Monday, March 30, 2009

The tragedy of the Palestinian Prisoners



Since 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians have been detained - totaling approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population remaining within the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) . The majority of those detained are male, meaning that the number constitutes approximately 40% of the total male Palestinian population in the oPT.
The figures of Palestinian detainees vary between sources. In October 2008 the ICRC was following the cases of roughly 10,500 prisoners, (1) while according to the Israeli Prisons Service on 3rd of February 2009 there were only 7951 cases. (2)

Deaths of Palestinians in Israeli jails

Since 1967 at least 197 Palestinians have died while in the custody of the Israeli Forces, 50 of these deaths were due to medical negligence and the rest due to other reasons including torture or even execution. (3)

Institutionalized torture and ill-treatment (4)
Up until 1999 almost all Palestinian interrogees were the victims of at least one form of torture during their interrogation. The tortures were based on the license of the Landau Ministerial Committee (1987) allowing "moderate physical & psychological pressure". Despite the Israeli High Court of Justice ruling of September 1999 which prohibited the use of several forms of torture, significant gaps were left that have allowed for the perpetuation of torture and ill-treatment in General Security Service (Shin Bet), police and army interrogations. In 2007 the Israeli High Court of Justice approved the use of controversial methods to interrogate Palestinians in several cases.(5) The ill treatment of Palestinian detainees begins with the denial of their right to have contact with the outside world, particularly with attorneys and family members, often for extended periods of time. It continues with arbitrary transfers and separation of family members inside prison. (6) Often detainees are held in tents and subject to extreme weather conditions without appropriate protection.
Torture and ill treatment include:

· "Routine" methods such as sleep prevention, binding to a chair in painful positions, beatings, slapping, kicking, strip searching (7), threats and verbal abuse.
· Special methods such as bending the body into painful positions, manacling from behind for long periods of time, intentional tightening of handcuffs, stepping on manacles, the application of pressure on various parts of the body, forcing the interrogee to crouch in a frog-like position ("kambaz"), choking, shaking and other violent and degrading acts (hair-pulling, spitting etc.).
· Torture and ill-treatment in solitary confinement including sleep prevention, exposure to extreme heat and cold, permanent exposure to artificial light, detention in sub-standard conditions that are contrary to the basic standards set by the UN (including cells with roaches, mice, sub-standard hygienic conditions, proximity between food and a hole used as a toilet, lack of hot water, prevention of a change of clothes, and constant artificial light).
· Various forms of psychological torture such as threats and exploitation of family members.

Detention at the territory of the occupying power

Almost all the Palestinian detainees are held in jails away from West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip, in violation of international humanitarian law, which bars the removal of detainees to the territory of the occupying power. (8) This fact also infringes the right of the detainees to receive family visits as these are at best very difficult and more often than not impossible. The majority of residents from the West Bank are denied entry into "Apartheid Israel" even for a short visit; and all visits for families from Gaza to their relatives detained in Israeli prisons have been suspended since June 2007. (9)

Administrative detention

In Israel, Administrative detention is a kind of detention where someone can be held for an extended period of time without trial or charges. It is in clear contravention of international and human rights law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention. Administrative detention was originally based on British Mandate Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945. The decision to place someone in Administrative detention is based on confidential materials kept from the detainee and their lawyer. The confidential materials determine the period of detention and its extension thereafter. The administrative detainee is allowed an appeal before a court martial but the confidentiality of the materials on which the detention is based makes the trial nominal or false. Experience has shown that the real decision-maker in the appeal is the intelligence services. (10) Palestinian detainees have been held under administrative detention orders from periods ranging from 6 months to 8 years. (11) Currently there are at least 564 administrative detainees (IPS- 3/2/2009) (2)

New status of "unlawful combatant" (12)

Israel enacted the unlawful combatant law in 2002. The law legalized the detention of Lebanese and Arab prisoners without sufficient evidence for trial. Following the redeployment of Israeli Occupation Forces from Gaza Strip in 2005 and in order to substitute Administrative Detention, the unlawful combatant law began to be applied to Gazan prisoners. This law gives the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army the right to request that any citizen from the Gaza Strip be deemed an "unlawful combatant". This request need only be based on secret information from Shin Bet, and not on conventionally acceptable evidence sufficient for a regular trial. This law also gives the Israeli court the power to issue a decision to detain Palestinians for an indefinite period. The unlawful combatant Law constitutes a gross violation of international humanitarian law (IHL), particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of the Civilian Population. Currently there are at least 19 Palestinians imprisoned under the unlawful combatant law (IPS – 3/2/2009) (2)

Negligence of medical treatment / Sick prisoners

Dozens of detainees are currently facing death as they need urgent medical attention (13), and hundreds are denied proper medical treatment (14), by the Israeli prison administration. Among the prisoners denied their right to proper medical care in recent years were patients suffering from cancer (15), paralysis (16) or in need of kidney transplant.(17)

