Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Considering the fact that the majority of those detained are male, the number of Palestinians detained forms approximately 40% of the total male Palestinian population in the OPT.
As of November 2008, there are approximately, 9,493 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli prisons and detention centers. 650 of these are administrative detainees, held without charge or trial for indefinite periods of time. 300 of the political prisoners are aged 18 and under. There are 65 Palestinian female political prisoners, 1 of whom is a mother who gave birth in prison. There remain 38 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), including one female PLC member.
Process of Arrest
Palestinians are routinely arrested at checkpoints, off the street and most commonly, from their homes in the early hours of the morning. In the case of arrest from the family home, units from the Israeli army will typically surround the house between midnight and 4 am and force family members onto the street in their nightclothes, regardless of weather conditions. Upon arrest, detainees are usually handcuffed with plastic cuffs and blindfolded. They are not informed of the reason for their arrest, nor are they told where they will be taken.
Physical abuse and humiliation of the detainee by Israeli forces is common. Based on numerous sworn affidavits, detainees have reported that they have been subjected to attempted murder and rape, and thrown down stairs while blindfolded, amongst many other forms of physical abuse. During their arrest, detainees have often been forced to strip in public before being taken into custody. Family members have also been forced to remove their clothes in house- to- house arrest campaigns and raids. Mass arrests from homes in entire neighbourhoods continue to take place in the OPT during military incursions. Once bound and blindfolded, the detainee is usually placed on the floor of a military jeep, sometimes face down, for transfer to an interrogation and detention centre. Neither the detainee nor his or her family is told why he or she is being detained or where he or she is being taken. Addameer has received numerous reports of abuse of detainees during the transfer process by Israeli soldiers, consisting of beatings, kicking and threats. These journeys can take anywhere from 20 minutes up to many hours.
Distribution of Prisoners
Israeli prisons and military detention camps are primarily located within the 1948 borders of Israel. There are a total of 4 interrogation centers, as well as secret interrogation facilities, 5 detention/holding centers, and about 21 prisons in which Palestinians from the OPT are held. The location of prisons within Israel and the transfer of detainees to locations within the occupying power’s territory are illegal under international law and constitute a war crime. The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly states that “Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.” (Article 76) Most of the Palestinian Prisoners are being held in detention facilities located outside the OPT.
All Palestinian families wishing to visit a family member imprisoned in Israel must receive an entry permit into Israel (except for Jerusalem residents), which takes between one and three months to obtain and is only valid for three months. The application for the permit is submitted via the ICRC and transferred to the Israeli side. Not only do the basic criteria for receiving entry permits restrict the visiting population (16-45-year-old men are prohibited from receiving permits), but also hundreds of families may not receive permit on security grounds. As a result, hundreds of prisoners do not receive family visits for extended periods that may reach a number of years. Other sweeping restrictions may withhold Palestinian family visits, such as the prohibition of visits by families from one, or all, areas of the OPT, or to a certain prison, on security grounds. In the past, visits have been suspended for periods of over a year.
When they are not denied, visits with Palestinian prisoners take place once every two weeks for 45 minutes. As stated, only immediate family members are allowed to visit. A glass window, sometimes accompanied by bars, separates the visitor and the prisoner. Communication takes place through a telephone or through holes in the glass. Only three family members are permitted to visit a detainee at a time. Since June 2007, Israeli authorities have placed a total ban on visits by family members from Gaza to their relatives incarcerated in Israel. This ban affects approximately 1,000 prisoners and their families. Preventing family visits has in practice led to the isolation of these prisoners from the outside world due to the strict limitations or bans placed on all forms of contact and communication by “security” prisoners. The timing of this decision to ban family visits, coincided with the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza, and appears to be a form of collective punishment intended to coerce Palestinian factions to respond to Israel’s demands. In so doing, Israel is transforming Palestinian prisoners into pawns to achieve political gains not related to the official reasons for their imprisonment.
Palestinian prisoners are discriminated against in terms of their conditions of imprisonment. Due to these conditions, along with restrictions on family visits, the prisoners are almost completely cut off from the world outside the prison. The mental and physical implications of this discrimination are much graver for prisoners held in isolation or solitary confinement, who are disconnected from the prison population as well.
Addameer continues to receive complaints from both adult and child detainees about the conditions in which they are being held in Israeli interrogation and detention centres and prisons. Prison conditions in Israeli military detention camps are appalling. Detainees are held in overcrowded prison tents that are often threadbare and do not provide for adequate shelter against extreme weather in the winter or summer. Hygiene facilities are dire. Toilets are located inside prison cells with sewage often coming through the drains. The Israeli Prison Authority (IPS) does not provide essential hygiene products, such as toothpaste; only prisoners whose canteen accounts have been closed receive essential personal hygiene products and cleaning products for their cells. Prisoners report that personal hygiene products were provided up until 2002 but from that year on were significantly limited. All prisoners reported that IPS provided only half a liter of floor cleaning liquid and that the rest of their personal products, including all products used for cleaning their cell, were bought at their own personal expense.
