It is important to express our gratitude to the international human rights organisations concerned with the fate of prisoners of conscience in the Arab region, people detained without charge, or tried before special courts outside normal judicial procedures.
At the same time, it is our right to ask those same organisations to devote more attention to the situation in Israel, the so-called oasis of democracy in the Middle East.
I have before me a recent Haaretz article, reporting that at least a quarter of Palestinian prisoners are being held without charge and are not awaiting trial. They are called administrative detainees, and they can be held indefinitely. Generally, they are not included in the official numbers of Palestinian prisoners, so the authorities do not have to be held accountable for them. They are frequently subjected to brutal torture.
The article cites the director of HaMoked, the Centre for the Defense of the Individual, as saying that the use of administrative detention “has crossed every boundary” in the past year. “This is an unprecedented and worrying situation.”
Even aside from the administrative detainees, most Palestinian prisoners are tried under special laws that do not apply to Israelis. Many are tried in military courts. According to the Palestinian Information Centre, more than 5,000 Palestinians were being held in 22 Israeli prisons at the beginning of 2023.
This included 345 ill people, 160 children and 130 women. There have been 103 reported cases of death by torture in prisons. The numbers are likely to have increased in recent months against the backdrop of the brutal attacks being carried out by extremist settlers against Palestinian civilians. The settlers’ violence has, at the very least, received encouragement from Israeli authorities.
The relationship between the authorities and the settlers is just ambiguous enough to maintain a façade of deniability, but there is evidence that the authorities do not intervene to prevent the settler attacks if they do not actively collude in them.
The Israelis are never brought to trial, even after committing murder in broad daylight. Some Israeli rights organisations have also protested against the atrocities which, for the first time, the US government has denounced as terrorist acts. So, are we not right to wonder what the international human rights organisations have been doing about this?
* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly