Incarcerated inside Israel: Palestinians tortured and isolated

By Graham Peebles

Detention without trial, the presumption of guilt, denial of family visits, solitary confinement, torture, violent interrogation and denial of access to appropriate health care – such is the Israeli judicial system and prison confinement experienced by Palestinian men, women and indeed children.

Currently there are, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, “4,484 Palestinians – security detainees, confined in Israeli prisons”. Family contact is virtually impossible for prisoners, most of whom are held inside Israel. This contravenes international law, specifically the universally-trumpeted Fourth Geneva Convention (Articles 49 and 76), which is consistently violated and disregarded by Israel.

Contempt for international law

International law – legally binding upon Israel, which is not above the rule of law, must be respected and enforced.

Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, has called on the international community “to ensure that Israel complies with international human rights laws and norms in its treatment of Palestinian prisoners”.

Also, in a report entitled “Question of Palestine Administrative  Detention” (UNQAP), the UN makes its feelings clear when it says  Israel “has historically ratified international agreements regarding human rights protection, whilst at the same time refusing to apply the agreements within the occupied Palestinian territory, attempting to create legal justifications for its illegal actions”. A comprehensive list of international legally binding agreements dutifully signed, ratified and consequently disregarded by various Israeli governments are cited by the UN, which sits hands tied, impotent it seems in the face of Israel’s illegal and violent occupation (a fact that cannot be stated often or loudly enough), submissive to the imperialist godfather, America.

Since the 1967 war an estimated 750,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated in Israeli prisons, including 23,000 women and 25,000 children. This constitutes, Richard Falk states, “approximately 20 per cent of the total Palestinian population in the occupied territory or 40 per cent of the Palestinian male population there”. These are staggering figures of those personally imprisoned, while a whole nation is held captive, intimidated by an illegal occupying power.

Hungry for justice

On 14 May this year a major hunger strike by Palestinians held captive within Israeli prisons ended, just in time to save the lives of two prisoners close to death, having not eaten for 77 days. They were protesting at their treatment in custody, the use of solitary confinement by the Israeli Prison Service, and torture during interrogation and inside prison and administrative detention, which allows for incarceration without charge. The peaceful action initiated by two men held under the draconian administrative detention order in late February grew into a mass action involving 2,000 prisoners on hunger strike, according to Amnesty International estimates.

Israel responded to the strike with customary brutality, assaulting striking detainees and imposing, according to Amnesty International,

“systematic measures to punish hunger-striking prisoners and detainees and pressure them to end their strikes, putting their lives at risk. These measures included solitary confinement; preventing the detainees from contact with family members and lawyers; refusing to transfer hunger strikers whose health was in danger to hospitals suitable for their condition.”

An agreement was reached between the Palestinians prisoners and the Israeli prison authority, according to a UN report, “Israel committed to meeting some of the prisoners’ demands in exchange for security guarantees”. The report goes on to say that, as part of the deal, “Israel committed to ease conditions as long as prisoners refrained from ‘security activity’ inside Israeli prisons, such as ‘recruiting people for terrorist mission’”.

By “easing conditions” Israel committed to move prisoners from solitary confinement into the main block – in every probability they ought not have been held in isolation to begin with – and agreed to allow family visits from Gaza, denied since June 2007 when Hamas, to the fury of Israel, was democratically elected and took over governance of the Gaza Strip. However Israel insisted on placing “limitations” on family visits, the details of which it has yet to clarify. In addition, the Israelis agreed to “ease restrictions on visits from the West Bank, and to improve the conditions under which “security prisoners” are being held”. All sufficiently vague as to be impossible to enforce or monitor.

Israel also agreed to not extend the detention of those being held under the contentious and illegal administrative detention orders providing there is no “new information that requires their detention”. Such “new information” would no doubt be conveniently filed within top-secret folders, denying open scrutiny, and remain undisclosed on “security grounds – a pretext increasingly and universally employed to justify the unjust in a world built on fear and the perpetuation of injustice.

All measures written into the agreement are long overdue and constitute the minimum conditions that should be adhered to within any law-abiding society and, if implemented, would be a positive move. It should not, however, take a large group of starving men to force Israel to observe prisoners human rights and due process of law.

Israel’s concessions, however, are indifferent to the rule of law and are carefully designed to be easily manipulated and, over time, forgotten. As Aber Issa Zakarni, the wife of Abadallah Zakarni, an imprisoned member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and one of those on hunger strike, told IRIN. “If this agreement is implemented, it means a great victory for us and for human rights. But I am also scared. In the end everything might just stay the same.”

Her fears are well placed. A month after the deal was agreed Amnesty International, in a detailed report, concluded that although “the Israeli authorities had agreed as part of the deal to release administrative detainees at the end of their current orders ‘unless significant new information was received’, our information is that it is business as usual when it comes to detention without charge or trial”. In fact, “Israel has renewed at least 30 administrative detention orders and issued at least three new ones since this deal was struck, and family visits for Gazan prisoners have still not started”, the report added.

This failure by Israel to honour the agreement will surprise nobody but disappoint many. The Israeli authorities cannot be trusted; close monitoring of any agreements the Israelis sign up to is required and clear methods of implementation and enforcement are necessary, although historically neither happen. For standing behind Israel, supporting them ideologically and diplomatically, arming and financing every area of illegal action of the occupation of Palestine, is of course their partner in crime, the USA.

Imperialist measures

A key issue in the hunger strikers protest was administrative detention, a brutal relic from an imperialist past. The darkest page within a catalogue of abuse and judicial arrogance, it is one of a series of suppressive measures written into the “Defence (Emergency) Regulations” that formed part of the British authorities’ rule-book in mandatory Palestine to control the 1937 “Great Arab Revolt” against British colonial rule and the influx of Jews. The draconian regulations were quietly copied and pasted into Israeli domestic legislation in 1948, where they remain, legitimizing actions such as house demolitions, extensive stop-and-search measures, the imposition of curfews, and indefinite administrative detention.

