Palestinian Prisoners in Israel: The Inhuman Conditions Being Suffered by Political Prisoners

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Since the beginning of the second Intifada, from September 2000 all the way through April 2003, more than 28,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated in prisons or prisoner camps. In April 2003, there were more than 5,500 prisoners. Arrests have been on the rise since January 2002 and surged upward reaching enormous proportions with the implementation of the “Protective Wall” Plan in March/April 2002. The FIDH is pleased to note that the issue of Palestinian prisoners has finally reached the agenda following the initiation of discussions surrounding the “roadmap to peace.”

Palestinian Detainees in Israel: Inhuman Conditions of Detention

The report emphasizes the deliberately obscure and unstable judicial situation in which Palestinian prisoners find themselves. Israel does not recognize Palestinian prisoners as having the status of prisoners of war. In practice, the Israeli military orders control the conditions of detention and, in particular, the administrative detention system which allows for the imprisonment of an individual for up to 6 months which can be renewed without mandatory approval from a judge. Furthermore, legal defense conditions for these prisoners are a cause for concern: an individual may go 32 days without seeing an attorney, only Israeli lawyers can plead cases before the military courts, their access to the camps is limited, the number of defense lawyers available for these cases is very low and their meetings with clients are not held in confidentiality. In the case of administrative detention, the necessary conditions for the execution of a fair trial are far from being achieved given that the lawyers do not even have access to the evidence.

The first waves of arrest were aimed at removing top executives from Palestinian society before moving on to the most well-known activists. Arrests take place most often times at checkpoints, during Israeli incursions into cities and villages within the Occupied Territories, at border checkpoints or by way of kidnapping.

Although the mission was unable to obtain permission to visit the detention camps, it succeeded in gathering information on the conditions of detention. The arbitrary authority in charge of detention conditions, only vaguely controlled by a decree set forth in 1971, is supported by three parallel penal systems. According to the testimonies gathered, conditions of detention have severely deteriorated since the time of the first Intifada; food is of poor quality, the camps are overcrowded, no change of clothes is provided and medical services are inadequate. Furthermore, the prisoners are unable to receive visits from their families given that authorizations for such visits are impossible to obtain and the Territories are cordoned off. In the Ofer and Ketziot camps, the prisoners reside in tents and the hygiene conditions to which they are exposed are a cause for deep concern. Women, often times the family members of Palestinian activists, are also imprisoned in extremely harsh conditions. The mission expressed its concerns regarding the detention of minors - as young as 12 years old - who are often imprisoned in the same quarters as the adults (in April 2003, there were 325 minors being held in detention).

The mission also received testimonies describing harsh treatment, torture and psychological pressure, which have continued despite the Supreme Court’s decision on 6 February 1999 banning recourse to the use of some of these methods, except in special circumstances. The FIDH is also concerned about the near impunity that the Israeli armed forces enjoy.

As a result, the FIDH has recommended to the Israeli authorities that they:

· Provide unrestricted access to prison locations as well as facilitate the free movement of and cooperate with Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs.
· Fully apply the Fourth Geneva convention.
· Put an end to trials against individuals who cannot be charged for any war crimes whatsoever.
· Do away with the so-called procedure of administrative detention.
· Abolish military courts.
· Respect the rights of the defense to carry out its duties, which implies unrestricted access for lawyers to meet with arrested individuals from the time of their arrest and their appearance before a civil judge as well as the free movement of lawyers whether they be Palestinian or Israeli.
· Assure respect for the minimum standards of detention regarding food, health care, the size of prison locations, protection from harsh weather conditions as well as visits from their families and loved ones.
· Immediately cease all harsh treatment and torture whether it be upon arrest or during imprisonment and adopt legislation regarding this matter.
· Ensure that members of the forces for the order who have committed crimes and offenses be brought to justice, that the penalties given be publicized and that victims having suffered the consequences of acts of war receive compensation.
· Cease the practice of extrajudicial executions.

This report will be presented during the UN Human Rights Committee’s examination of the State of Israel to take place next 24 and 25 July.

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