Most prisoners reported that the food provided by the IPS was insufficient in terms of quality and quantity alike. The prisoners buy most of their food from the canteen and recook the cooked food they get from IPS. However, the purchasing power of prisoners is radically divergent, and such encouragement by the Israeli authorities is immoral as they are ultimately responsible for providing sufficient food for prisoners. In most cases, it is the prisoners’ responsibility to provide more than half of their necessary food, which is problematic as most prisoners come from poor families. Sometimes, a prisoner’s canteen account is closed, as has occurred to tens of prisoners, especially those who have been identified with Hamas over the past year. Prisoners report that IPS food is inappropriate for the medical needs of those who require a special diet.
The prison authority adopts a systematic policy in all detention centers. This policy is a deliberate form medical negligence which involves delays in providing medical treatment. Israel avoids its duty and fails to comply with the international standards that require holding detainees in places under healthy conditions, with provision of medical treatment and specialised medical care for sick detainees. There is a clinic with one nurse in all Israeli prisons. The doctor comes to the clinic once or twice a week for no more than four hours. If the specified time is finished, he leaves the prison and the sick prisoners are not treated until the next week. The medical team deals with the cases that require medical services slowly and with deliberate negligence. If a detainee requires medical care and the prison’s doctor decides to refer him to the hospital, it takes months, under the pretext that the Ar-Ramleh Prison’s hospital can only take a limited number of patients. If it turns out, after the medical examinations, that the patient is required to have a surgery, he has to wait for his turn, which may take months or years, thus causing severe complications and deterioration in the patient’s health and psychological condition. The only medicine given for the treatment of all diseases is painkillers. In addition, the prison administration denies access of medicines from outside the prison, either from the family or Palestinian organizations. Sick detainees inside Israeli prisons live on painkillers and tranquilizers.
As a result of the sub-standard conditions of detention, detainees who are released are often faced with chronic health problems such as skin diseases, fatigue and weakness, kidney problems and ulcers. The medical system and clinics are also unprepared to receive Palestinian detainees, some of whom arrive with a wide variety of illnesses, often requiring further investigation and close medical supervision. The system is not prepared to screen sick detainees and has no contact with the detainee’s family or attending physician. In some cases, the lack of proper attention to medical needs has led to deterioration in the detainees’ health.
A further problem is the lack of communication between the detainees and the physician in the detention facility, both because of language difficulties and because the physician is inevitably seen as part of the military machine responsible for the detainee’s incarceration. In such conditions, it is difficult for detainees to develop relationships of trust with the physician, who is supposed to see to their welfare and represent their interests as patients.
Severe discrimination exists in the conditions of confinement of Palestinians classified as security detainees within the Israeli prison system. Pre-trial detainees alleged to have committed offences defined as security offences under section 35(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Enforcement Detention) Law – 1996 are confined in separate prisons under separate, harsher conditions than “criminal” detainees, under order 22 of the (Powers of Enforcement – Detention) (Conditions of Holding in Detention) – 1997. None of these detainees have been convicted of any offence. Security detainees are not entitled to a daily walk in the open air or to use the telephone, even to call their attorney. Criminal detainees, by contrast, are permitted a daily hour-long walk and are allowed to make a daily telephone call to their attorneys, family and friends. Criminal detainees are provided with a bed, while security detainees are provided a thin mattress; criminal detainees, but not security detainees are provided newspapers, books, TVs, radios, a razor and mirror, an electric kettle, wall light, fan and heater. Some of the discriminatory conditions are hygiene-related: for example, the cells of security detainees do not contain a basin, and while criminal detainees’ cells must be sanitised and disinfected annually and provided with detergents, this is not the case for political detainees.
These discriminatory conditions severely violate the fundamental rights of thousands of detainees, including their right to dignity, to personal freedom and to fair and minimal living conditions in detention centres, and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Israeli interrogation and detention centres are meant as temporary holding facilities. However, some detainees, including children, who are sentenced to less than three months imprisonment, end up serving their entire sentence at these facilities due to a lack of space in Israeli prisons. This results in poor conditions and overcrowding.
Palestinian prisoners can receive books via the ICRC and their families during visits, but restrictions are always imposed by the prison on the kinds and number of books they are allowed to receive. They receive newspapers in Arabic, such as Alquds, free of charge, but other newspapers, in Hebrew or English, are distributed only to those holding a subscription. The newspapers are always distributed after a delay and are not up to date.
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are allowed to study only at the Open University of Israel. They may not continue their studies at any institution they studied at prior to their arrest, even if the university so approves. A years-long struggle to change this practice has been unsuccessful. The IPS claims that prisoners are barred from participating in study programs of Arab universities for security reasons. Many prisoners are unable to register at Israeli universities because of financial and language restrictions. Additionally, detainees being held at military detention centres, as opposed to prisons, are prohibited from registering at any university. Prisoners who are held in isolation are also not allowed to study even at the Open University of Israel.
In some Israeli prisons, limited provisions are made for the education of Palestinian minors who are detained. At Telmond Prison, for example, Palestinian child prisoners receive daily instruction, but study an Israeli curriculum. Child detainees, both male and female, held in Megiddo and Ketziot have absolutely no access to education. The administration often does not allow books in to the prison for independent study, and even when they are allowed, time for study is often prohibited or taken away as a form of punishment. In June 2007, the Israeli authorities banned all prisoners from taking their final high school year tawjihi exam. Israeli criminal juvenile offenders are, however, allowed to continue their formal education uninterrupted while in detention.