Palestinian prisoners in Israel
Palestinian prisoners in Israel (or as used by Israel Prison Service: Security prisoners) refers in this article to Palestinians imprisoned in Israel in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The future of Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel is considered central to progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
In December 2011, 4,772 security prisoners were serving terms in Israeli jails. Of these, 552 were sentenced to life terms. As of April 2013, there were approximately 4,700 security prisoners in Israeli jails, 169 of them held under administrative detention without having been charged. Most of the prisoners are Palestinian men from the West Bank and Gaza area, convicted of participating in terror attacks.
- 1 Number of prisoners
- 2 Payments by Palestinian Authority
- 3 Prisoner exchanges and releases
- 4 Breach of international law
- 5 Allegations of human rights abuse
- 6 Education programs
- 7 Hunger strikes
- 8 Political and social activism
- 9 See also
- 10 External links
- 11 References
Number of prisoners
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, from the Six Day War (1967) to the First Intifada (1988), over 600,000 Palestinians were held in Israeli jails for a week or more. Rory McCarthy, The Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent, estimated that one-fifth of the population has at one time been imprisoned since 1967. On 11 December 2012, the office of then Prime Minister Salam Fayyad stated that since 1967, 800,000 Palestinians, or roughly 20% of the total population and 40% of the male population, had been imprisoned by Israel at one point in time. About 100,000 had been held in administrative detention.
According to B'Tselem, there was a decline, starting in 1998, in the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention. Less than 20 were held from 1999 to October 2001. However, with the start of the Second Intifada (2000), and particularly after Operation Defensive Shield (2002), the numbers steadily rose. According to the Fédération Internationale des ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH), from the beginning of the Second Intifada to April 2003, more than 28,000 Palestinians were incarcerated. In April 2003 alone there were more than 5,500 arrests.
In 2007, the number of Palestinians under administrative detention averaged about 830 per month, including women and minors under the age of 18. By March 2008, more than 8,400 Palestinians were held by Israeli civilian and military authorities, of which 5,148 were serving sentences, 2,167 were facing legal proceedings and 790 were under administrative detention, often without charge or knowledge of the suspicions against them. In 2010, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reported that there were "over 7,000" Palestinians in Israeli jails, of them 264 under administrative detention. Most of the prisoners are held at Ofer Prison in the West Bank and Megiddo and Ketziot prisons in Israel.
In April 2008, Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel stated that 11,000 Palestinian prisoners were in prison and detention in Israel, including 98 women, 345 minors, 50 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and 3 ministers of the Palestinian National Authority. Of these 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, 8,456 were from the West Bank, 762 from the Gaza Strip, and 694 from within Israel itself (including 552 from Jerusalem). In October 2008, Haaretz reported that 600 Palestinians were being held in administrative detention in Israel, including "about 15 minors who do not know even know why they are being detained."
In 2000–2009, 6,700 Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 18 were arrested by the Israeli authorities, according to Defence for Children International's Palestine Section (DCI/PS). In 2009, a total of 423 were being held in Israeli detention and interrogation centers and prisons. In April 2010 the number dropped to 280. DCI/PS states that these detentions stand in contravention of international law. Up to August 2013, 193 minors were imprisoned, and according to The Economist, "nearly all" were "brought to court in leg shackles and handcuffs."
There are several Palestinian leaders and politicians held in Israeli jails, including 47 Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, in addition to some ministers and the mayors and municipal council members of various towns and cities in the West Bank.
Marwan Barghouti a leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militia and al-Mustaqbal political party, was arrested and tried by an Israeli civilian court for attacks carried out by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. He was convicted on 20 May 2004 on five counts of murder and sentenced to five life sentences and forty years.
Ahmad Sa'adat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is currently held by Israel. In 2002, he was tried, convicted and imprisoned in Jericho by the Palestinian National Authority, for his role in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi on 17 October 2001 by the PFLP. The Palestinian Supreme Court later declared his imprisonment unconstitutional. His imprisonment by the PNA, rather than extradition to Israel as required by the Oslo Accords, was negotiated between the PNA, Israel the US and the UK. Under the terms of that agreement, the imprisonment was to be monitored by US and UK observers. On 14 March 2006, after both the American and British monitors, as well as the Palestinian guards of the Jericho jail abandoned their posts, Israeli forces surrounded the prison in Jericho and took Sa'adat, who has been under administrative detention since then.
