Call it the Withdrawal Ward: Protesters of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pullout plan will have their own designated section in one of Israel's prisons should they participate in violent clashes with police, Israel Prison Service officials said on Wednesday.
Police "initiated" the ward in Maasiyahu prison in the town of Ramle, which they said would soon receive 42 right-wing activists who were arrested on Tuesday when they blocked several major roads with burning tires - a new tactic adopted recently by Jewish settlers to protest against Sharon’s plan to withdraw all 21 settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank.
Police said the group, which includes eight women and two teenagers, would soon be detained in the ward, and more than 900 beds have been moved inside to receive more protesters arrested for violence ahead of the pullout, which is scheduled to begin in July.
Police not certain who is behind road blockages
Israeli opinion polls show most Israelis are in favor of Sharon's plan, but Jewish settlers, who view the West Bank and Gaza as their biblical birthright, have vowed to do everything to stop the withdrawal, with some threatening to use violence.
The suspects’ lawyers, Cynia Mozes-Harizi and Adi Kader, said the arrests were made to silence the demonstrators and that attempts to increase steps against them would fail.
“The activists came to protest and express their sorrow about the withdrawal,” one of the lawyers said, adding that blocking roads did not justify detainment, especially if the suspects had no criminal record.
Police Chief Moshe Karadi said police had in recent days stopped about 1,500 activists from entering the West Bank and Gaza and from blocking more roads in Israel.
“We had good intelligence,” he said. “We know there is a formation of a group behind these blockages, but we don’t know who it is.”