Administrative detention gives the occupying Israeli authorities the power to detain Palestinians (or indeed Israelis) without charge, to withhold any evidence and to regard detainees “presumed guilty’ and, as B’Tselem states, “since detainees do not know the evidence against them, they are unable to refute it”.

The observation of due process of law is a fundamental human right. In a report on due process, the European Convention on Human Rights states that “the rights to an effective remedy, to access to court/fair trial, to fair trial in criminal matters, to reputation, to freedom of movement and to property are all contained in the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] (Articles 8, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 17 respectively)”.

Administrative detention is allowed under international law only in extreme circumstances and, according to the UN, should “be used as a last resort and on an individual, case by case basis”. It should not be used “as a substitute for criminal prosecution when there is insufficient evidence”. Israel’s use of administrative detention, as with pretty much everything else it is doing in the occupied Palestinian territories, “does not meet international standards set by international law”. In fact, the UN found that Israel contravenes the laws that apply to the use of administrative detention.

In particular,

  • Israel  widely practices the use of torture and corporal punishment;
  • Israel  deports and incarcerates administrative detainees outside the occupied  Palestinian territory;
  • Israel uses administrative detention as a form of collective punishment;
  • Israel engages in humiliating and degrading treatment of administrative
    detainees;
  • Administrative detainees are usually not informed precisely of the reasons for their detention;
  • Israel is obliged to release administrative detainees as soon as the reason for
    the detention ceases to exist;
  • Detainees  are not given the right to communicate with their families.
  • Israel fails to separate administrative detainees from the regular prison
    population;
  • The conditions of detention regularly fall below an adequate standard required by international law; and, In the case of child detainees, Israel
    regularly fails to take into account the best interests of the child as
    required under international law.

The tone of frustration is heard within every exasperated UN sentence. Israel tramples on international law, believing itself above and beyond its reach. These are laws, which, when dutifully lined up in opposition to Israeli criminality and abuse and consistently implemented, would be giant steps in righting the wrongs daily inflicted upon the Palestinian people and creating the conditions for peaceful
coexistence.

Administrative abuse

Detainees under administrative detention are sentenced to periods of six months, at the end of which the term may and inevitably is repeated, without limit. Those held captive are not informed if they will be released or held for a further six months until the end of their current term. The Israeli prison authority manipulates inmates, tormenting them with promises of liberty and threats of incarceration, cultivating hope in order only to crush it, maximizing suffering and control.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Israel reports the case of one of the hunger strikers, Tha’er Halahleh, 33 years of age. It says “Israel has held him in administrative detention a number of times since 2000, for a total of more than four years in jail without charge or trial”. Four years made up of six-month terms. As well as being illegal under international law, this is psychological torture, not only for the prisoner but also for his family. As Amnesty International says, “administrative detainees and their families must live with the uncertainty of not knowing how long they will be deprived of their liberty and the injustice of not knowing exactly why they are being detained”.

Arrests and detention without charge based all too often on spurious “evidence” secured by the unaccountable and secretive Israeli intelligence agency, whose claims cannot be verified, must stop. This is a legitimate demand human rights groups have been making for decades. Amnesty International for for one has “urged Israel to end the practice of administrative detention and to release detainees or charge them with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and try them according to international standards”. Even Israel’s supreme spinner Mark Regev, seems to agree, telling the Guardian newspaper on 13 May 2012: “We would prefer administrative detention was only used when there was no alternative.” Sadly, though, as Regev explains, “in some cases you can’t expose in a public forum your confidential sources and methods because it may put lives at risk”. By “sources” one suspects he is obliquely alluding to Guantanamo Bay, where the use of torture is a useful method employed to elicit or coerce whatever information – coined evidence – is required.

Adding torture and insult to injury

Whilst held by Israel Administrative detainees and ‘regular’ Palestinian prisoners suffer verbal and physical abuse, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) 2011 report details, “Methods of torture included: insults; beating using batons, sharp tools, feet and hands; tying the feet and hands to a chair and beating with batons or wires; and other methods. Additionally, detainees were held in cells or small rooms, were placed in solitary confinement, and were forced to stand for long hours in cold weather or under the sun.”  All are illegal under international law. This time in the form of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The practice of Isolating inmates completely from their family constitutes another form of torture, Palestinian prisoners are not allowed family visits, denied access to health care, contributing to deteriorating health for those with serious and chronic illness, they face forcible transfers, deportation and solitary confinement.

Words and action

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the Guardian newspaper reported on 13 May 2012, “urged that those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees or released without delay”. To all rationally minded people, this is the correct and right course of action. As Amnesty International says, “Israel has a duty to uphold due process and fair trial rights, and to take effective action to end torture and other ill treatment of detainees”. Fine words but Israel, however, listens not to such pronouncements.

It is time long overdue that Israel was treated as the criminal state it is, one that disregards the law, tramples on human rights and sees itself as unaccountable. Action is needed to support calls for the observation of human rights and to enforce the repeated demands for justice. Let Israel, which has imprisoned a nation’s people, be placed in solitary confinement, subjected to sanctions and forced to honour agreements and the rule of law, international and indeed domestic.

Perhaps then, after so many painful years, the suffering of the Palestinian people would come to an end and a gentle peace would be allowed to settle upon what was once the Holy Land.

By Graham Peebles, Director of The Create Trust.  He can be reached at info@thecreatetrust.org.

 

Leave a Reply