Amnesty slams Israeli rights violations against ‘Starved of Justice’ Palestinian detainees

Bassem Aly, Friday 8 Jun 2012

Report issued by Amnesty International urges Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners held under administrative detention law amid threats of renewed hunger strikes

Palestinian children wave their national flags as they push a mock prison at the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, to celebrate the release of Palestinian prisoners in a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel on October 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

Amnesty International has called on Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners held under long-standing administrative detention laws or charge and try them fairly.

The human rights watchdog urged the Israeli authorities to stop adopting measures to suppress “legitimate and peaceful activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” including the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

In a report published in early June called “Starved of Justice: Palestinian detained without trial by Israel,” Amnesty recorded gross violations by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) under the law.

Amnesty highlighted crimes against humanity committed against Palestinian administrative detainees from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, such as torture and other ill-treatment during interrogation, as well as cruel and degrading treatment during their detention and punitive measures taken in times of hunger strikes and other protests.

The issue of administrative detention grabbed international attention following the protracted hunger strikes of Khaled Adnan and Hana Shalabi. Their peaceful protest led to a mass hunger strike which began in April and included an estimated 2,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, many of whom were either serving jail terms or awaiting trial.

Following a deal brokered by Egypt, the mass hunger strike was suspended in May. 

An earlier Egyptian-brokered prisoner swap deal was reached in October 2011, when Israel and Hamas agreed upon the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive in Gaza for over five years, in exchange for around 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. The deal also stipulated the right of Palestinian prisoners to receive family visits inside Israeli prisons.

However, Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Al-Sarsak from Gaza is now more than 70 days into a hunger strike which he began in March. Al-Sarsak is protesting against his detention without charge or trial for almost three years, during which he has developed severe health problems and is being held at the IPS medical centre.

Fatah media spokesman in Cairo Riyad Saidam said the Palestinian national struggle had historically been embodied in either military confrontations or strikes and demonstrations.

The Palestinian prisoner crisis emerged after the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, he noted, reaching 750,000 prisoners during the 1967 war. He stated that at least 400 prisoners had died in Israeli prisons due to deliberate killing or worsening living conditions.

Israeli authorities deny the prisoners family visits and some have not seen their relatives for over seven years, according to Saidam.

During a press conference in Cairo in May, Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt Barakat Al-Farra said large numbers of Palestinian prisoners were facing severe health problems after being on hunger strike for almost 68 days, awaiting effective Palestinian moves to pressure Israel to respond to their demands.

He referred to other demands by the prisoners, such as permission to use electronic appliances and the presence of lawyers during investigations. Al-Farra also advocated ending the administrative detention law which legalises the arrest of Palestinians under the claim that they are a threat to Israel's national security, a law that has been in place since the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948.

The Palestinian Minister of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Issa Karake, a former political prisoner in Israel, revealed to Ahram Online the possibility of expanding the hunger strike to include water if Israel continued to ignore the prisoners' demands.

"Almost thousands of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners are facing the threat of death, as noted in Israeli – not Palestinian – medical reports, thanks to Khader Adnan whose spark ignited the flame of rebellion more than at any time before," Karake said in May.

On Wednesday, Palestinians urged foreign governments to implement the recommendations of the Amnesty International report criticising Israeli prison conditions and practices.

"The Palestinian government calls on the international community to take action to end – and not merely condemn – the torture, detention without trial and other abuses highlighted," the Palestinian government said in a statement.

Government spokesman Ghassan Khatib told AFP that the report "exposes human rights abuses practised by Israel... and requires immediate and practical steps to implement its recommendations, the most important of which is to release prisoners immediately or give them a fair trial."

"Amnesty has made clear to the world how Israel breaks international law and breaks agreements with impunity," Khatib added.

Amnesty criticises Israel's treatment of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, in particular the practice of administrative detention, where individuals are held without charge for renewable periods of six months.

The human rights group urged Israel to charge or release all those held under administrative detention orders, and expressed concern about reports of torture as well as practices including denying detainees visits by family or lawyers.

Khatib said the report "exposes human rights abuses practised by Israel... and requires immediate and practical steps to implement its recommendations, the most important of which is to release prisoners immediately or give them a fair trial."

Amnesty also urged Israel to end the forcible transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip and to "protect all those in Israeli custody from all forms of torture and other ill-treatment."


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