In 2005, three members of Nablus's municipal council including the mayor Adly Yaish, Qalqilya mayor Wajih Qawas, Beita mayor Arab Shurafa, and two members of the Bani Zeid municipal council – all members of Hamas were arrested.
Payments by Palestinian Authority
In 2003, Palestinian law mandated a monthly salary of $250 to Palestinian security detainees imprisoned in Israel for up to five years, with a higher payment to those serving a longer term. Those who served a life sentence were paid $1,000 per month. In January 2011, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad enacted an amendment to increase these payments by 300%.
In March 2009, an extra $190 was added to these payments to prisoners affiliated with Palestine Liberation Organization factions in Israeli prisons. Each PLO-affiliated prisoner receives $238 per month, along with an extra $71 if they're married and $12 for each child.
As of May 2011, the Palestinian Authority spent $4.5 million per month paying Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including prisoners convicted of murdering civilians, and $6.5 million to the families of suicide bombers. The salaries, funded by the PA, are given to Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad prisoners, despite financial hardships by the Palestinian Authority. These payments comprise 6% of the PA's budget. Hamas member Abdullah Barghouti, who was sentenced to 67 life terms for perpetrating the killings of 67 Israelis, receives NIS 4,000. In addition, prisoners who have been imprisoned for over 30 years receive NIS 12,000 ($3,000) per month.
In October 2012, the Daily Mail online edition reported that prisoners were receiving British aid money in amounts between 230 pounds - 1957 pounds per month, depending on several criteria, regardless of the crimes committed. Pauline Latham MP, of the International Development Select Committee said: "I hope that after further investigation, the DfID and the FCO can ascertain exactly how the Palestinian Authority spends aid money and put a stop to its use in detracting from any potential peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians." Alan Duncan, International Development Minister said: "The PA operates two social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments to households who have lost their main breadwinner. I hope you will also agree that dependent spouses or children should not be held responsible for the crimes of family members, or forced to live in poverty as a consequence."
Raheem Kassam, director of communications for the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign affairs think-tank in London said: "That Palestinian prisoners are being supported by UK taxpayer money is an absolute scandal that must be stopped."
Prisoner exchanges and releases
Israel has released Palestinians in prisoner exchange agreements concluded with various Palestinian militia factions. In 1985, Israel released 1,000 prisoners, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in exchange for three Israeli POWs being held by Ahmed Jibril. The 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip called for the release of Palestinian detainees in stages, as part of a series of "confidence-building measures." Upon the Israeli withdrawal from populated Palestinian centers in 1995, many Palestinians in military jails were transferred to jails inside Israel, which some Palestinian activists said was a breach of articles 49 and 76 of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting deportations. The 1998 Wye River Memorandum specified that Israel was to release 750 Palestinian prisoners, some 250 of which were released by the time of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum in 1999. Wye 2 reduced the number of those to be released from 500 to 350, and these were freed by mid-October 1999. Israeli released 26 security prisoners at the beginning of Ramadan, half of whom had a few months left to serve. An additional seven prisoners from East Jerusalem were released the next day after protests from the Palestinian Authority, which had expected more. In 2000, another 18 prisoners were released as a goodwill gesture in March and June.
At a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in February 2005, Israel pledged to release another 900 Palestinian prisoners of the 7,500 being held at the time. By the spring of 2005, 500 of these had been released, but after Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot on 5 May, Ariel Sharon withheld the release of the remaining 400, citing the need for the Palestinian Authority to rein in militants.
In 2011, the Israeli government released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for more than five years. Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari was quoted in the Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Hayat as confirming that the prisoners released as part of the deal were collectively responsible for the killing of 569 Israeli civilians. The agreement is the largest prisoner exchange agreement Israel has ever made, given that as part of the agreement Israel agreed to release 1,027 prisoners for one captured Israeli soldier – the highest price Israel has ever paid for a single soldier. Gilad Shalit was also the first captured Israeli soldier to be released alive in 26 years.
