Jordanian citizens in Israeli prisons by Erica Silverman

Published July 25th, 2005 - 08:15 GMT

How many Jordanian citizens are languishing in Israeli occupation prisons? 

Jordanian authorities claim there are 44, the Israeli Prison Authority claims there are 66, and estimations provided by Palestinian NGO’s hover at 75. 

The prisoner count fluctuates constantly and they are continuously transferred from one prison to another for “security” reasons.  The Jordanian Embassy in Tel Aviv, lawyers from Palestinian NGO’s, and the prisoners themselves are negotiating for their release. 


An indefinite number

According to a Jordanian official, who requested that he remain anonymous, 10 prisoners are charged with “political” or security offenses connected to the Intifada, 5 of which are described as having “Israeli blood on their hands.”  An estimated 23 prisoners are charged with possession of an expired visa, 5 prisoners are charged with criminal offenses, and there are 6 prisoners who do not wish to return to Jordan, for it would necessitate abandoning their livelihood in the Palestinian Territories.  According to the official, none are awaiting trial.


According to the Israeli Prison Authority, an estimated 11 prisoners are charged with “terrorism” or security offenses connected to the Intifada, 20 prisoners are charged with possession of an expired visa, 31 prisoners are charged with criminal offenses, and there are 4 “others.”  In addition, 11 of the total number of Jordanians are still awaiting trial.  Their spokesperson, Ofer Lefler, declined to release any further information about the status of their cases.


Of the 5 prisoners being held for having “Israeli blood on their hands,” four have been incarcerated since pre-1994, before the Peace Agreement between Israel and Jordan, according to the Jordanian official.  Salim Abu-Ghalyun, Khalid Abu Ghalyun, Amnin Al-Sani, and Sultan Al-Ajluni are jailed in Hadarim, a particularly violent, maximum security Israeli detention center located in the south.  The 5th, Ahlam Al-Tamimi, was arrested in 2001, according to an Arab-Israeli NGO the Friends of Detainees and Prisoners Association.


Al-Ajluni, incarcerated at only 16, and head of the “Committee of the Families of Jordanians held in Israeli Occupation Prisons” is the oldest and most politically active Jordanian prisoner.  Israeli law stipulates at 16 he should have been tried as a juvenile; however he was not officially sentenced until after his 18th birthday.  He has become the mouth piece for advocating the prisoner’s rights and communicates directly with the Jordanian Embassy and the press, and has even suggested making a bid in the upcoming Palestinian Legislative elections. 


Attorney Ra'ed Mohammed gave a recent account of prisoner abuse at Hadarim, such as brutal beatings during interrogation, physical and psychological torture, and a lack of medial care, in a May 7th report released by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society.


In addition to the 44, confirmed by the Jordanian authority, there are 4 prisoners incarcerated in Adamon, who claim they are also Jordanian citizens.  The legitimacy of Yusri Ayyad, Khalid Daghlas, Rabi Dawood, and Mahmud Awdah’s claim is under immediate investigation by the Embassy.  All four have finished serving their sentence, and they have participated in numerous hunger strikes to draw attention to their cases.   


Negotiations for release

On April 21 Israel released 9 prisoners, 7 of which returned to Jordan and 2 remained in the West Bank, capping months of negotiations to free the Jordanians under the terms of the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. 


The Jordanian official explained that Israel detains and releases, and relocates Jordanian prisoners without notifying the Embassy, although he claims they have voiced these concerns and the communication problems have been resolved.


Jordan's Ambassador to Israel Marouf Al-Bakhit and the official Consul frequently visit certain Jordanian prisoners in person, and carefully monitor their condition. The Embassy is making continuous efforts to secure their release, which they describe as a highly sensitive political issue on the top of their agenda, negotiating directly with Prime Minster Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.


Jordan only returned its ambassador to Tel Aviv in February, resuming top-level diplomatic relations which had been diminished after the September 2000 outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada. 


Jordanian prisoners participated in a hunger strike in late February in protest of the Ambassador’s return.  Another strike was held at the beginning of March, mostly by prisoners jailed in Hadarim, and another was held at the end of May as part of an on-going effort to draw attention to their cases.


