The Bottom Line
Since 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, more than 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This represents approximately 20% of the total population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and 40% of all males. Despite prohibition by international law, Israel detains Palestinians in prisons throughout Israel, far from their families, who almost never obtain the necessary permits to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territories to visit them.
No One is Protected
There are an estimated 6,800 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel, of which 10 are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The elected PLC members were victims of a mass arrest targeting legislators and officials on June 29, 2006, in the wake of the election that brought Hamas to power and the capture of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Initially, 40 of the PLC members were charged. Most of the indictments were for "membership," "activity" and "holding a position" in an "unauthorised association." Meanwhile, the kidnapping and imprisonment of elected officials continues. For example, in December of 2010, Israeli soldiers kidnapped Hebron-area legislator Sheikh Khalil Nayef Rajoub – a PLC member who had been imprisoned in 2006 and had just been released five months earlier -- after breaking into his home and searching it.
Of particular concern are the number of Palestinian minors in Israeli jails – 209 as of January 2011, 29 under the age of 16. In March 2011, the Palestinian Ministry of Detainee Affairs published a new report documenting the torture of children as young as seven in Israeli prisons. Between January and March of 2011, Israeli soldiers abducted 150 children and all of them were interrogated during the course of their imprisonment – with many subjected to hitting, psychological abuse and other violence or threat of violence without a parent or adult representative present.
Children are often taken suddenly from their homes, often in the middle of the night, with soldiers surrounding the house and then raiding it. Soldiers usually do not have a warrant for arrest or searches. For example, in July of 2010, an unusually heavy number of Israeli soldiers (in 12 jeeps) entered the outskirts of the village to arrest a local youth, 17 year old Ahmad Abed Al-Fatah Burnat, without giving any reason. Ahmad was taken by jeep to Ofer military prison located outside Ramallah. Prisoners in Ofer, especially young boys, are kept in harsh conditions with the intention of pressuring them to give information about other Palestinians. Many are denied food and water for extended periods of time and exposed to extreme cold or heat.
Inhumane treatment of children is a violation of UN rules for the protection of juveniles and the treatment of prisoners in general, of which Israel is a signatory.
At the other end of the spectrum are older prisoners, some of whom have served terms of unprecedented lengths. Palestinian Nael Barghouthi, for example, is the world's record-holder. The 54-year-old Barghouthi, originally from Ramallah, has been in custody for more than 33 years, after being detained on 4 April 1978 at the age of 21 for a suspected bombing. He has been in prison 12 years longer than he was free, and continues to be denied visits by his sister.
Getting Arrested: A game of Russian Roulette
The arrest and detention of Palestinians living within the OPT is governed by a wide-ranging set of military regulations that cover every aspect of Palestinian civilian life. There are now more than 1,500 military regulations governing the West Bank and more than 1,400 for the Gaza Strip. The Israeli commander of the region issues military orders, which often remain unknown and become apparent only when they are implemented. For example, carrying or placing a Palestinian flag is a crime in itself. Removing the rubbish put in the middle of a road by Israeli soldiers after they have left is another crime. Firing in the air during a wedding, as is the tradition, constitutes a danger to Israel's national security, even if it occurs in the autonomous territories (area A). Pouring coffee for a member of an association declared illegal by Israel is deemed support for a terrorist organisation.
Upon arrest, detainees are usually handcuffed 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 is common. In numerous sworn affidavits, detainees have reported that they were subjected to attempted murder, rape and many other forms of physical abuse. During arrest, detainees and their family members have often been forced to strip in public.
Under Israeli military regulations, Palestinians can be detained for up to 18 days without the Israeli military informing them of the reason for their arrest and without being brought before a judge. The army is also not obliged to inform the detainees' families of their arrest or the location of their detention.
After or within this period, the person is sent to an interrogation center, placed in administrative detention, or held in custody awaiting charge and trial. Lawyer visits can be prohibited for up to 90 days after the day of arrest for a Palestinian detainee. In contrast, a meeting between an Israeli detainee and his/her attorney can be delayed for a total of only 48 hours (for "regular" violations) to 21 days (for "security" violations). The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and the Palestinian Prisoners' Club issued a report in December 2010 that found that between 70% and 90% of the detainees interviewed in the years 2005 to 2007 were not allowed to meet a lawyer able to provide advice and assistance prior to signing a confession.
What follows is either trial and judgment against the detainee or, more frequently, his/her transfer to administrative detention.
In the case of administrative detention, detainees face charges based on secret evidence. Theoretically, administrative detention can be extended indefinitely. Detainees do not know when they will be released or why they are being detained. Some Palestinian detainees have spent up to eight years in prison under administrative detention. (Compare that to an Israeli citizen, who can be held without indictment for an initial period of 15 days, which can be extended for only another 15 days.)
Palestinians are tried in Israeli military courts. These military tribunals are presided over by a panel of three judges appointed by the military, two of whom often do not have any legal training or background. These tribunals rarely comply with international standards for fair trials.
