Tony Greenstein | 21 April 2012 | Post Views:

Israel’s policy of unlimited detention without trial is challenged

As I have oft-remarked, there is an uncanny parallel between Ireland and Palestine. As Ireland was being partitioned the Palestinian Mandate was being put in place under the same Home Secretary Winston Churchill. The Unionists in the north of Ireland achieved a gerry-mandered majority through the creation of an artificial 6 county state and the expulsion of thousands of Catholics. The Jewish majority in Israel was only achieved through expulsion and massacre. In both Ulster and Israel, the dominant settler group saw itself as doing the work of god. Settler colonialism was justified by a form of religious millenarianism. And the traditional weapon of Irish Republicanism, the Hunger Strike, is now being adopted by Palestinian prisoners.

But whereas the hunger strikes ended in political status effectively being conceded by the British state, as it had been before the ascendancy of Labour’s Unionist Home Secretary, Roy Mason, such a possibility is going to be far more difficult to achieve under an Israeli military administration which seems to glories in its brutality and which is impervious to most civilised standards.

On April 17, about 1,600 Palestinian prisoners began open-ended hunger strikes. Instead of being granted political status, Palestinians face hellish conditions in Israeli prisons, enduring torture, deprivation, isolation, intimidation, and denial of basic rights.

Administrative detainees are held indefinitely without charge or trial. Children as young as 10 are treated like adults. So-called security prisoners are isolated punitively for extended periods.

All Palestinian prisoners suffer overcrowding, poor ventilation and sanitation, lack of proper clothing, inadequate food in terms of quality, quantity, and conformity to dietary requirements, and poor medical care. They also have limited or no access to family members and counsel. They get wooden planks with thin mattresses and filthy blankets. They suffer winter and summer weather extremes. The Addameer prisoner support group calls overall conditions “appalling.”

Palestinians “are almost completely cut off from the outside world.” Children are treated like adults. Women are treated like men. Toilets inside cells often back up through drains. Essential hygiene necessities like toothpaste, clean clothes, and cleaning products are denied. Medical negligence is common. Required surgery may take years to get if at all. Medications only are given to treat disease. “Sick detainees inside Israeli prisons live on painkillers and tranquilizers,” says Addameer.

Many released prisoners face chronic health problems. Often, early death results. Israeli treatment violates international law. Doing so is official Israeli policy. Geneva’s Common Article 3 prohibits all forms of cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment. The International Covenant Against Torture (CAT) prohibits it at all times, under all conditions with no allowed exceptions.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states:
“All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person (Article 10.1).”

Former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak once ruled:
““The walls of the prison do not separate the prisoner from human dignity. Life in prison intrinsically involves a violation of many liberties that a free person enjoys. But life in prison does not require denial of the prisoner’s right to bodily integrity or protection against violation of his dignity as a person.””

Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty states:
“….(B)asic human rights in Israel are based on recognition of the value of man, the sanctity of his life and the fact that he is free. The goal of the law is to defend Human Dignity and Liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Last summer, instead of obeying international law, his own, and his Supreme Court, Netanyahu toughened prison conditions harshly. As a result, cruel, abusive and degrading treatment got worse. Palestinians react the only way they can. Hunger striking is a common tactic. In 1968, they began. Some were individual, others collective. At issue are intolerable conditions, denial of basic rights, and collective punishment.

Annually on April 17 since 1979, Palestinian Prisoners Day commemorates Mahmoud Hijazi’s 1974 release. He was the first political prisoner freed in exchange for Shmuel Rosenwasser, an Israeli that the Palestinians held.

  • The demands of the Palestinian prisoners include:
  • Ending administrative detention.
  • Ending solitary confinement.
  • Reinstating the right to education.
  • Halting abusive cell invasions and gratuitous strip searches.
  • Allowing family visitations, especially for detained Gazans receiving especially harsh treatment.
  • Proper medical care.
  • Halting body-searches of family members allowed visits.
  • Allowing books and newspapers.
  • Halting abusive penalties.

