Addameer Press Release : 17 April 2003
Special Report on the Occasion of Palestinian Prisoners Day As we mark Palestinian Prisoners Day this Thursday, 17 April, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are being subjected to harsh and repressive conditions within central prisons, detention centers and military camps run by both the Israeli Prisons Authority and the Israeli military, while Palestinians outside prisons continue to suffer from repeated violations of their basic human rights by Israeli occupying forces. Over the years, the Palestinian prisoners movement has achieved much in its struggle to ensure minimum standards of detention, many times at the cost of their lives. However, these accomplishments have all but disappeared since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000, as conditions of detention have reached unparalleled levels of deterioration, as prisoners are forced to live in inhuman conditions, are offered inadequate food, prevented from having family visits, prevented from recreational activities and subject to severe restrictions on leaving their cells for fresh air, insufficient medical attention, amongst many other problems.
Since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000 until 8 April 2003, over 28,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. There are currently 5123 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, in addition to 66 female detainees. Arrest campaigns conducted by Israel have, in particular during this past year, targeted Palestinian political leaders and leaders within the community, effectively imprisoning leaders of Palestinian society and negatively effecting the development of the community.
During the Israeli invasion and reoccupation of the majority of cities in the West Bank in April 2002, many Palestinians were subjected to acts of terror during the process of arrest by Israeli occupying forces, including physical and psychological threats, attempted murder, and injuries as a result of indiscriminate attacks. Numerous injured Palestinians were arrested without any medical attention given to them while detained. Families of those who were arrested were subjected to similar attacks, including the destruction of personal property and, in some cases, destroying the house itself, threatening the lives of children and women by taking them hostage and placing them in rooms within their house for extended periods of time, often not allowing families to obtain food or water and preventing them from using the toilet.
Addameer, similar to many local Palestinian institutions and NGOs during this time, has tried to offer support and services to Palestinian prisoners despite the difficult circumstances it finds itself in, ensuring contact between prisoners and lawyers and the outside world, continuing visits to prisons, detention centers and military detention camps and attempting to minimize the double isolation imposed on Palestinian prisoners during this past year as a result of prevention of family visits and the difficulties faced by lawyers in reaching prisons and gaining access to detainees.
Based on visits by lawyers to detention centers, prisons and military detention camps and affidavits from released detainees, the following conditions offer an overview of the current situation of Palestinian detainees held by Israel :
1. Detention/holding centers : there are 7 detention/holding centers located throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in which Palestinian detainees are being held in extremely harsh conditions. For example, at Beit El Detention Center, detainees are held in small, filthy cells that lack basic amenities. Toilets are located outside of the cells, with permission often denied to use the toilets as a form of punishment. Detainees at Huwara and Kadumim Detention Centers recently declared a hunger strike in protest of their conditions of detention, in particular the fact that they have been prohibited from leaving their cells and walking outside for fresh air (fora) and prevented from using the toilet more than twice a day, lack of medical attention and adequate food both in quantity and quality. One detainee informed Addameer’s lawyer that they were allowed only one apple a week that is shared with 8 detainees and every other day they are offered a cup of tea. The detainees are held in cramped cells, with ten detainees in a cell that accommodates 4 and are restricted in the amount of time they can spend in other sections. The circumstances of detention for the majority of detainees have led to serious medical conditions, in addition to putting at risk the lives of detainees on a daily basis. In mid-February, 3 female Palestinian detainees declared a hunger strike in protest of their conditions of detention at Beit El, where they were prevented from using the toilet and changing their clothing.