In October 2012, the Israeli defence establishment alleged that dozens of the released Palestinian prisoners in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange had resumed terrorist activity. Many of them have joined the leadership of Hamas, other Palestinian prisoners have instead developed weapons and fired rockets at Israeli population centers, and some have recruited members to new terrorist cells in the West Bank. One of these cells in Hebron planted a bomb and plotted to kidnap an Israeli soldier. Prisoners in the West Bank have also engaged in violent acitivty, and Israel arrested 40 of them for rioting, hurling Molotov cocktails, handling funding for terrorism, and other acts.
In August 2013, the Israeli Cabinet agreed on a four-stage process by which 104 Palestinian prisoners will be released as part of a "confidence-building" measure aimed to boosting renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. All of the prisoners slated for release were convicted for terrorism against Israel before the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993; most were either directly involved in the murder of Israelis and many were serving life sentences. That same month, the names of the first 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released was made public, and on October 27, 2013, the second round of prisoners was also released.
Breach of international law
Terrorists versus "prisoners of war"
In July 2003, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported that "Israel does not recognize Palestinian prisoners as having the status of prisoners of war." The prisoners are instead treated as politically motivated criminals or terrorists, and either charged with terrorist offences or violent crimes, or administratively detained without charge.
It has been argued by supporters of the Palestinian cause that according to the Geneva Conventions, Palestinians who are members of armed resistance organizations should be entitled to prisoner of war status and not called terrorists.
The position of the Geneva Conventions with regard to Palestinians detained for armed activity against Israeli forces is not entirely clear. Additional Protocol I  - which applies during armed conflicts against alien occupations (Article 1(4) ) - would give lawful combatant status (and therefore prisoner of war status if captured) to fighters who do not wear uniforms or have a distinctive mark due to the nature of the conflict, so long as they carry arms openly during military engagements (see Article 44(3) ). However, this protocol has not been ratified by Israel.
The Third Geneva Convention of 1949, which Israel has ratified, provides more limited protection, giving prisoner of war status to fighters in organised resistance movements fulfil conditions laid out in Article 4(2), including "being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates" and "having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance", with Article 4(6) protecting inhabitants of non-occupied territory who spontaneously resist the enemy in some circumstances.
Deportation of prisoners
Until the early 1990s, Palestinian prisoners were held in detention facilities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since then, most of them are deported to prisons and detention centres on Israeli territory This was described as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that detained persons have the right to remain in occupied territory in all stages of detention, including serving of sentences if convicted. On 28 March 2010, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected a petition by the human rights group Yesh Din seeking to halt the practice of detention inside Israel.
Amnesty International stated that Israel imprisoned Palestinians for prolonged periods without charging them or putting them on trial. Israel said that detention without trial was a necessary security measure that can be used to avoid exposing confidential information in trials. This argument is, however, often falsy used. Administrative detention seems to be mainly used by Israel against individuals not engaged in violent activities. The European Union has criticized the policy.
Within Israel, the Defense Minister has the authority to issue Administrative Detention orders for up to 6 months in cases where there is a reasonable chance that the person harms the security of the state. The same Minister has the authority to renew such orders. Likewise, the Chief of the General Staff can issue such orders, but valid for only 48 hours. Law enforcement authorities have to show cause within 48 hours (in a hearing behind closed doors). Administrative Detention orders can be appealed to the District Court and, if denied there, to the Supreme Court of Israel. The District Court can annul such orders if it finds the administrative detention occurred for reasons other than security (e.g., common crimes, or the exercise of freedom of expression). Overall supervisory authority on the application of the relevant law rests with the Minister of Justice.
Within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, any local army commander can issue an administrative detention order, and the order can be appealed at the local military court, or, if denied there, at the Supreme Court. Here too, an administrative detention order is valid for at most six months, but can be renewed by the appropriate authority. Israel refers its use of administrative detention in the occupied territories to Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention 1949, which states that "If the Occupying Power considers it necessary, for imperative reasons of security, to take safety measures concerning protected persons, it may, at the most, subject them to assigned residence or to internment."
