The issue of Palestinian prisoners is a crucial one in Palestinian society, directly affecting thousands of prisoners and their families psychologically, socially and economically.
According to official human rights organizations working on the issue of prisoners, such as the Mandela Institute, there are today approximately 11 thousand Palestinians prisoners detained in Israeli military prisons, all tried in military courts and sentenced by military judges. These military prisons inside Israeli territories were built in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which obligates the occupying power not to deport prisoners from their land. Defendants are often convicted on secret evidence and are sentenced to disproportionately long sentences.
According to the Mandela Institute, 920 of the prisoners are at this time under administrative detention. This form of detention, established by military orders, allows the Israeli military to arbitrarily arrest and detain Palestinian civilians for periods of six months. Every six month period can then be extended for an additional six months without further explanation. This policy allows the military to exercise broad and unchecked powers against Palestinian society. According to the Mandela Institute, around 1,300 of these prisoners need medical care, which is often not provided.
Eighty of the administrative detainees are women and 340 are children, the latter being in violation of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child (ICRC), which mandates that “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
Thirteen prisoners have already spent more than 25 years in jail and 32 are detained in al-Ramla Prison, where prisoners are often subject to inhumane conditions in regards to food, health care and education. However, the gravest policy the Israeli military uses to punish the prisoners is complete isolation for long periods of time. Prisoners are held in very small cells before interrogation, sometimes with only one square meter per prisoner, as a form of torture and to apply psychological pressure on them, or sometimes merely as punishment. In this way, the Israeli military prevents the prisoners from having any contacts with the outside world. This is not only a serious violation of human rights, but is something intended to negatively impact them emotionally and destroy their human dignity. Confessions are often extracted under threats and torture. This happens mostly with children, who are emotionally weaker than adults and therefore more subject to manipulation.
Another grave violation of prisoners’ rights concerns visitations. Visits are restricted to first degree relatives, who must request a permit prior to visiting, and the subsequent bureaucratic procedure often results in very few and sporadic visits allowed. This policy, together with the policy of constantly transferring prisoners from one prison to another, is intended to cut prisoners off from any meaningful social life.
A lack of adequate medical treatment often results in illnesses and even death. Here we mention as an example the death of Fadil Shaheen, who died on 29 February 2008 in the A’shel prison in Be’er Sheva, due to a lack of medical follow-up care.
Thousands of Palestinians have experienced the deprivation of freedom in Israeli military jails.
Their life will be forever affected. They lost years of life, dreams, education and projects, sometimes for no reason. The international community should pressure Israel on such a crucial issue, holding it accountable for its violations of international law and human rights.
The indiscriminate Israeli policy of detaining Palestinians is an ongoing process which prevents and will continue to prevent a real and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Collective punishment, torture and violations act to increase the spiral of violence in the Palestinian society.
Palestinian Prisoners’ Day on the 17th of April will each year raise this vital issue that is rarely discussed, with demonstrations, marches, campaigns, conferences and workshop programs being held throughout the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, to remind us of the suffering and conditions of the Palestinian prisoners and to educate youth on how to deal with this issue.
Palestinians prisoners are not only a political matter but also a public one, etched in the memory and the direct or indirect experiences of all Palestinians. Programs for the Palestinian Prisoners’ Day will take place throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories starting today, and continuing through all of the coming week.