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A Vision for Palestinian Women’s Rights Organizations based on the Global Study on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325
(Ten strategies for tackling issues pertaining to Women, Peace and Security)
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Date posted: July 04, 2003
By MIFTAH

Imagine that you are arrested, blindfolded, and taken to prison. On arrival, you are placed in a tiny cell that is empty except for a bed, made of concrete. The entire room is painted black and there are no windows. You are not allowed to speak to or see anyone, not even the guards who have brought you here – when they enter, you are blindfolded. You have no idea where you are or why you are here. If you ask of your whereabouts, they will tell you, you are on the moon. The psychological pressure is crushing. Your family and friends do not know where you are and they cannot do anything to help you. They don’t know if you are dead or alive, or if you are in prison, if your rights are being respected.

This is what happened to Palestinian clothes salesman Bashar Jodallah, age 50, when he was imprisoned in a secret detention center by Israeli forces in November 2002. Secret detention centers are in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions and Israeli law, yet in June 2003, Israel admitted to the existence of such a center, known as facility 1391. Israel refuses to release the location of the center or the names of those held there. Israel claims that its current prisoners “are not residents of the territories,” implying foreigners are detained here.

The existence of secret detention centers is just one of the numerous illegal measures utilized by Israel against Palestinian prisoners and detainees in its jails and detention centers. Israel is currently holding about 6,000 Palestinians on security-related charges; 1,000 of these are in administrative detention, meaning they face indefinite imprisonment without trial. Not only are the conditions of Palestinian detainees illegal under international law, they constitute broad human rights abuses. Moreover, Israel has used imprisonment and detention as an intentional means of quashing Palestinian resistance. For the Palestinian public, and all those concerned with human rights, the status of political prisoners is one of the most crucial issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Imprisonment without Reason: Administrative Detentions

“I would not want administrative detention to be included as an option in the society in which I live, just as I am not willing that the death penalty should be an option. Administrative detention is a blemish on society. Other laws may be found to enable the system to detain in the usual manner, and not by the use of a method that is incompatible with democracy.” (Former Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin, Ha’aretz, July 7, 1999).

Administrative detention is imprisonment without charge or trial. International law allows for the use of administrative detentions, however strict restrictions govern their implementation. Detention can only be used when other measures have failed. Even then, it can only be used to prevent acts of violence or other certain and immediate dangers to security. It cannot be used as punishment and can never be applied collectively. Additionally, an occupying country may not detain persons in the occupying country; they must remain within the occupied territory. Detainees also have distinct rights, such as the right to counsel, the right to be brought before a judge, the right to refute the detention, and the right to housing, clothing, food, and regular family visits. The right to conduct work or studies while in detention must also be respected.

Israel has repeatedly violated these rules. First, Israel has continually used detention as a substitute for a criminal trial. This has occurred not because the prisoner poses a clear and imminent danger but often because the authorities have little evidence or do not want to reveal their evidence. Israel regularly detains Palestinians for non-violent political activism or for their political opinions. Second, most Palestinian detainees are held in prisons and detention centers in Israel, primarily the Megiddo center in the north of Israel and the Ketziot camp in the Negev desert in the south of Israel. Besides violating international law, which demands that detainees remain in the occupied territory, this also prevents regular family visits, when most residents of the Occupied Territories are prohibited from traveling to Israel because of Israeli-imposed curfews, closures, and checkpoints. Third, military commanders are allowed to impose detention for up to six months; however, they may also renew six-month periods indefinitely, and this means some detainees have remained imprisoned without trial for years. Fourth, Israel’s detention policy operates with a disregard for due process. Often, detainees are not provided with the order explaining their detention, and no reason or evidence for detention is provided. Thus, the detainee is not given a reasonable chance to contest the charges. In each of these instances, Israel flagrantly violates international law governing detention.