Palestinians want to be treated like human beings as international law mandates. They suffer horrifically under appalling conditions. Deaths result. Many when released aren’t ever the same. Many die from chronic and debilitating diseases.

Heroic hunger strikers Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi inspired others to refuse food for justice. On March 30, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights expressed concern for eight current open-ended hunger strikers. They include:

(1) Mahmoud Kamel Mohammed As-Sersik
On July 22, 2009, he was arrested. On August 23, 2009, Israel extended his detention under its Unlawful Combatant Law (UCL). Israel calls As-Sersik, and others like him, “unlawful combatants.” No proof is needed, just “a reasonable basis” for believing targeted Palestinians engaged in belligerent confrontation with Israel or belong to a hostile group.

As-Sersik’s has been on hunger strike for three weeks. On April 8, he was transferred to Eshel prison solitary confinement.

(2) Thaer ‘Aziz Mahmoud Halahla
On June 27, 2010, he was arrested. On March 5, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. He refused food for 44 days. On March 28, he was hospitalized in Ar-Ramla prison hospital. Deteriorated health places him gravely at risk.

(3) Belal Nabil Sa’eed Diyab
On August 17, 2011, he was arrested. On February 14, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. He’s been hunger striking 45 days against imprisonment with charge or trial. On March 28, he was hospitalized in Ar-Ramla prison hospital. His condition’s also grave.

(4) Ja’far Ibrahim Mohammed Eiz Ad-Din
On March 21, 2012, he was arrested. He was administratively detained without charge for six months. He’s been hunger striking 22 days. On March 28, he was transferred to Al Jalama prison solitary confinement. He’s now in Ar-Ramla prison hospital.

(5) Ahmed Nabhan Da’san Saqer
On November 20, 2008, he was arrested. On January 24, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. Israel often holds administrative detainees uncharged without trial for years. Doing so has no basis in international law.

He’s been hunger striking 31 days in Shata prison.

(6) Mohammed Rafeq Kamel At-Taj
On November 19, 2003, he was arrested. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He’s been hunger striking 29 days for justice. He and thousands of others in Israeli prisons get none.

(7) Hasan Zahi As-Safadi
On June 29, 2011, he was arrested. On January 29, 2012, his administrative detention was extended four months. He’s been hunger striking 39 days. On April 6, he was hospitalized in Ar-Ramla prison hospital. He’s also very much at risk.

(8) Omar Mousa Mesleh Shalaeil
On August 15, 2011, he was arrested. On February 15, 2012, his administrative detention was extended six months. He’s been hunger striking 41 days. Now in Ar-Ramla prison hospital, his health also deteriorated severely.

Throughout 45 years of occupation, Israel lawlessly detained Palestinians “as part of its policy of restraint and collective punishment….”

The British Mandate 1945 Emergency Law remains in force. Israel uses it repressively to detain Palestinians, hold them indefinitely without charge or trial, and provide no reasons for doing so.

Israel’s Unlawful Combatant Law exacerbates harsh practices.
“Administrative detention amounts to arbitrary detention in violation of the law when the detainee is not presented with the reason for his detention, made subject to criminal charges, or informed when he will be released.”

Doing so violates international law. Israel spurns it unaccountably. Alleged secret evidence is used. Detainees and counsel are denied access. Due process and judicial fairness are nowhere in sight. Palestinians are guilty by accusation for praying to the wrong God.

Israel can hold them uncharged without trial forever. Palestinians risk their lives for justice. Israel doesn’t care if they live or die.

A wave of hunger strikes is planned to begin on or around Prisoners’ Day on Tuesday, held under the slogan: “We will live in dignity.” About 1,600 prisoners have agreed to take part in the protest, according to Palestinian prisons minister Issa Qaraqi. “The situation inside Israeli prisons has become very dangerous and serious,” he was quoted as saying.