Right to Representation

A mixture of private counsel and Palestinian attorneys from human rights NGO’s such as the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners and the Palestinian Prisoners Society, both headquartered in Ramallah in the West Bank and neither of which is recognized by the Israeli Prison Authority, are pursuing the legal track of negotiations for the Jordanian’s release.


“I do not even get an arrest report,” contended Fatimah Natsheh, an attorney for the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society who is representing several Jordanian prisoners upon the request of their families.  She claims there are nearly 75 Jordanian prisoners. 


“I have found many of the Jordanians by chance while visiting other prisoners,” she explained while flipping through immense three ring binders filled with cases.  She must have permission from the prisoner’s family and the Jordanian government to represent a prisoner, but in some cases Ms. Natsheh has neither, so she just visits.


Ms. Natsheh also stressed that the prisoners are constantly transferred without her notification, making it difficult to track her clients.  The Society has 30 lawyers handling 4,000 cases, in 24 detention centers, and half a dozen courts.
Missing Prisoners

There are an estimated 27 missing Jordanian prisoners in Israeli jails, according to the director of the Friends of Detainees and Prisoners Association (FDPA).  In a May 10 meeting with Ambassador Al-Bakhit, he acknowledged the issue and promised to take action, according to the Association.  FDPA asserts that two of the missing Jordanians are Muhammad Atiyah Furayj and Imad Sidqi al-Zaqzuq, who was last seen pre-1967.  Of the missing approximately 10 are Palestinian, many of whom served in the Jordanian Army prior to their arrest. 


FDPA files are comprised of personal inquires from the families of the missing, and the list is growing.  “Just yesterday I received a call from a family in Jordan trying to locate Hassan Shoshari,” stated director Kadrie Abu Wasel.  Shoshari has been missing since 1968 and was last seen in an Israeli prison.  Mr. Wasel speculates there are undisclosed military cemeteries in Israel where some of the missing may be found.
Prisoner Sultan Al-Ajluni claims there are at least 8 Jordanian prisoners missing, along with numerous accounts given by other prisoners who have been released.


Waiting for Godot

On May 5 Israel released 16 Jordanian prisoners, 12 of which returned home, and 4 of which were refused by the Jordanian authorities, lacking “permanent” Jordanian passports.  However, the four also lack the proper Palestinian identification card to remain in the Palestinian Territories, and were subsequently returned to prison.


Musa Abu-Arrab, Jehad Sroje, Samer Jenzawe, and Mesbah Lotfe Ahmad, who have completed their sentences, are in a limbo status, accepted by neither country. 


Many of the prisoners charged with possession of an expired visa no longer have valid Palestinian ID cards, and never had “permanent” Jordanian passports, leaving them in limbo.  The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs claims there are at least 10,000 people living in the Palestinian Territories who are in this limbo status, but have yet to be located by the Israeli authorities.


Jordan does not want to set a precedent by accepting Palestinian citizens into Jordan that Israel denies citizenship, either in Israel or in the Palestinian Territories, and Israel controls the Palestinian identity card system.


The lines between Jordanian and Palestinian identity are often blurry.  Full Jordanian citizens hold “permanent” passports, recognized as such by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior.  Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, which account for nearly 45% of the Jordanian population according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, hold “temporary” passports, and are therefore not recognized as full Jordanian citizens. 


Jordanian passport and nationality law is separate, explaining the large number of Palestinians who reside in Jordan and the Palestinian Territories, and hold a “temporary” Jordanian passport.  Those holding a “temporary” passport must obtain a visa to enter Jordan.  Additionally, a large number of full Jordanians reside inside the Palestinian Territories.


Jordanian and Palestinian life is still very much intertwined, evident in their shared history, and the cultural and economic ties lingering from the once unified nation. Jordan makes clear distinctions as to who is officially Jordanian, and for countless prisoners, Israel is confusing the Jordanian and the Palestinian identity. 


This limbo status is clearly the product of an occupied people who do not control their own identity card system and citizenship status.  Justice, essential to a functioning democracy, will only emerge in tandem with a future independent Palestinian state.  


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