Despite Cruel Conditions Palestinian Prisoners Continue to Struggle in the Face of the Oppressor

By Dr. Fayez Rasheed on October 2, 2015

A Hamas supporter acting as a Palestinian prisoner stands in a mock cage during a rally in Jabalya, in the northern Gaza Strip, April 13, 2012, calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Gaza Strip, April 13, 2012, Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

There are 17 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Altogether, almost 5,000 Palestinians are being held by Israel, including 20 women, 230 children and a number of elderly men. They are all subject to the worst types of cruelty and torture in prison.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society in Ramallah, 95 per cent of Palestinian prisoners are suffering from a form of torture from the moment they are arrested until they are transported to Israel’s many detention and interrogation centers. Some have been sentenced to life imprisonment while others are serving sentences of more than 30 years. Over 1,000 of the Palestinians in Israeli jails are ill; 160 have chronic illnesses, including cancer. Eighty are being held under arbitrary administrative detention, based on a law left over from British Mandate days.

Israel is still holding 30 “old prisoners”, the term describing those who were imprisoned prior to the Oslo agreement, even after having released three batches of such prisoners. This was done in agreement with the Palestinian Authority but Israel is now refusing to release the fourth batch.

The Palestinian prisoner struggle is focused mainly on improving their conditions from the time of arrest, which are very harsh. They live in overcrowded conditions with limited freedom and nutrition; face a lack of adequate medical attention; and are prohibited from receiving books, listening to programs on the radio and watching television. In addition, medicine is often tested on prisoners, as a result of which many suffer from chronic conditions and permanent disabilities. It is also very difficult for families to visit them, as the Israeli prison administration puts wire mesh between visitors and prisoners.

One of the most dangerous tactics used by Israel against Palestinian prisoners is to torture them psychologically by keeping them locked-up under administration detention; this is open-ended and can be renewed at random. The prisoners are never charged with any crime nor brought before a court. Israel has broken its pledge to stop such administrative detention in the agreement made with Egyptian mediation and continues to use it. Mental illnesses are common amongst prisoners held in this way.

The statistics show that since 1967 more than a million Palestinians in the occupied territories have been arrested and detained by Israel. This means that every Palestinian family in the West Bank and Gaza Strip contains at least one person who has been detained and experienced such conditions and treatment.

Since 1967, more than 200 Palestinian prisoners have been killed in Israeli custody. Women detained during their pregnancies have been forced to give birth under harsh conditions in a “hospital” room in prison. They are supervised by a nurse and the new-born child stays with its mother.

Israel regularly subjects Palestinian prisoners to collective punishment. There have been numerous occasions when the prison authorities have brought in the border police to attack the prisoners with machine guns, tear gas and other weapons merely because the detainees demand better conditions. Not one week passes without the guards storming the prisoners’ cells in one Israeli prison or another.

Despite this, Israel promotes itself as a democratic state while the world at large believes this myth and turns a blind eye to the issue of the Palestinian prisoners. Indeed, we saw, for example, that they focused their attention on the capture of one Israeli soldier on active duty in an occupation army, Gilad Shalit. When the Palestinians captured him, many world leaders called for his release in order to return to his family, because they missed him. The whole world heard of his story and he was eventually released in a prisoner exchange. However, who in the world has uttered a word about the Palestinians prisoners? Do they not have families who miss them?

Regardless of Israel’s oppression, neo-fascist plans and methods, and its numerous attacks on them, Palestinian prisoners have been able to turn their prisons into schools which have boosted their loyalty and affiliation to their people and national cause. The prisoners have become more convinced of the justice of their cause and more insistent on achieving our nation’s goals of freedom, dignity, return, self-determination and the establishment of a sovereign independent state. Despite political division, the Palestinian prisoners are united in their desire to achieve national unity in their confrontation with the enemy and its aim to break their will.

Although the prisoners are a card to play in talks about reconciliation, the tactic has had little success. This has upset many of the prisoners, some of whom have resorted to using the only weapon in their hands to achieve their demands: the hunger strike. It is fairly certain that if a Jewish prisoner was to go on hunger strike anywhere in the world it would become an international issue, such are the double standards at play in international relations. The Palestinian prisoners have done nothing wrong; they have simply defended their people and just national cause against a brutal military occupation, which is their legitimate right. This is why the issue of the Palestinian prisoners must become the focus of the Palestinian people and Arab world; the organizations concerned with Palestinian and Arab affairs must promote their cause in the international arena. This is the least we can do for them; we have a duty to give their cause the attention it deserves.

A new Israeli report revealed that the judgements issued by Israeli courts against young Palestinians who have risen up in Jerusalem and the occupied territories are very harsh and discriminate between Palestinian stone-throwers and armed Jewish settlers, most of whom do not even appear before a court no matter what their crimes are. This refutes the claims made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government that the courts are “lenient” with Arab stone-throwers, and that they issue military sentences against Israelis who attack targets in the occupied West Bank. In their opinion, these are harsher sentences.

This report, published by Haaretz newspaper earlier this week, is part of a series of reports and academic studies published over the past two decades which highlight the racist nature of the Israeli judicial system. Even in minor civil cases, such as traffic violations, for example, there is a big difference in how Arabs and Jews are treated by the courts. In recent weeks, Netanyahu has called for the maximum possible sentences to be given to Palestinian stone-throwers, even if they are minors. In July, the Knesset passed a law making the punishment for stone-throwing anywhere between 5 and 20 years in prison. Salutations to our prisoners.

Source: Middle East Monitor