Case Study: Operation Defensive Shield

In the spring of 2002, Israel conducted one of its most egregious detention operations. As a part of its Operation Defensive Shield, Israeli forces arbitrarily detained 7,000 Palestinians. Men were rounded up by the hundreds, simply on the basis of their age. The forces made no distinction between suspects and innocent civilians, and Israel was later forced to admit to wrongly detaining thousands of innocent people. They were taken to detention centers or simply to schools or apartments that the Israeli forces had occupied. Most were kept for days with little food, no change of clothes, and no place to sleep. They were often blindfolded, handcuffed or shackled, and forced to sit outside in the cold and rain. Many were beaten or otherwise harassed by the Israeli soldiers. Bassem Qashu’a, aged 44, described the circumstances:

At the base, they ordered us to sit down and the soldiers continued to beat and humiliate us. They even bragged that they would beat us until we screamed. I was still handcuffed and blindfolded. A soldier lifted my shirt and poured a bottle of cold water on my back, and hit me in the face with the bottle. I couldn’t take it, and I fainted. It was very cold and rainy…. Many soldiers beat us, and they seemed to enjoy it. They put hats on our heads with “Hamas” or “Fatah” written on them, and then they beat us, contending that we belonged to Hamas. One of the soldiers kicked me in the chest. As a result, I couldn’t breathe or sit. The soldiers forced us to repeat sentences, like “one, two, three, Arafat is a maniac, the Israeli people are maniacs, and Yehezkel is a maniac.” When we repeated after them, they beat us hard, claiming that we were swearing at them…. Then they took us to a place where there were lots of detainees in tents. It was crowded…. Sometimes, when somebody wanted to go to the bathroom, the soldiers would beat him when he came back, so I was afraid to ask permission to go. Lots of men peed in their pants because they were afraid to go to the bathroom.

The Ofer Detention Camp, near Ramallah, was hastily set up to house excess detainees during Operation Defensive Shield and other deplorable conditions were reported there. But even after the operation, when Israeli officials claimed that conditions had returned to normal, the human rights organization B’Tselem documented that detainees there continued to receive inadequate medical care and live in overcrowded conditions with a lack of showers, toilets, and food. Family visits are also barred to these detainees, and they have no other connection to the rest of the world.

Suffering Behind Bars: Conditions for Palestinian Prisoners

Israeli detention centers are not known for their accommodating conditions, and Palestinian detainees regularly suffer from difficult circumstances. Crowded facilities mean many prisoners are forced to sleep on the floor or in small, overcrowded tents. Poor or no medical care is the norm. Family visits, required under law, are limited or barred altogether. Little light and poor ventilation are common features of detention centers. Humiliation and psychological pressure are often exerted on Palestinian prisoners, and stints in solitary confinement are regularly doled out as punishment. And, even more abominable, torture, which is legal under Israeli law, is commonly utilized and even considered acceptable by many Israelis.

Other difficult conditions experienced by Palestinian prisoners include dirty facilities, rat infestation causing skin disease, poor food quality lacking nutritional value, confiscation of personal items by guards, and lack of hot water and warm clothes and blankets to protect prisoners housed both indoors and outdoors. Moreover, the release of tear gas in prison raids cause prisoners to pass out and suffer breathing problems. And in some prisons, such as Ketziot, a military prison in the Negev, a telephone scrambler that makes constant beeping sounds causes headaches and fatigue.

A common feature of detention centers, overcrowding can mean a center exceeds its capacity by up to 100 detainees at any given time. Though it is a breach of both Israeli and international law, detainees’ sleeping on the floor is an all-too-common phenomenon. A petition to require Israel to stop this practice filed in July 2002 was finally upheld by the High Court in June 2003, although the decree will not take effect until June 2004. Designed to hold prisoners for brief periods of time, these detention centers are inadequate to serve as the holding grounds of detainees for months and even years at a time.

Poor prison conditions were responsible for the dire condition of prisoner Ahmad Talab Barghouthi, age 27, when he entered his 26th day of a hunger strike. Held in Ramle prison, Barghouthi was imprisoned in April 2002 yet still has not been charged with a crime. According to the prisoner’s father, Ahmad was striking to protest his five-month solitary confinement in a cell filled with cockroaches and mice. His father says that he has not seen his son since he was arrested and that Ahmad has not been allowed to see his lawyer since he began the hunger strike. "All he wants is to be treated in a humane way. He is kept in conditions unfit for animals,” says his father.

Degrading treatment accompanies poor conditions in Israeli jails. In February 2003 at the Ramle Prison near Tel Aviv, prisoners requested hot water to bathe before the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. The response was a beating for those who made the request, and in addition six prisoners were put into solitary confinement for eight days. At the Telmond Prison in the same month, a prisoner was put into solitary confinement after he tried to give a religious sermon on the event of the holiday.

