Sunday 17 April 2011 marks the Palestinian Prisoners Day. It presents an occasion to remember the conditions of thousands of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons; deprived of their freedom as a result of their involvement in the struggle for self-determination. Today, there thousands of Palestinians held by Israel. They represent a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian women, children, and men, who were detained, tortured and abused by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) since the start of the Israeli occupation of the occupied Palestinian territory in 1967.
According to the estimations of the expert on Palestinian prisoners’ issues, Mr. Abdel Nasser Ferwana, there are approximately 6,000 Palestinian prisoners and detainees held in Israeli prisons and detention centers currently. Of those, 245 are children, 37 women, 180 administrative detainees, and three held as 'unlawful combatants'. Since June 1967, over 750,000 Palestinians were detained by Israel.
This year, Palestinian Prisoners Day comes at a time when the Israeli authorities are escalating their violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law; including the rules regarding the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. The Israeli authorities have continued to sanction arbitrary measures against Palestinian prisoners and detainees, particularly those from the Gaza Strip who are deprived from receiving family visits for the fifth consecutive years.
Moreover, in May 2010, the Israeli security cabinet approved the 'Shalit Law” bill, which imposes harsher measures on the conditions of detention for Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. The new law deprives detainees from visits by lawyers and families and limits the visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to one every three months. It also deprives detainees of their right to pursue their education in prison and prohibits them from watching TV, reading books and newspapers, and using canteen services. Under this law, Palestinian detainees are subject to unlimited periods of solitary confinement as a punishment procedure. The Israeli Prisons Administration (IPA) also deprives Palestinians detainees from access to adequate medical services. Detainees are provided with poor quality meals, which are insufficient in quantity. The ISA also fails to meet its obligation to provide adequate clothing and cleaning materials for several years.
The Israeli law provides protection for Israeli Security Agency (ISA) investigators who are involved in the practice of torture and/or abuse of Palestinian detainees. Israel’s General Security Service Law, (of the year 2000), grants ISA personnel de jure immunity for acts in the course of service as long as they acted 'reasonably and in good faith', allows torturers to resort to what is called ‘necessity defence’. In addition, Israeli law exempts the police from recording interrogation sessions with the Palestinian detainees. However, police are obliged to record interrogations with Israeli prisoners.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights asserts its resolve intention to continue to defend Palestinian political prisoners and detainees, to expose the violations perpetrated against their rights and work towards securing their liberty.
Al Mezan notes that the efforts of human rights organizations cannot be expected to bear fruit unless Palestinian political unity is restored; the issue of Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel is prioritized; and Arab and international efforts are taken to exert pressure on Israel to respect its obligations and end the systematic violations of the relevant rules and standards of international law.
In this context, Al Mezan reiterates its call on civil society organizations, local and international human rights organizations, and political parties to take serious action towards exposing IOF violations of the rules of international law; including enforcement of laws and military orders allowing for holding Palestinians under the 'Unlawful Combatants Law' and administrative detention, which constitute grave violations of the relevant international standards. Action must also be taken to ensure IOF respect of the relevant obligations; including providing for the needs of prisoners and detainees; such as healthcare, family visits and contact with the outside world. Palestinians must be protected from torture and abuse. Moreover, efforts must be doubled to secure the release of children, women and those detained without charge or trial, as a first step towards releasing of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons and detention centers.