Some examples include:
- On 20 March 2010, Moatasem Nazzal, a 16-year-old Palestinian was arrested at his home in Qalandiya refugee camp without explanation and remained imprisoned until 26 December 2010.
- On 17 December 2011, Israel arrested Khader Adnan for "activities that threaten regional security." While Adnan was a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Israel did not accuse Adnan of direct involvement in any attacks by the group. Israeli officials did not charge him with any crime. After Adnan went on a hunger strike, the Israeli justice ministry announced that he would be released. This announcement reportedly cancelled a judicial review of the Israeli practice to hold prisoners without trial.
- 16 Palestinians have been held without charge for 2–4.5 years
- 88 have been held for 1–2 years
- 80 have been held for 6 months-1 year
In July 2012 the number had decreased to 250. According to the Israel Prison Service figures for December 2012, 178 Palestinians were being held in administrative detention (without charge or trial).
Allegations of human rights abuse
Until 1999, "moderate physical pressure" was permitted in the interrogation of suspects by the Israeli Shin Bet, as outlined in the Landau Commission report of 1987. B'Tselem drew up a list of alleged interrogation methods that includes: "depriving the interrogee of sleep for a number of days by binding him or her in painful positions; playing loud music; covering their head with a filthy sack; exposing the interrogee to extreme heat and cold; tying them to a low chair, tilting forward; tightly cuffing the interrogee's hands; having the interrogee stand, hands tied and drawn upwards; having the interrogee lie on his back on a high stool with his body arched backwards; forcing the interrogee to crouch on his toes with his hands tied behind him; violent shaking of the detainee, the interrogator grasping and shaking him; using threats and curses, and feeding him poor-quality and insufficient amounts of food."
In 1997, the United Nations Committee Against Torture stated that such methods constituted torture and were in breach of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a convention ratified by Israel in 1991. In September 1999, Israel's High Court ruled that the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) does not have legal authority to use physical means of interrogation that are not "reasonable and fair" and cause the detainee to suffer. While the court noted that a reasonable interrogation is likely to cause discomfort and put pressure on the detainee, this is lawful only if "it is a 'side effect' inherent to the interrogation," and not aimed at tiring out or "breaking" the detainee as an end in itself.
Uri Davis wrote that the ruling of 1999 came after 50 years of silence "in the face of systematic torture practiced in Israeli jails and detention centers against Palestinian prisoners and detainees, as well as other prisoners." However, Davis also notes that after the Supreme Court ruling, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel found that "torture has, in most cases, ceased."
In 2000, an official Israeli report acknowledged torture of detainees during the First Intifada. The report said that the leadership of Shin Bet knew about the torture but did nothing to stop it. Human rights organisations claim some detainees died or were left paralysed.
In 1967, Palestinian prisoners were initially denied pencils and paper. In the wake of prisoner protests, access was granted to pens, pencils, paper, books, newspapers and monitored radio broadcasting. Libraries were established in every prison, and literacy and language courses were organized. Young prisoners were offered classes to prepare for the General Secondary Examination. Thousands of Palestinian prisoners have learned Hebrew in Israeli prisons.
In the 1980s, according to Maya Rosenfeld, the option of armed resistance was completely blocked and prisons became a "sanctuary". Her research among Palestinian refugees in the Dheisheh camp in Bethlehem found that the politicization process of young men from the camp underwent a qualitative transformation during their period of imprisonment, which she attributes to the internal organization practices of Palestinian prisoners and the central role of studies and education.
Eventually, Palestinian prisoners were allowed to take online courses from the Open University of Israel, and to complete academic degrees. Under the program, education for the prisoners was free, with prison authorities paying their university tuition. In 2009, there were 250 Palestinian prisoners studying at Israel's Open University.