Prohibition of visits / Humiliation during visits

Israeli authorities frequently deny visiting permits to relatives of Palestinian detainees on unspecified “security” grounds. The prohibition often appears to be entirely arbitrary, with the same relatives being allowed to visit on some occasions but not on others. Many parents, spouses and children of detainees had not been allowed to visit their relatives for more than four years. Since June 2007 , the Israeli authorities have suspended all family visits for hundreds of detainees from the Gaza Strip. No Israelis serving prison sentences were subjected to such restrictions. (8) After the Al Aqsa Intifada there were reports that prisoners and their relatives were submitted to humiliating treatment during the visits.

Children prisoners

The Israeli Army has kidnapped a total of 7,600 Palestinian children, males and females, since the year 2000. (18) Some of the children were as young as 12 years old. (18,19) According to the Israeli Prisons Service on 3rd of February 2009 there were 374 Palestinian children prisoners, 50 of them under 16. (20) Palestinian children from the age of 16 years are considered adults under Israeli military regulations governing the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This contradicts the Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which Israel is a signatory) and the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty where a child is defined as every human being under the age of 18 years. Administrative detention is also applied to children (at least 200 since the year 2000 and currently about 5) (18,20). Palestinian children prisoners are often:
· Tortured during the interrogation period.
· Forced to sign confessions
· Held in sections with criminal prisoners
· Suffering attacks by Israeli criminal prisoners, including threats and stabbings.
· Subjected to sexual, physical and verbal harassment. Sexual harassment has been practiced against a number of child prisoners and threats of beatings if the child reports the incident to the administration. One child prisoner who complained to the administration about sexual harassment was attacked by Israeli criminal prisoners with knives and injured in his leg
· Deprived of the necessary medical care.
· Deprived of family visits, with the subsequent psychological impact on child prisoners.
· Deprived of continuation of education whilst in detention.
· Deprived of the psychological care and counselors within the prison.
· Feeling alone and isolated from the outside world.
· Suffering attempts to coerce them to work as collaborators with Israeli security agencies.
· Suffering thefts of personal belongings, including phone cards, shoes and foodstuff that is purchased from the prison canteen.
· Deprived of entertainment, cultural items, newspapers and recreational facilities. (21)
Women /mothers prisoners (22)

Currently there are at least 63 female political prisoners in Israeli jails - mostly in Hasharon Prison (Tel Mond) and in Damoon Prison (Carmel Mountain). Some of them are only 14 year old children. Female political prisoners are submitted to harsh and humiliating treatment during their arrest, imprisonment or transfer to the court, including strip searching, sometimes in the presence of men (7). The prison authorities ensure that many women either do not receive letters sent to them by their family or get them months after they were sent. The prisoners from the Gaza Strip are particularly harmed by this policy, as their families are not allowed to visit them and letters are the only other form of contact possible with their families. Recently, the prison authorities have prevented the female prisoners' families from handing over handicraft materials. The prison authorities also prohibit the female political prisoners to give their families handicrafts that they have made. Sometimes Palestinian mothers are held in Israeli jails, including those who give birth inside the prison and their children live the first years of their lives in jail. Sometimes Palestinian female prisoners are arrested as a means of putting pressure on their husbands. (23) The Israeli Army has kidnapped more than 10,000 Palestinian women since 1967. 800 of them were kidnapped during the al-Aqsa Intifada. (24)

Long-term prisoners

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have served more than 15 years in prison and dozens have served more than 20 years. In August 2008 a Palestinian prisoner was released after 31 years in prison. (25)

Palestinian Prisoners with "Israeli citizenship"

Israeli repression affects also Palestinians with "Israeli citizenship". Recently more than 700 of them were detained, over half of those minors under the age of 18, in an effort to repress protests against the onslaught on Gaza. (26) Others were arrested during protests against the nomination of extreme-rightwing Israelis as heads of one of the election centers in Um elFahm, the second biggest Arab city in the "Apartheid Israel". (27) There are also long-term political prisoners arrested before the First Intifada. (28) Among the prisoners are also Palestinian Druze conscientious objectors (29) and Bedouins.(30)

Prisoners' resistance

Palestinian prisoners have a long history of political organization and resistance inside the Israeli jails. Hunger strikes protesting violent attacks, denial of visits, medical negligence and harsh conditions is the most usual way of struggle and in some cases thousands of prisoners have participated. (31) Sometimes the Palestinian prisoners' response to severe violations of their rights is even stronger with riots erupting. The Israeli response is brutal as in the case of October 2007 in Ketziot prison when a 30year old Palestinian was murdered. (32) Palestinian prisoners through hunger strikes are also showing their solidarity with the rest of the Palestinian people during hard times as in January 2009 (War on Gaza) (33) or July 2006 (War on Gaza and Lebanon). (34) Finally the Palestinian Prisoners are playing a key role in the efforts to restore unity between Palestinian factions. Their most prominent recent initiative is the National Conciliation Document of the Palestinian Prisoners (May 2006). (35)