Restricted Family Visits

In September 2000, Israel began severely limiting visits by family members living in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights to visit detainees held in centers in Israel. Many detainees were therefore deprived of food and clothing normally brought to them by their families, and in July 2002, conditions had deteriorated so much that the International Committee of the Red Cross stepped in to deliver pants, t-shirts, underwear, socks, and towels to 4,500 detainees. Furthermore, detainees are generally not permitted to talk on the phone with family members. This further violates a prisoner’s rights and is especially harmful during times with family visits are prohibited as well.

Poor Medical Conditions

Medical assistance provided to Palestinian prisoners by Israel is known to be inhumane at worst and spotty at best. According to the Palestinian Detainee Club, about 700 Palestinians are suffering from various diseases in prison and face neglect from medical authorities. In a report by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, it was documented that detainees at Megiddo detention center in Israel suffered from protracted waiting for medical examinations, lack of information provided to the detainees about their conditions even after examination, and the provision of ineffective medication to relieve pain. In addition, it has been reported that Palestinian prisoners suffer from delayed treatment, disrespectful and inhuman treatment, and appalling sanitary conditions. Gun shot wounds sustained at arrest often go unattended, and the most attention given patients is often light painkillers. Also patients suffer neglect, and they may be threatened if they make complaints. Moreover, fatalities have occurred due to poor or a lack of delivery of services.

One particularly appalling case was reported in the media in summer 2003. On Monday, June 23, a Palestinian detainee held in Israel’s Naqab prison reported that an Israeli surgeon removed his appendix without anesthesia. Via a cellular phone, which had been smuggled into his cell, the 24-year-old Anas Kamel Shahada described how the doctor ordered that Shahada’s hands and feet be tied down and then began the operation without anesthesia. Says Shahada, “I got anxious and started shouting for help but to no avail…. I went into a coma upon spotting the blood gushing forth and feeling the severe pain. Yet, nothing moved the heart of the Israeli doctor, who wore his cruel heart on his sleeves."

Yet another gross violation of human rights occurring in Israeli prisons, according to the Palestinian Detainee Club, is the practice, admitted to by Israeli Knesset member and head of the Sciences Committee Dalia Isaac, of subjecting Palestinian prisoners to the trial of about 1,000 untested medicines without their knowing.

These are particularly gruesome example of a rights abuse, but all of above are violations of the rules of medical ethics and of human rights law.

Child Prisoners

As of June 2003, 2,000 Palestinian children have been arrested by Israeli forces since September 2000. Almost every single one of them has suffered some form of torture or mistreatment (from beatings to psychological abuse to intimidation), according to the Defence for Children International. Children are not only arrested for criminal offenses, they, like Palestinian adults, are regularly detained without explanation. Children suffer from all the difficult conditions that adults do, including poor food causing gastrointestinal problem, unattended to wounds, raids and inappropriate body searches.

Torture

Condemned by every major document of humanitarian law and by every credible human rights organization, the use of torture is considered by most to be an uncontestable violation of basic human rights. Yet torture is legal in Israel. In 1987 it became legal, and though in September 1999, the High Court of Justice banned torture, the judgment continued to allow the use of torture in so-called “ticking bomb” cases. The ruling works counter to all legal understandings of torture internationally, which regard it as a non-derogable right, meaning it is prohibited at all times and may never be suspended, not even during war or when national security is threatened. Moreover, Israel’s understanding of “ticking bomb” cases has been vague and often misinformed, meaning Palestinian victims of Israeli torture often do not fit this bill.

It has been confirmed that Israel has used numerous forms of torture not limited to but including: suspending prisoners with their legs up, stone-throwing contests at the prisoner, forcing detainees to run blindfold and tripping them, stripping (sometimes to nakedness), intimidation from a dog, and cocking a weapon as though about to proceed with summary execution. During interrogations, the least that Palestinians have experienced is beating, slapping, kicking, tying the body in painful positions, tightening of shackles, and violent shaking. In addition detainees are subjected to sleep deprivation, threats, and humiliation.

The treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers amounts to no less than broad human rights abuse and the violation of international law. Moreover, used as a tool to target activists and political actors as well as other innocent civilians, the policy of detention and the harsh conditions of imprisonment are a political means for Israel to suffocate Palestinian activism.

Sources:
www.aic.org
www.amnesty.org
www.btselem.org
www.dci-pal.org
www.nad-plo.org/
www.phr.org.il
www.ppsmo.org
www.stoptorture.org

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