Let the world know about our hostages too!

Dina Samak , Wednesday 1 Nov 2023

As mediators exert efforts to secure the release of Israeli captives in Gaza, they need to tell the world about Palestinian captives in Israeli prisons as well.

Palestinian
File Photo: Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian youth in the Bab al-Zawiya area in the Palestinian city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on September 29, 2022. AFP

 

At a time when more than a million Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to leave their homes and move south, at a time when entire families are being lost to daily airstrikes, when hospitals are forced to bury the dead in mass graves without identifying the victims, as if there exists no one to bid them a solemn farewell or offer a prayer, at a time when children etch their names on their hands and feet in fear of their bodies being lost in the next attack, and where parents search for a sip of water and a piece of bread that has become a difficult task under a siege that has lasted for more than two weeks, the world is preoccupied with one issue that resounds louder than all others: the urgent return of Israeli captives in the custody of Hamas, devoid of any conditions.

But what about our own? Yes, the Palestinian captives – six thousand prisoners in Israeli prisons that no one talks about, and no one hears the voices of their families!

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen departed for New York to address the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. Cohen will be accompanied by families of Israeli captives in Gaza to make the world hear their pleas about the return of their loved ones, Times of Israel reported.

Meanwhile, Israel is waging what Yedioth Ahranoth describes as “one of the largest social and international information campaigns ever” to inform the world about the Israeli ‘hostages’ captured by Hamas.

The campaign, which goes under the hashtag Let the World Know, “portraying [the Israeli captives] as human beings.” Flyers are being distributed worldwide featuring the captured Israelis in a format similar to missing persons posters commonly used in the United States. These posters are displayed at tourist sites and prominent urban landmarks in major cities across the world.

Israel says more than 220 were captured by Hamas and Palestinian factions on 7 October. The families of these captives have been protesting daily, demanding the immediate release of their loved ones – as they have every right to do.  

Thousands are protesting in Israel against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, demanding an end to the war in Gaza and the return of Israeli prisoners and hostages. They have also been calling on Netanyahu to resign after “the miserable failure suffered by the Israeli army in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,” as they have every right to do.

This war needs to stop, but at what cost?

Hamas says that they are willing to release all captured civilians once the strikes on Gaza stop. However, they are only willing to release military and police personnel after all Palestinian prisoners are freed. After all, this is one of the targets behind the Al-Aqsa Flood, and if Hamas gives up on it they will be not only declaring their defeat, but they will be committing an eternal suicide.

There are currently more than 6,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, more than 1,200 of whom were arrested in the last two weeks in the West Bank including children, women, elderly people, and ten journalists. They too have names and loved ones demanding their release, as well as an end to the current Israeli aggression on Gaza, and Hamas seems like their only hope.

In recent days, Israeli forces have been conducting incursions into Palestinian camps and villages, apprehending civilians from their homes amid a significant wave of protests in the West Bank, which has also witnessed the deaths of over a hundred Palestinians.

The commander of the Judea and Samaria region, aka the Israeli military governor of the West Bank, has introduced temporary changes related to administrative detention. These modifications include an extension of the detainee's initial holding period without an administrative detention order from 72 hours to six days. Furthermore, there has been an adjustment in the detainee's presentation at the initial review session, previously set at eight days to 12 days which means that Palestinian detainees will not be able to see their lawyers, or anyone, before 18 days after their arrest!

The news coming from inside the Israeli prisons is also so grim.

The Palestinian Prisoners and Ex-Detainees Affairs Authority says that the Israeli occupation authorities have escalated their repressive actions against female prisoners in the Damon detention facility. These actions involve torture, threats of execution, and frequent armed incursions by heavily armed guards into the women's cells, as well as the placement of several of them in solitary confinement. The prisoners are denied visits from their families and their lawyers and the little information trickling from the facility makes their families worried about their lives under this total blackout.

The harsh conditions faced by female prisoners in the Damon detention facility highlight the grave concerns surrounding the treatment of Palestinian detainees. These reported actions should bring attention to the broader issue of Palestinian detainees, their treatment, and the conditions in which they are held.

During the past two weeks, The Palestinian Prisoners and Ex-Detainees Affairs Authority in addition to lawyers and NGOs have been reporting alarming updates on the extensive measures imposed by the Israeli prison administration on Palestinian detainees.

The Israeli prison administration has resorted to cutting off all electricity in the detention facilities, severely impacting the daily lives of the detainees. Water supply has also been intentionally disrupted in various prisoner sections, with Negev prison experiencing particularly prolonged outages, leaving prisoners with just 50 minutes of water supply.

Waste removal from prisoner rooms and cells has been prohibited, exacerbating the unsanitary conditions. Prisoners have been threatened with the confiscation of their personal belongings, and, in some prisons, clothing has been confiscated, leaving each prisoner with only one set.

The prison administration has withdrawn food items from prisoner sections, reducing the daily meals to just two and closing down the canteen. Additionally, armed suppression units have carried out aggressive raids across all sections, subjecting detainees to systematic abuse and physical assaults.

Sick detainees have been denied transfer to clinics or civilian hospitals, while others have been placed in solitary confinement. The prison sections have been isolated from one another, and even basic amenities like televisions and electrical appliances have been removed.

Mass transfers of prisoners between sections or prisons have occurred without notifying their families, creating uncertainty about their whereabouts.

All this is happening to people who have names, families, and loved ones. These prisoners have been long forgotten, and since the release of over 1,000 of them in 2011 in a swap deal with Hamas, no one had the ability to press for their release, but themselves. One hunger strike after another, failed heroic attempts to escape confinement, and waves of disobedience that hardly reach the ears of the national community are their only weapons to be heard.

Palestinian detainees in Israel are not just civilians. There are over 2,000 prisoners who are detained without specific charges. However, even those who are serving sentences in connection to their resistance against Israel are entitled to their full legal rights as stipulated by international law. The West Bank is considered an occupied territory, with Israel being the occupying power.

As a ground invasion looms over Gaza, there is increasing pressure from mediators, including Turkey and Qatar, to encourage Hamas to release all captives in exchange for halting the Israeli aggression against Gaza. From a humanitarian standpoint, these mediators are fully justified in their efforts. The ongoing horrors have already resulted in the loss of over 5,000 lives and left more than 15,000 people injured. With each passing day of this war, hundreds more individuals are added to the already staggering toll. But as they do so, the Palestinians need an answer about their captives in the Israeli prisons, some of whom have been there for over 20 years. As mediators talk about their efforts to release Israeli captives in Gaza, they need to let the world know about our hostages too.

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