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Israel's detention policies against Palestinians a violation of International Law

Published April 15th, 2017 - 05:00 GMT
Palestinian prisoner Bilal Kayed's mother (C) demonstrates in support of her son outside the hospital where he is being held in Ashkelon on August 9, 2016. (AFP)
Palestinian prisoner Bilal Kayed's mother (C) demonstrates in support of her son outside the hospital where he is being held in Ashkelon on August 9, 2016. (AFP)
Israel's decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza inside Israeli jails, and depriving them of family visits, is "cruel" and a violation of international law, Amnesty International has said.
There are currently 6,500 Palestinian prisoners, including at least 300 children, detained in Israeli-run prisons and detention facilities. Most are being held on security-related grounds and are considered political prisoners by Palestinians.

"Israel's ruthless policy of holding Palestinian prisoners arrested in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in prisons inside Israel is a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention," Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said.

"Israeli authorities must stop imposing excessive restrictions on visitation rights as a means of punishing prisoners and their families, and ensure that conditions fully meet international standards."

The comments from Amnesty International come as Palestinian prisoners prepare for a mass hunger strike next week to mark Palestinian Prisoner's Day on April 17. The hunger strike was announced by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, long touted as the people's choice to succeed Mahmoud Abbas as president.

A number of Palestinian political parties have announced they will join the hunger strike, which will demand an end to Israeli restrictions on visits and contact with family members. There are currently thirteen members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian parliament, being detained in Israeli jails.

Since Israel's occupation in 1967 around 700,000 Palestinians have been jailed, around 40 percent of the male population, according to rights group Addameer. As such, every family in the occupied territories knows someone who has been arrested, and prisoners are considered national heroes for sacrificing themselves for the Palestinian struggle.

Palestinian prisoners are often deprived of family visits for months, and at times, years on end. Under international humanitarian law, detainees from an occupied territory must be held in the occupied territory, not in the territory of the occupying power. They must also be granted family visits.

Of the 6,500 prisoners, at least 500 are being held under administrative detention - without trial or charge - a policy dating back to the British Mandate. Detainees held under this policy are not informed about the reason for their arrest.

One prisoner held in administrative detention, Ahmed, told Amnesty that he was joining the hunger strike to pressure authorities to grant a permit for his elderly mother to visit him. He has only received one family visit despite spending five-and-a-half years in Israeli jails.

"No one can visit me, my mother is in her seventies and she is denied a permit for security reasons…I don't know when I will be released or how long I will be in prison for, I want to be able to see my family," he said.

"The Israeli authorities are using the permits to punish me... I don't know how long [my mother] has [left] and if I will be able to see her if or when I am released."

In line with Israeli Prison Service Regulations, prisoners are entitled to family visits once every two weeks. But because Palestinians in the occupied territories require Israeli-issued visas, this rarely happens. 

For the families of prisoners from Gaza, it is especially difficult. There are around 365 Gazans currently detained in Israeli jails. Najat al-Agha, 67, from Khan Younis in Gaza, has routinely had her permit requests denied. Her son is being held in an Israeli jail in Israel's Negev desert.

"I don’t know why I get rejected. I am 67-years-old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I don’t know how long I will live, any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him," she told Amnesty.

Since 1969, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been responsible for facilitating family visits for prisoners' relatives from the West Bank and Gaza, without any financial or logistical assistance from Israel. Relatives apply through the ICRC for permits and rely on the international body for transportation.

For West Bank residents visiting jailed relatives, the short journey can be a gruelling experience. Travelling to Israeli jails can take between eight to 15 hours depending on the location, with relatives subjected to body and strip searches, prisoners' rights group Addameer says.

Reham (not her real name) told Amnesty that the uncertainty of waiting for a visitors permit to visit her brother places a severe strain on the family. Since October 2016 she has been denied regular permits on security grounds. When their mother passed away, her brother was not allowed to attend the funeral. 

"The Israeli authorities play with our emotions, they torture us and punish us," Reham told Amnesty.

"They try to break us to tire us, so that we would want to visit our relatives less because of all the humiliation, searches, abuse and insults by soldiers or prison guards." 

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