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  Palestinian Political Prisoners

COMMENTARY:

Palestinian Political Prisoners

by Stephen Lendman
Saturday, 27 March 2010
The international community's failure to comply with international law lets Israel violate its provisions freely. Unless changed, Israel's lawlessness will continue unchecked, a no longer to be tolerated grim prospect.

The numbers vary but range at any time from over 7,000 to 12,000 or more. In April 2008, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel cited 11,000, including 345 children and 98 women. Over 1,000 suffered from chronic or other diseases. Around 150 were seriously ill from heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, and 195 or more Palestinians died or were killed in prison since 1967.

As of January 2009, Adalah said about "22,500 individuals were imprisoned or detained in Israeli prisons; around 70% (or 15,750 are) Arabs." Included are 9,735 Palestinians, nearly 80% classified as "security." Of these, 570 were administrative detainees, uncharged by order of an administrative official, not a judge.

Another 20 were so-called "unlawful combatants" under Israel's Unlawful Combatants Law (UCL), saying they're not entitled to POW status under international law because they either took part in hostilities against Israel (directly or indirectly) or belong to a force carrying them out. No proof is needed, only "a reasonable basis for believing" the designation is accurate, and under UCL, detentions can be permanent, without trial or judicial fairness.

According to the Addameer Prisoners' Support and Human Rights Association, since 1967, "over 650,000 have been detained by Israel," about 20% of the total Occupied Territory (OPT) population and 40% of the male population. Most are held in Palestine, but many thousands in Israeli civil and military prisons, in violation of numerous Fourth Geneva provisions, including Article 49 stating:

"....forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons (including prisoners) from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive."

This applies to OPT prisoners, most of whom are political victims of militarized oppression, or in other words, guilty of being Palestinian. In addition, Fourth Geneva states protected persons shall be detained in the occupied territory and, if convicted, serve there sentences therein.

OPT arrests and detentions come under about 1,500 military regulations for the West Bank and over 1,400 for Gaza. The IDF commander issues orders, but new ones aren't revealed until implemented because they're issued any time for any reason, often arbitrarily and capriciously.

Israeli prisons and military detention facilities are mainly located within Israel's 1948 borders. They include five interrogation centers, six detention/holding facilities, three military detention camps, and about 20 prisons where OPT Palestinians are held.

A secret Facility 1391 at an unknown location is notorious for using severe torture. Gilboa Prison, north of the West Bank, is also believed to administer extreme treatment.

"The location of prisons within Israel and the transfer of detainees to locations within the occupying power's territory are illegal under international law and constitute a war crime."

On June 7, 1967, Military proclamation No. 1 justified them "in the interests of security and public order," weasel words meaning anything. Since then, over 2,900 orders were issued, gravely harming Palestinians' welfare. "These orders serve as justification every time the Israeli authorities arrest a Palestinian...."

They can be held for extended periods, interrogations lasting up to six months, during which time torture, abuse and other degrading treatment is commonplace, against the great majority in custody.

After interrogation, Palestinians can be detained administratively without charge or tried in military courts where "military orders take precedence over Israeli and international law."

Under Military Order 1530, months may elapse between being charged and trial. The entire process is structured to deny due process and judicial fairness, unlike for most Jews in civil courts.

Activists, protestors and human rights defenders are especially at risk. In July 2008, Israeli authorities, by military order, closed the Nafha Society for the Defense of Prisoners and Human Rights. It's one of several organizations representing Palestinian detainees in Israeli courts and advocates for them in prisons and detention centers.

Currently, Israeli security forces, politicians and extremist groups are targeting human rights groups in response to their support for the Goldstone Commission report. Among those affected are:

  • B'Tselem
  • Adalah
  • Breaking the Silence
  • the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
  • Yesh Din
  • the Centre for the Defence of the Individual
  • the Public Committee Against Torture in Israeli (PACTI)
  • the Israel Religious Action Centre
  • Physicians for Human Rights - Israel
  • Rabbis for Human Rights, and
  • the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) that condemned the practice in a February 8 press release stating:
    PCHR "condemns the continued persecution of international human rights defenders in the West Bank....and the deportation of international activists from the country."