There are around 4,600 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, according to the prisoners’ rights group Addameer. More than 300 are held under “administrative detention”, meaning they and their lawyers are not informed of accusations or evidence against them, no trial is held, and their term of imprisonment is determined by an Israeli military judge.

Of the 11 prisoners currently on hunger strike, two have refused food for 46 days. Bilal Diab, 27, who has been held under administrative detention since last August, has also refused fluids either orally or intravenously since 8 April, and has lost consciousness a number of times, according to Physicians for Human Rights.

PHR has urged the Israeli authorities to grant Diab’s request to be transferred to a civilian hospital and has cited World Medical Association advice that “the body is unable to survive without liquids for more than a few days, and in most cases a hunger striker will die during the first week”.

Thae’r Halahi, 34, has been held in administrative detention for 22 months, plus for five separate previous periods of between three months and one year. His condition was described as stable but commensurate with a prolonged period without food.

Khadar Adnan, the first prisoner to begin a hunger strike in the current wave, refused food for 66 days before agreeing to a deal that should see him released this week after four months in administrative detention.

Adnan, 33, was followed by a woman prisoner, Hana Shalabi, who was released and deported to Gaza after 43 days on hunger strike. Her family home is in the village of Burqin, near Jenin, in the north West Bank.

She considered herself “not deported but freed to Gaza”, where she had never been before, she told the Guardian. “It’s a victory for me.” But she acknowledged that she had come under pressure from the Israeli authorities to accept the deal and end her protest, amid fears that her life was in danger.

Hunger strikes were, she said, “a good and effective tool, and the only way prisoners can achieve something”. She is still suffering from weakness and swollen legs since ending her protest, and is under medical supervision. “Physically it was hard, but morally I was high,” she said.

Shalabi, 30, had previously been held for 25 months under administrative detention, but was freed in October under the prisoner exchange deal struck by Israel to secure the release of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. She was re-arrested on 16 February.

She denied being an activist with Islamic Jihad. However, the faction had rented an apartment in Gaza City for her, in which a large Islamic Jihad poster was displayed on the wall. Her brother, Samir, who was killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in 2005, had been convicted of Islamic Jihad activities.

Under the terms of the deal that ended her hunger strike, she must stay in Gaza for three years, after which she will be allowed to return to the West Bank unless she is found to have been involved with a banned organisation. “The Israelis also threatened me that if I took part in any political or military activity, then I could be targeted [for assassination],” she said.

Addameer described Shalabi’s deportation as a “forced displacement”. “We consider this a violation of the fourth Geneva convention,” said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer. “We’re happy she was released but not to be forced to live in Gaza. They have sent her from one prison to another big prison.”

Shalabi agreed to the deal when physically and mentally weak and without access to independent lawyers, said both Addameer and Amnesty International. “The deal may amount to a forcible deportation given her medical condition and the denial of access to independent doctors and lawyers,” said Ann Harrison of Amnesty.

Israeli government spokesman Ofir Gendelman said Shalabi was deported to Gaza “because she cannot pose from there a clear and present danger to the safety of the Israeli public … If Shalabi was to return to the West Bank, there is no doubt that she would return to her terrorist activities with the Islamic Jihad.”

Since being released in October, she had planned attacks against Israeli citizens, he added.

Around one third of the 477 Palestinian prisoners released last October in the first stage of the Gilad Shalit deal were deported to Gaza, 17 for three years and 144 permanently. The Hamas government is now building a new neighbourhood south of Gaza City for them, and is also paying salaries to those not provided for by other factions.

Hamas has said that the only way to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners is by abducting Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips. “If the enemy has not learned, we are prepared to give them practical lessons,” Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader in exile, told a conference in Qatar this month. “The only way to free prisoners is by exchanging them for [Israeli] prisoners and leaders.”

Hamas leaders inside Gaza echoed the call for militants to step up efforts to seize Israeli soldiers.

See Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to go on hunger strike

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Tony Greenstein

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