Israel must end ‘unlawful and cruel’ policies...
Israeli forces unlawfully kill Palestinian civilians, including children, in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and detain thousands of Palestinians from the OPT who oppose Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remain rife and is committed with impunity.
Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law, said Amnesty International, ahead of a mass prisoner’s hunger strike beginning next week to mark Palestinian Prisoner’s Day on 17 April.
Testimonies gathered by the organization from family members and Palestinian prisoners detained in the Israeli prison system shed light on the suffering endured by families who in some cases have been deprived from seeing their detained relatives for many years.
“Israel’s ruthless policy of holding Palestinian prisoners arrested in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in prisons inside Israel is a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is unlawful and cruel and the consequences for the imprisoned person and their loved ones, who are often deprived from seeing them for months, and at times for years on end, can be devastating,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“Instead of unlawfully transferring prisoners outside the occupied territories, Israel must ensure all Palestinians arrested there are held in prisons and detention centres in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Until then, the Israeli authorities must stop imposing excessive restrictions on visitation rights as a means of punishing prisoners and their families, and ensure that conditions fully meet international standards.”
Palestinian prisoners preparing to embark on next week’s large scale hunger strike are making a series of demands including calling for an end to Israel’s restrictions on visits and contact with family members. Palestinian detainees held on security grounds are barred from making phone calls to their families. The hunger strike was announced by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi. A number of other political parties and prisoners have announced they will be joining the strike.
A hunger strike is a method of non-violent resistance or pressure in which participants fast as an act of political protest, or to provoke feelings of guilt in others, usually with the objective to achieve a specific goal, such as a policy change. Most hunger strikers will take liquids but not solid food.
Under international humanitarian law, detainees from occupied territories must be detained in the occupied territory, not in the territory of the occupying power. They must also be allowed to receive visitors, especially near relatives, at regular intervals and as frequently as possible.
According to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, a non-governmental organization, there are currently 6,500 Palestinian prisoners, including at least 300 children, detained on security-related grounds in Israeli-run prisons and detention facilities. All but one of the 17 facilities are located inside Israel. The vast majority of prisoners are men, 57 are women, including 13 girls under the age of 18. Thirteen of those imprisoned are Palestinian Legislative Council members. At least 500 people are held without charge or trial in administrative detention, a practice which flouts safeguards required by international law to prevent arbitrary detention. The Palestinian Prisoners' Affairs Commission spokesperson Hasan Abed Rabbo said at least 1,000 prisoners are prohibited from receiving family visits on “security grounds”. He added that currently there are around 15-20 prisoners held in isolation, who are banned from any contact with other prisoners and family visits.
According to Israeli Prison Service regulations all prisoners are entitled to family visits once every two weeks. However, in reality, because Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories must apply for permits to enter Israel, they can visit much less frequently. The Israeli Prison Service regulations also allow the authorities to rescind a prisoner’s right to family visits on security grounds.
Gaza prisoners continue to be most affected by Israeli restrictions as the Israeli military grants permits to families from the Strip only once every two months. This policy affects around 365 prisoners from Gaza currently detained in Israel. In addition, Hamas prisoners along with other prisoners living in the same prison wings, are only permitted one monthly visit, irrespective of where they come from.
Since 1969 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been responsible for mediating and facilitating all aspects related to family visits for prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza without any logistical or financial assistance by Israel. West Bank and Gaza residents apply though the ICRC to receive permits and rely on them to arrange transportation to the prisons in agreement with the Israeli Prison Service. In July 2016, the ICRC reduced the number of visits coordinated for prisoners’ families from the West Bank from two, to one a month. An ICRC representative told Amnesty International that the decision was taken in order to better manage ICRC resources due to low family attendance for visits. The reduction does not affect women, children and hospitalized prisoners and since then, the ICRC has introduced three additional annual visits for all prisoners, during major holidays.
“Reham” (not her real name), a 27-year-old Palestinian woman from Ramallah whose brother has been imprisoned in Israel for 15 years, was 12 when he was arrested. He is serving a 30-year prison term and is currently held at in Hadarim detention facility. She said that the uncertainty of waiting for the outcome of an application for a visitors permit had placed considerable strain on her family. Since October 2016 “Reham” was denied regular permits on security grounds, she now has to renew her permit following every visit. Her sick mother was only allowed to visit her brother twice in four years before she passed away. He was not permitted to attend the funeral.
According to Addameer Association, for most West Bank residents visiting detained relatives the journey to prison takes between eight to 15 hours depending on the prison and place of residence. Relatives of prisoners are subjected to lengthy body searches and sometimes strip searches.
“The Israeli authorities play with our emotions, they torture us and punish us. They try to break us to tire us, so that we would want to visit our relatives less because of all the humiliation, searches, abuse and insults by soldiers or prison guards,” “Reham” said.
In addition to calling for lifting restrictions on family visits, the hunger striking prisoners are making a series of demands including calling for an improvement of access to medical care; calls for increasing visit duration from 45 to 90 minutes; calls from women prisoners for family visits without glass barriers to allow mothers to hold their children; an improvement in detention conditions including easing restrictions on the entry of books, clothing, food and other gifts from family members; restoring some educational facilities; and installing phones to enable prisoners to communicate with their families.
Quoted and edited: Negar Paidar
The views expressed in this article are the author's opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ODVV.