Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Incarcerated Inside Israel:
Palestinians Tortured and Isolated
By Graham Peebles
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 14, 2012
Contempt for international law
Graham Peebles views Israel’s arbitrary detention and
treatment of Palestinians and its incessant violations of prisoners’ rights,
and argues that it is time that Israel “was treated as the criminal state it
is” and that action is taken to enforce the repeated demands for justice,
including subjecting Israel to sanctions and forcing it to honour agreements
and the rule of law.
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.
International law –
legally binding upon Israel, which is not above the rule of law, must be
respected and enforced.
Hungry for justice
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.
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.
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
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 ncreasingly 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
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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)”.
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 eidely 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
- Israel engages in humiliating and degrading treatment of
- 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
- Israel fails to separate administrative detainees from the regular
- 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.
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.
Adding torture and insult to injury,
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
“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 –
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.
Words and action
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.
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 nations 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