Trending Topics:

Palestinian prisoners win a notable battle

on 3 Comments

Washington DC, April 16 — Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails won a small but significant victory April 15 when the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) agreed to several key demands voiced by 400 prisoners who had been on an open-ended hunger strike. Under the settlement, the IPS agreed to provide three-times-weekly access to (supervised) payphones so prisoners could call their families. It moved numerous prisoners from solitary cells back to the general population and made other concessions to the hunger strikers.

The hunger strikers’ apparent victory came just two days before Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, an observation held annually on April 17 to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of political prisoners held—many for very long terms and many without any fixed term at all—in Israel’s broad network of military prisons.

The Egyptian government played a role in mediating the April 15 settlement—presumably in connection with its ongoing efforts to de-escalate the hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

The prisoners most engaged in the hunger strike were from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, and the Democratic Front. Few prisoners from Fateh participated, though there were indications that if the hunger strike had continued many more prisoners from all factions would join in on April 17.

The hunger strike once again reminded justice activists around the world that Israel–like every colonial and repressive state in history– still routinely uses mass incarceration, along with a stringent system of movement controls, as one of its main ways to try to “control” the subject population.

The political unity and savvy of the strikers and their success in winning several of their core demands also underlined the key role that imprisoned activists have always played within the Palestinians’ long-drawn-out struggle for freedom.

The part of the Palestinian prisoners’ issue that has received most political traction in the United States thus far has been the situation of the 700 or so Palestinian minors who get caught up in Israel’s military courts and military detention system every year. As of the end of March, 205 Palestinian minors were imprisoned in this system, 32 of them being under 16 years old.

In November 2017, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and seven other lawmakers introduced H.R. 4391, the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act” into the Congressional system. If passed, it would prohibit U.S. government funds from supporting grave human rights violations against Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system. Throughout the rest of that session of Congress, an additional 22 Members—all Democrats– agreed to co-sponsor the bill. And it is expected that it will be reintroduced into the current session of Congress in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

It may seem to some that focusing only the issue of the treatment of minors within Israel’s military-prison system is addressing only a tiny part of some much bigger problems—that is, not the situation of all the prisoners… and beyond that, not the continuation of Israel’s entire, now-52-years-long forceful occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, and Golan, itself.

But the treatment of children in Israel’s military courts and the detention system that lies behind them is quite egregious. Nowhere else in the world are children subjected to military law, sometimes dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night by armed soldiers, interrogated without their parents being present, etc. The issue of the child prisoners also certainly does provide an entry-point into addressing the broader issues as well, along with a handy reminder to members of Congress and their constituents that all these gross Israeli rights abuses are sustained only with US government funding and political support.

Regarding the broader population of Palestinian political prisoners (as distinct from purely “criminal” incarcerees) they currently number 7,450, between adults and children. 497 of the political prisoners are held under regulations that allow infinitely renewable terms of “administrative detention”, that is, imprisonment without charge or trial. Of those who have been charged and tried, many have been convicted only on nebulous charges of “incitement”; and Israel’s entire military-courts system is notoriously heavily stacked against the defendants.

International law has for decades now prohibited any occupying power from transporting prisoners or detainees from the occupied territories into its own terrain. (This provision was introduced into the Geneva Conventions in 1949, after the world saw what had happened to detained populations whom the Nazi authorities in Germany transported away from their home countries.)

This is another provision of international law that Israel disregards. Indeed, one of the many unfortunate consequences the Oslo Accords had for Palestinians in the occupied territories was that after Oslo, most Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza were moved to prisons inside 1948 Israel. That was not just illegal under international law. It made it exponentially harder for their families to visit them. Family members who want to do so have to get special permits to cross into Israel, wait for the special buses that are provided for the purpose, and then spend many long hours on the road or at checkpoints in order to have just a very short visit with their loved one—a visit that in most cases permits no direct contact and can often be heart-wrenching for both the prisoners and families.