The maximum allowable civilian sentences are considerably less severe than those allowable in the military tribunals, a major reason for the significant differential in sentences passed upon Israelis and Palestinians. For example, a Palestinian convicted of manslaughter by a military tribunal is subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while an Israeli convicted of manslaughter in a civilian court faces a maximum of 20 years. Likewise, under the Israeli penal code, prisoners may be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence. The military orders under which Palestinians are judged do not allow for early release for any reason.
Into the "Gulag"
The fourth Geneva Convention forbids the transfer of detainees outside the OPT. Article 76 states that "all protected persons accused of an offense must be detained within the occupied country and if they are sentenced, they have to serve the sentence within it." However, there are only two military detention centers and one military detention camp located within the OPT.
All of these detention centres are extremely overcrowded. Detainees sleep on wooden planks covered by thin mattresses. Electricity is sparsely provided and all movement is prohibited after sundown. Although Israel's own prison regulations require inmates to receive sufficient food to remain healthy, Israel has recently taken to requiring detainees to obtain more than half of their food from families or the prison canteen. The food provided to Palestinian detainees is insufficient in both quantity and quality. Between March and May 2002, for example, inmates in military detention camps were provided with frozen food that they were only able to defrost by sunlight. There are no special dietary considerations made for detainees who suffer chronic illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Hygiene among the prisons is poor as well. Those injured during their arrest often are forced to remain in blood-soiled clothing for several months; individuals who were detained in their night clothes or underwear also do not receive a change of clothing. Soap is rationed by the prison administration, and other personal hygiene items are offered infrequently and are often unsanitary. Hot water is seldom available. For example, each section of 120 detainees at the Ketziot Military Detention Camp receives one bar of soap each day, and none on Friday and Saturday. Garbage is removed irregularly, and the sewage system is in extreme disrepair.
As a result, a large number of detainees are in poor health. Prison clinics have become renowned for offering only aspirin for all health treatments and physicians within the clinics are all soldiers. Health examinations are conducted through a fence, and any necessary surgery or transfer to hospital for additional medical treatment is usually postponed for long periods of time. Demands made by Israeli organisations to provide health care to detainees have consistently been refused, in addition to petitions made by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
According to a February 2010 Middle East Monitor fact sheet, there are approximately 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who suffer from chronic ailments, such as cancer, kidney failure, heart disease and diabetes, hypertension, anemia, acute inflammation in the back and lungs, and joint and skin problems. The number of affected inmates continues to rise as a result of medical negligence. Palestinian human rights reports have repeatedly accused the Israeli authorities of adopting a policy of deliberate neglect, leaving prisoners to face a slow death.
The Use of Torture during Interrogation and Detention
The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled on 6 September 1999 that interrogation methods described as "torture" may be used in the "necessity of defense" and in situations in which a detainee is considered a "ticking bomb." Since Israel can legally hold detainees incommunicado for several weeks, interrogators are able to use methods of torture without impunity. Legalised torture includes sleep deprivation and shackling for extended periods of time.
According to 2008 research by Abdun-Nasser Farawn, a former prisoner and expert in prisoner affairs, 95% of Palestinians who had been imprisoned in Israel had been beaten; 89% were deprived of sleep for long times; 82% were forced to stand in difficult positions for long periods; 55% were subjected to extreme hot and cold temperatures; and 50% had pressure applied to their testicles. Furthermore, Farawna said that since 1967, 70 prisoners had died in Israeli custody as a result of torture.
A Palestinian detainee can be interrogated for a total period of 180 days, during which he or she can also be denied lawyer visits for a period of 60 days. Confessions extracted through torture are admissible in court. After the 180-day period, charges must be brought against the detainee, or he/she must be released.
If a complaint is lodged, investigations are confidential and led by a security agent under the authority of the State Attorney. No agent has been charged since the responsibility for investigations was transferred to the Ministry of Justice in 1994.
Disconnected from the outside world
Since June 2006, following the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israeli security authorities have imposed harsh constraints on family visits to prisoners, particularly those from the Gaza Strip. These restrictions culminated in a decision by the Israeli army in June 2007 to place a total ban on visits by the families of prisoners from Gaza.
The majority of prisons throughout the world ensure the basic right of prisoners to make phone calls to their families and lawyers. In Israel, a common criminal has the right to make such phone calls; however, Palestinian or Arab "security prisoners" are deprived of this right. Even in humanitarian situations such as bereavement, prisoners are denied the right to pay their respects by phone.
The Palestine Monitor, http://www.palestinemonitor.org/?p=214
Electronic Intifada, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9630.shtml
The Guardian, Israeli authorities deny Palestinians prisoners access to lawyers, 12.28.10, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/28/israel-denies-lawyers-palestinian-prisoners
Joseph Dana–Reporting from Israel/Palestine, Seventeen-Year-Old Child Taken in Night Raid
on Bi’iln Now Facing Jail Time, http://josephdana.com/2010/07/seventeen-year-old-child-