similarities with the historical apartheid laws used in South Africa until the 1990s.

The law legitimizes the gradual annexation of the West Bank and violates international laws, Palestinian sources said, stressing the need to establish an international legal coalition of human rights institutions to end the Israeli occupation.

Yousef Jabarin, a former member of the Israeli Parliament from the Arab Joint List and a law professor, told Arab News that the regulations “effectively allow the Israeli military governor in the West Bank to apply Israeli rules to settlers as Israeli citizens”

The law also enables the arrest of Palestinians in occupied territories within Israel, he added.

The failure of the previous Israeli government led by Naftali Bennett to pass the law was a central factor in its downfall, Jabarin said.

Separately, a decision by Itamar Ben-Gvir to prevent the raising and waving of the Palestinian flag inside Israel has been denounced by rights organizations.

Amnesty International described the move as “cowardly” and an “expected attempt to obliterate a people’s identity,” warning that it violated UN charters and human rights.

Jabarin said that no existing Israeli law could prohibit the raising of the Palestinian flag. However, Israeli police have been authorized to prevent the use of the flag on public security grounds.

Israeli police have exploited the clause to disrupt demonstrations, including in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

“Even after the signing of the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel in 1993, the PLO is still considered a terrorist organization by Israel,” Jabarin said.

“All attempts by the Israeli police to prevent the raising of the Palestinian flag have no legal basis because it is the flag of a people and not a specific group or organization.

“It represents the identity of a people and is considered part of freedom of expression.”

He added that Ben-Gvir’s attempts to ban the flag were based on “retaliatory motives.”

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