In these circumstances the hunger strikers’ victory in winning access for the first time to regular phone calls with loved ones was particularly sweet. So was their success in getting significant numbers of prisoners returned from solitary confinement to the general prison population.

Helena Cobban

Helena Cobban is the President of Just World Educational (JWE), a non-profit organization, and the CEO of Just World Books. She has had a lengthy career as a journalist, writer, and researcher on international affairs, including 17 years as a columnist on global issues for The Christian Science Monitor. Of the seven books she’s published on international affairs, four have been on Middle Eastern topics. This new series of commentaries she’s writing, “Story/Backstory”, will have an expanded audio component published in JWE’s podcast series. They represent her own opinion and judgments, not those of any organization.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

3 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Block on April 18, 2019, 8:13 am

    Ask your members of congress why they support Israel’s mistreatment of children. Not to mention Israel’s holding hundreds of political prisoners. Maybe they think the US should imprison people for political reasons, too.

  2. Misterioso on April 18, 2019, 9:10 am

    “After my imprisonment, my little brother has been jailed in Israel. Who will speak up for Palestinian children like US?”

    By Ahed Tamimi, The Independent, April 17/19

    ‘A year ago I was in an Israeli prison, denied my basic rights and stripped of my childhood. The crime that led to eight months of incarceration was not mine, but that of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine.

    “As with so many child prisoners who are subjected to the horrors of Israeli military detention, one of the toughest daily struggles was being separated from my family. Last week, my family was torn apart once again: this time, Israeli forces came and took away my 15-year-old brother Mohammed.

    “This is the price we pay for Israel’s occupation. Every mother and father is forced to live in fear of their children being the next target. Palestinians in the West Bank are subjected to military law, which is used as a tool to repress, silence, and prevent our resistance to occupation.

    “We do not have equal rights to the Israeli settlers who live on stolen land in our neighbourhoods. This prevents us from living normal lives and threatens our existence, but it is protected by Israel’s legal system.

    “Across the West Bank exists a framework of dual legal systems: Jewish settlers are afforded rights under Israeli civilian law, while we Palestinians have ours taken away by military law – two very different processes and outcomes implemented on grounds of ethnicity. Experts say this meets the definition of apartheid, and children are not immune from this suffering.

    “There are currently more than 200 Palestinian children, including my brother, in Israeli jails. Each year, Israel arrests and prosecutes around 700 children, some as young as 12. They are usually accused of throwing stones. After being separated from their families, exposed to physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, a number of children are coerced into signing confessions put in front of them by Israeli interrogators – often in a language they do not understand. Very few children are granted access to a lawyer or allowed a family member present during interrogation.

    “With 99 per cent of court cases against Palestinians resulting in conviction, signing a confession and making a plea bargain is often presented as the fastest way of being released and reunited with family.

    “From the moment of arrest, Palestinian children encounter abuse at the hands of Israeli forces. In 2013, UNICEF published a report into the widespread, systematic and institutionalised ill treatment of children in the military detention system. Of the 38 requirements they set out to protect Palestinian children, Israel has implemented only one. According to the charity Defence for Children International Palestine, three out of four experience physical violence, and nearly half suffer the traumatic experience of being ripped from their families in the middle of the night by armed soldiers.

    “The British government is aware of what is happening. A delegation of lawyers was sent by the Foreign Office to report on the situation in 2012. It came back with damning conclusions that mirrored those of UNICEF a year later.

    “More recently, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign submitted a petition with over ten-thousand signatures demanding urgent action, and MPs tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 563) that is the fourth most supported in this Parliamentary session.

    “Today, on Palestinian Prisoners Day, I join them in asking the British government to hold Israel accountable and give Palestinians back their childhoods.

    “My case garnered international attention, and I’m thankful for the many messages of support I received from people in the UK during my nightmarish ordeal in prison. But I will not truly be free until we all are.”

  3. Misterioso on April 18, 2019, 9:38 am

Leave a Reply