In June 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, in response to a halt in the peace talks, that Palestinian prisoners would no longer be granted the right to pursue academic degrees in prison. In late 2012, three prisoners appealed the decision the Israeli Supreme Court, which rejected their appeal. In their ruling, the judges stated that the right to free university education does not apply to those convicted of terror offenses. The ruling did, however, call on prison authorities to be "considerate" in deciding the cases of prisoners already in the midst of academic programs.
In 1998, there were nine hunger strikes conducted by Palestinian prisoners in different prisons in Israel. On 1 May 2001, almost 1,000 of the 1,650 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons at the time participated in a month-long hunger strike, in protest against "arbitrary treatment by prison officials, substandard prison conditions, prohibitions on family visits, use of solitary confinement, poor medical care, and Israel's refusal to release all the categories of prisoners specified in its agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)." Mass demonstrations in solidarity with the prisoners erupted throughout the areas of Palestinian self-rule in the days following, culminating in a mass protest on 15 May (the anniversary of the Nakba) and ending on 18 May, with 7 Palestinians killed and 1,000 injured. In addition, 60 Israelis were also wounded. The hunger strike was ended on 31 May after Israeli prison authorities promised to review the complaints and ease restrictions on visitations. A report by the Israeli government released in June 2001 on conditions in the Shatta prison noted that the living conditions were "particularly harsh" in the wing where prisoners from the Occupied Palestinian Territories were held, and concluded that the exposed tents and filthy bathrooms in which prisoners were housed and bathed were unfit for human use.
2012 mass strikes
Following his arrest on 17 December 2011, Khader Adnan, alleged by Israel to be a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, began a hunger strike in protest at what he claims were the violent circumstances of his arrest. Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons reportedly joined Adnan in his hunger strike as an act of solidarity. In April 2012, he was released after fasting for 66 days.
In February 2012, approximately 1,800 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons began a mass hunger strike in protest at the practice of administrative detention. Israel holds about 4,500 Palestinian prisoners, of which about 310 are being held in administrative detention, without the right to a trial. Four of the hunger strikers spent over two months without food. The demands of the hunger strikers included the right to family visits for prisoners from Gaza, the end of the use of extended solitary confinement and the release of those held under the administrative detention laws. Demonstrations in support of the prisoners were held in Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm, Kfar Kanna and Haifa.
On 7 May 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appeals on human rights grounds of two of the prisoners, Tha'er Halahlah and Bilal Diab. A few days later, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the International Committee of the Red Cross both expressed concern about the condition of the hunger strikers.
On 14 May, it was announced that the prisoners had agreed to end their hunger strike, having reached a deal with the Israeli authorities, brokered by Egypt and Jordan and following a formal request from Mahmoud Abbas. Under the deal, Israel agreed to limit administrative detention to six months, except in cases where new evidence against a suspect had emerged, to increase access to family visits and to return prisoners in solitary confinement to normal cells. There was also an agreement to open further discussions on improving prison conditions and representatives of the hunger strikers agreed not to engage in militant activity, including recruitment, within prisons. Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestinian National Council stated the hunger strikers had "truly demonstrated that non-violent resistance is an essential tool in our struggle for freedom".
According to Yezid Sayigh, an "inadvertent consequence" of Israel's internal security measures was to contribute to the social mobilization of Palestinian society. Due to the large number of students and youth in prison from the mid-1970s to early 1980s, the prison population "tended to be young, educated, and familiar with the tactics of civil disobediance and unarmed protest." In prison, they were exposed to political indoctrination and instruction in security and organization from veteran guerillas. Prisoners organized themselves according to political affiliation and initiated educational programs, making the prisons "unsurpassed 'cadre schools'". Upon their release, they became leaders of students movements in Palestinian universities and colleges. An Israeli investigation among Palestinian prisoners in the early stages of the First Intifada found that their political mobilization was not so much ideologically based, as it was a function of repeated humiliations at the hands of Israeli forces.
Palestinian Prisoners' Document
Five Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails, affiliated with Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), authored the Palestinian Prisoners' Document in 2006. The document outlined 18 points on the basis of which negotiations with Israel should proceed. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to use it as a basis for his negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but Olmert refused.
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