Sources: Addameer, AIC, Al-Dameer, Amnesty International, B'Tselem, IMEMC, Ma'an, Palestine Monitor, PCATI, PCHR, PHR, PIC, PNN, Sumoud, Waed, WOFPP

(1) Palestine Monitor fact sheet The first sentence is attribute to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab Territories. Available Online at: January 2008.

(2) B'Tselem "Statistics on Palestinians in the custody of the Israeli security forces"

(3) The numbers are given from Palestinian researcher and specialist in detainees’ affairs, Awni Abdul-Naser Farwana as cited in the article "Palestinian Detainee Dies Due to Medical Negligence in al-Ramah Israeli Prison", IMEMC 24/12/2008 But I added another death according to "Medical negligence suspected in prisoner's death" PCHR 5/3/2009

(4) Most of this chapter is based on the reports of PCATI: Torture in Israel 1990-1999 and Torture in Israel 1999 to present

(5) "Report: High Court permits torture of Palestinians" PCATI 30/5/2007

(6) "Report: Palestinian prisoners face numerous kinds of suffering in Israeli jails" PIC 11/3/2009 where as source is cited a report of the Palestinian center for prisoners' studies.

(7) About strip searching see "Israeli Strip Searches: A Partial List" Compiled by Sarah Tiglao
If Americans Knew

(8)Amnesty International Report 2008

(9) Palestine Monitor fact sheet As source is cited: UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY, HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL. Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab Territories. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967m John Dugard. 21 January 2008. P. 20, para 47.

(10) "Administrative detention" ADDAMEER

(11) ADDAMEER Fact Sheet: "Palestinians detained by Israel"

(12) This chapter is mainly based on "Israel treats Gaza Prisoners us unlawful combatants" Al-Dameer 5/3/2009

(13) "Waed Society: "Sick prisoners facing death due to medical negligence"" IMEMC 3/3/2009

(14) "Political prisoners suffer medical neglect in the cold, pray for Gaza" PNN 18/1/2009

(15) "Life of cancer-stricken Palestinian prisoner at risk due to medical neglect" 27/1/2007 PIC cited as source

(16) "Paralyzed detainee facing slow death" IMEMC 7/7/2008

(17) "IPS must pay for a Palestinian prisoner´s transplant" PHR 1/10/2007

(18) The numbers are given from Palestinian researcher and specialist in detainees’ affairs, Abdul-Naser Awni Farwana as cited in the article "Report: “Amy kidnapped 7,600 children since 2000, 246 remain behind bars”" IMEMC 19/2/2009

(19) Palestine Monitor fact sheet

(20) B'Tselem "Statistics on Palestinian minors in the custody of the Israeli security forces"

(21) "Palestinian Children Political Prisoners" ADDAMEER

(22) Newsletter February 2009 WOFPP

(23) "Palestinian Women Political Prisoners" ADDAMEER

(24) "Farawna:' March 8th a day of solidarity with Palestinian female detainees' " IMEMC 6/3/2009

(25) "Palestinian prisoners in Guinness book of records" Ma'an 23/12/2007

(26) "Over 750 Palestinian Citizens, Residents of Israel Detained by Israel Since Beginning of Attacks on Gaza" Written by Connie Hackbarth, Alternative Information Center (AIC) 19/1/2009 

(27) "Free Comrade Samieh Jabbarin!" Abnaa elBalad (Children of the Land) Movement condemns: The political detention of Comrade Samieh Jabbarin and calls for International Solidarity 23/2/2009

(28) "Hamas adds names of Arab detainees from the north to the list for Shallit swap" IMEMC 18/2/2009

(29) "More Druze refuseniks despite Israeli threats" IMEMC 6/7/2007

(30) "Israel Arrests Two Bedouin Palestinians as Al-Qaeda Members" (articles from Haaretz)

(31) For example see "Palestinians end hunger strike" by Laila El-Haddad 3/9/2004 or "2400 detainees in the Negev on Hunger Strike" IMEMC 16/8/2006

(32) "What is not being said about the Ketziot prison raid"

(33) "Palestinian detainees on Hunger Strike in protest to Israeli attacks in Gaza" IMEMC 28/12/2008

(34) "Detainees in the Negev on Hunger Strike protesting attacks in Gaza, Lebanon" 31/7/2006 PNN cited as original source

(35) "The full text of the National Conciliation Document 'Prisoners Document' " 11/5/2006