On February 7, PCHR learned that Israeli security forces entered Ramallah and al-Bireh, storming an al-Bireh apartment building and arresting Spanish journalist Ariadna Jove Marti and Australian student Bridgette Chappell. They were taken to Ofer Prison pending their deportation, citing expired visas as pretext. The two women are International Solidarity Movement activists known, according to an IDF spokesman, "for being involved in illegal riots that obstruct Israeli security operations."

Other activists were also arrested, Israel now issuing tourist visas only to 150 selected NGOs operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including Oxfam, Save the Children, and Doctors Without Borders. However, they'll be excluded from Area C under Israeli control, comprising 60% of the West Bank, thus hampering their work and imposing additional hardships on Palestinians.

PCHR condemned the action and recommends that international civil society and human rights organizations, bar associations, and international solidarity groups continue exposing suspected Israeli war criminals and pressuring their governments to prosecute them according to provisions of international law.

The extremist Netanyahu government won't tolerate criticism or censure nor its expansionist West Bank plans, including making all Jerusalem exclusively Jewish.

His cabinet introduced a Knesset bill prohibiting organizations from receiving funding from foreign political institutions unless registered with the Registrar of Political Parties.

They must then provide details about all "foreign political entity" donations, the source, amount, purpose, commitment made for its use, and more, as a way to harass and make the process more cumbersome.

The bill's susposed purpose is to:

"increase the transparency and to correct lacunas (empty spaces or missing parts) in the law regarding the funding of political activity in Israel by foreign political entities (where such activity is defined as being) aimed at influencing public opinion in Israel or one of the branches of government in Israel regarding any element of Israel's domestic or foreign policy."

In fact, it's to stifle free expression, dissent and activism, the way police states do it, how Israel always treats Palestinians, now increasingly toward outspoken Jews and international human rights organizations as well.

Conditions in Israeli Prisons

Israel willfully and systematically violates international humanitarian law, including Common Article 3 applying to the four Geneva Conventions, requiring:

"humane treatment for all persons in enemy hands, specifically prohibit(ing) murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment (and) unfair trial(s)."

Fourth Geneva's Article 4 calls "protected persons" those held by parties to a conflict or occupation "of which they are not nationals." They must "be treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention." They're entitled to full Fourth Geneva rights. Prisoners of war under Third Geneva have the same rights and those under Common Article 3.

Israel willfully denies them. Under the 1971 Israeli Prison Ordinance, no provision defines prisoner rights. It only provides binding rules for the Interior Minister who can interpret them freely by administrative decree. For example, it's legal to intern 20 inmates in a cell as small as five meters long, four meters wide and three meters high, including an open lavatory, and they can be confined there up to 23 hours daily.

An April 2009 PCHR press release said thousands of Palestinians "continue to suffer in Israeli jails" under horrific conditions, including:

  • severe overcrowding;
  • poor ventilation and sanitation;
  • no change of clothes or adequate clothing;
  • sleeping on wooden planks with thin mattresses, some infested with vermin; blankets are often torn, filthy and inadequate; hot water is rare and soap is rationed;
  • at the Negev Ketziot military detention camp, threadbare tents are used, exposing detainees to extreme weather conditions; in summer, vermin, insects, scorpions, parasites, rats, and other reptiles are a major problem;
  • Megiddo and Ofer also use tents; in addition, Ofer uses oil-soiled hangers;
  • for some, isolation in tiny, poorly ventilated solitary confinement with no visitation rights or contact with counsel or other prisoners;
  • no access to personal cleanliness and hygiene; toilet facilities are restricted, forcing prisoners to urinate in bottles in their cells;
  • inadequate food in terms of quality, quantity, and dietary requirements;
  • poor medical care, including lack of specialized personnel, mental health treatment, and denial of needed medicines and equipment; as a result, many suffer ill health; doctors are also pressured to deny proper treatment, some later admitting it;
  • extreme psychological pressure to break detainees' will;
  • widespread use of torture, abuse, cruel and degrading treatment;
  • women and children are treated the same as men;
  • NGOs like Physicians for Human Rights - Israel and the ICRC are deterred from aiding detainees;
  • denied or hindered access to family members and counsel;
  • imposed conditions link visits:
    "with the overall security situation, requiring that prisoners must not be security prisoners and that persons applying for visits must not have a security record, requiring that visitors be first-degree relatives and that brothers or sons applying for visits must be under the age of 18."
Treatment of Gazans Arrested During and After Operation Cast Lead