2. Central Prisons : 40 percent of Palestinian prisoners are detained within 9 Israeli Central Prisons, including Telmond for minors, and Ramleh prison for female detainees. The majority of them are serving long-term sentences, including life sentences. There has been a significant increase in the passing of long sentences since the beginning of the current Intifada. For the first time, Palestinian prisoners have begun a protest campaign against the unjust system of military courts and have declared a boycott of all military courts, stating that they are illegal and do not conform to minimum standards of fair trial
There has been a clear deterioration in the living conditions and treatment of Palestinian prisoners held in the central prisons, in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The most distressing of these violations is the prevention of family visits to prisoners for the past two years, which Israel claims has been necessary because of the security situation. In March, family visits were resumed for 3 districts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, many families who applied through the ICRC for visit permits were rejected for ’security reasons’, leaving only a few family members allowed to visit. There is no reason other than ’security’ offered to families who apply for the rarely obtained permits. In one instance, a father of a detainee was informed that he was not allowed a permit to visit because there was no relation between him and the detainee. The conditions of the visits are also distressing and have resulted in further protests from detainees. For example, at Ofer Military Detention Camp, families were made to wait for hours before they were allowed near the prison, were subjected to complete searches and items they had been told were allowed, such as food, were confiscated. Families were behind a wire fence, more than 15 meters away from another wire fence that separated the detainees. They were allowed only five minutes to visit with the detainees, and many were not able to identify their children because of the distance. In protest, detainees held in Ofer have refused to come out for any other family visits until the circumstances of the visits are changed.
Other punitive measures within Israeli prisons include severely restricting the time detainees are allowed out of their cells for fresh air, restricting detainees from visiting other sections of detainees, and preventing Prisoners Representatives from regularly following up with prisons issues in different sections.
The health conditions within prisons has also deteriorated, with extreme delays in medical services by the Prisons Authority, delays in transferring serious cases to hospital and for further examinations, in addition to offering inadequate medical attention within the prisons themselves. The Prisons Authority continues to place obstacles before detainees who are registered students at Israeli Open Universities, the only opportunity for prisoners to study, by restricting the required courses they are allowed to take. Clothing for prisoners is restricted ; with the Prisons Authority allowing changes of clothing in only twice a year, on the condition that prisoners return the clothing they currently have in exchange for a new set of clothes brought by their families. Hygiene supplies are extremely limited, and in the past month, the Prisons
Authority has decided to no longer provide toilet paper to prisoners.
3. Military Detention Camps : In addition to Megiddo, the Israeli Military Commander of the region reopened last year both Ofer Military Detention Camp in Ramallah and the Ketziot Military Detention Camp in the Negev Desert. All of these military detention camps were originally opened during the first Intifada, with Ofer and Ketziot closed down shortly after the Oslo process began.
The situation in Israeli military detention camps is particularly worrying, with detainees held in old tents in extreme weather conditions, subject to inhumane living conditions, including lack of adequate food both in quantity and quality, prevention of family visits, prevented from receiving items such as books, clothing, except on very rare occasions when items are allowed in coordination with lawyers.
Detainees are often subjected to attacks within the military detention camps, with tear gas thrown into tents or being sprayed with high-pressure water hoses. A great number of the detainees suffer from medical conditions, in particular those who were injured during their arrest in the Israeli invasions of April 2002. Many have yet to receive medical attention, and those who have had medical treatment have had to wait for a very long time, with the treatment often inadequate.
There are currently approximately 3000 Palestinian detainees being held in these military detention camps, over 1000 of who are being held under administrative detention, detention without charge or trial.
The issue of Palestinian Prisoners is not a new one. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 650,000 Palestinian have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20% of total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Considering the fact that the majority of those detained are male, the number of Palestinian detainees forms approximately 40% of the total male Palestinian population in the OPT.
Addameer stresses that the recent deterioration of prison conditions are a direct result of Israeli policies and arbitrary measures that threaten the stability of the situation within prisons and will lead to an increase in acts of protest within prisons. Israeli authorities must abide by international standards and laws in the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, and respect treaties and agreements to which it is a signatory. The systematic use of administrative detention against Palestinian detainees as a form of collective punishment, illegal under international law, must also come to an end. Addameer calls on international and local human rights organizations and individuals to work towards ensuring the protection of Palestinian and Arab prisoners, and to bring to an end the policy of political detention, and the terror it entails.