64 years later, peaceful resistance triumphs from the heart of Israeli jails

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On the 64th anniversary of Al Nakba, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) hails the courage and resilience of thousands of Palestinian prisoners as they continue to peacefully struggle for their basic rights and freedoms.

We positively note that an agreement was reached between representatives of around 2,000 Palestinian hunger strikers inside Israeli prisons, and officials from the Israel Prison Services, whereby the prisoners will end the hunger strike in exchange for a relative improvement to the inhumane conditions of over 4,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. We hope that the agreement will serve to actually improve the deteriorating human rights condition of Palestinians inside Israeli detention facilities. We remain deeply concerned about the severely deteriorating health conditions of a number of the Palestinian prisoners who were on hunger strike and call on the Israeli authorities to grant them access to immediate and proper medical attention.

The deal, mediated by Egypt, addresses some of the prisoners demands and entails an end to the long-term solitary confinement of 19 prisoners effective 72 hours following the signing of the agreement, the restoration of family visits from the Gaza strip, and the acceptance of family visits from the West Bank, rejected previously for “security reasons.” Additionally, prisoners on unlawful administrative detention are to be released as soon as their terms expire, without further renewals to their detention, except in cases were there are strong evidences (usually secret in nature) against them. In the agreement signed by representatives of the hunger strikers, all provisions would be considered void if prisoners, participated, aided or supported in any way an act that is considered harmful to the “security” of Israel.

While the agreement can be viewed as a relative success, at least in helping to end the imminent risk of death that faced the hunger strikers, it is unlikely that it will bring about a serious policy change or modify the infamous Israeli practices of administrative detention. Additionally, the agreement does not seem to put an end to other commonly used punitive measures such as solitary confinement, denial of access to education, the shackling of prisoners (including those with serious medical conditions), and other highly restrictive measures, some of which were introduced as a form of collective punishment following the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gelad Shaleet on the Gazan borders in 2006.

Following in the footsteps of previous Palestinian political prisoners Khedr Adnan and Hanaa Shalabi, and a legacy of a long list of others throughout Palestinian history, by April 17 – on Palestinian Prisoners Day-, over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners had declared a hunger strike in solidarity with other inmates , who declared a hunger strike some 47 days earlier , and in protest against the inhumane conditions they are subjected to inside Israeli detention facilities. The health of eight of those on hunger strike continued to deteriorate as they remained in Ramleh prison clinic where there was no adequate medical care for their conditions, and no access to family visitations. Reports indicate that the hunger strikers were moved to a public hospital today.

“It is frightening to see that it took thousands of persons self-starving, two of which reached 77 full days on hunger strike, for the international community to react to such blatantly unlawful and inhumane detention conditions. We are pleased that the deal has been reached and hopeful that it might make a difference to the lives of prisoners, but we remain cautious. It remains unclear whether or not the concessions made by Israeli officials will contribute to the long-term enhancement of prison conditions,” said Ziad Abdel Tawab, Deputy Director, CIHRS.

Resolving the long standing issue of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails lies as a corner stone to any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. There are currently over 4,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, 200 of which are children and over 300 administrative detainees. According to statistics provided by Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Occupied Palestinian Territories, “since the 1967 war, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians, including 23,000 women and 25,000 children, have gone through detention in Israeli jails. This constitutes approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

“According to the agreement, administrative detainees, including Thaer Hilahlah, Bilal Diab, Omar AbuShalal, and Hassan Al Safdi – all were on hunger strike- are scheduled for release following the expiration of their detention terms, which in some cases take several months. We remain of the view that all prisoners held under administrative detention should be released immediately, unless they are charged with legally recognizable offences before a fair and independent tribunal in alignment with international standards,” said Sohair Riad, Researcher, CIHRS.

The policy of administrative detention used by Israel for decades has received mounting criticism from rights organizations and several UN bodies as lacking the bare minimum standards of fairness and due process. Based on the administrative detention system, a prisoner can be held without charge for up to 6 months and it can be extended without the approval of a judge for an indefinite period. Prisoners and their lawyers are not allowed access to evidence, which are considered “secret”- all of which are conditions that directly contradict with Israel’s international obligations under Article 14 of the ICCPR, and are in direct breach of the four Geneva Conventions.

CIHRS recommends that an effective monitoring mechanism to the implementation of the agreement be put in place. Furthermore, we join a previous call made by a number of Palestinian rights groups in calling on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent committee to investigate the human rights situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention facilities.

Finally, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies warns the Israeli occupation forces that any attempt to violently quell scheduled peaceful protests around the Palestinian territories today in the remembrance of Al Nakba and in solidarity with the prisoners, might lead to the undesirable further escalation of violence. The tragic incidents that characterized last year’s May 15 protests denouncing the continued occupation of Palestine and demanding the right to return should never reoccur.

This post is also available in: العربية

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