On January 28, 2009, a complaint to Israel's Military Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Avichai Mandelblit, by seven Israeli human rights organizations, cited degrading and appalling conditions in which detainees, including minors, were held.

Before transfer to the Israel Prison Service, they were held for many hours or days in pits dug in the ground, handcuffed and blindfolded, under extreme weather conditions. No sanitation was provided and limited amounts of food. Some, in fact, were held in combat areas, in violation of international law prohibiting their exposure to danger.

After removal from pits, some were held overnight in a truck, handcuffed, with one blanket for two people in winter. Others were kept for extended periods in the rain with little food or water. Incidents of extreme violence and humiliation were also reported that continued after prison transfers.

Legal Department Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PACTI), Bana Shoughry-Badarne, said:

"Israel's indifference to its moral and legal obligations to detainees is particularly objectionable in view of the fact" that the IDF completely ignored "the basic rights of the detainees and captives" under international law, violations committed against every detainee held.

Since July 2007, Gazan families have been denied access to their relatives in Israeli prisons. Non-Israeli Palestinian lawyers can't represent them in military courts. Travel restrictions impede all lawyers. Meetings with their clients aren't confidential, and most prisoners have no access to an attorney.

In 2006, B'Tselem issued a report titled, "Barred from Contact: Violation of the Right to Visit Palestinians Held in Israeli Prisons," citing obstacles families face to visit their relatives. They include difficulties obtaining required permits and "grueling journeys" of up to 24 hours, the result of long distances through numerous checkpoints plus delays.

This "arbitrary and disproportionate policy not only infringes the right to family visits, it also results in violation of other rights and principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as domestic Israeli law."

In January 2010, Adalah addressed the same issue stating:

On December 9, 2009, "Israel's Supreme Court (HCJ) decided that the state has no obligation to allow family visits for Gazans detained in Israel." Writer Grietje Baars, a UK lawyer, said the HCJ rejected petitions by detainees, their relatives and Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, claiming that "Israel's rights as a sovereign state" lets it deny "foreigners" entry in violation of international law - a clear act of persecution.

Under Article 7(g) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (HCJ), crimes against humanity include:

"Persecution (meaning) the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity."

In a previous decision, the HCJ held that:

"It is a firmly established precept that the human rights to which a person is entitled simply by being human remain even when he is detained or imprisoned, and the fact that he is incarcerated cannot serve to deprive him of any right."

Denying them defies that ruling, and the fact that hundreds of Gazan detainees in Israel are held indefinitely without trial, are in virtual isolation, and can only send their families occasional messages through ICRC representatives.

Petitioners call banning visits "collective punishment" under Fourth Geneva's Article 33 stating:

"No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties....are prohibited."

Doing so (along with torture and other forms of abuse) aims to break their spirit to get them to cooperate or confess to crimes they didn't commit.

Baars concluded:

"Aside from the right to have their rights hououred and protected, and to live their lives in dignity and freedom, the Gazans and the Palestinians in general, have the right to an effective judicial remedy. Without domestic enforcement of international law, the onus is on the international community to fulfill these rights and uphold the rule of law, internationally, for the benefit of all."

The international community's failure to comply with international law lets Israel violate its provisions freely. Unless changed, Israel's lawlessness will continue unchecked, a no longer to be tolerated grim prospect.


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on March 27, 2010.
 

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