Since its establishment, Israeli occupation authorities have developed various camouflaged policies that deprived Palestinian prisoners of their basic rights. Such policies aimed at deterring Palestinians and stigmatize them as “terrorists”, while on the other side provide a legal cover for Israel and internationally marks it as a “democratic” state although of its countless crimes.
Israel’s violations against Palestinian prisoners are as old as the State of Israel. They physically and psychologically target prisoners and their families. These systematic violations tend to undermine the will of Palestinians, deterring their resistance and normalizing the illegal Israeli occupation. The detention of Palestinians is obviously a part of the systematic and collective oppression that Israel has been exercising on Palestinians to maintain a system of collective punishment and control over Palestinians’ lives. Consequently, Israeli violations have become a principle, rather than a method, while painting an international image of a democratic state. So far, no human rights committees took action to observe the conditions of Palestinian prisoners despite repeated calls.
A highlight of some violations, which have been affecting nearly 6000 Palestinian prisoners/detainees across more than seventeen prisons and investigation centers, are given below.
Classification of Prisoners/Detainees
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) in cooperation with the Israeli security service defines Palestinian prisoners as “political prisoners”, who are jailed over activities related to the Israeli occupation, as opposed to detainees suspected or convicted of crimes/offenses that are not related to occupation. This definition transforms thousands of Palestinian prisoners, currently jailed in Israel, into prisoners, who pose a certain level of danger on the occupation state. Thus, this would justify the harsh living conditions in which they live inside prisons.
First: Violations During Arrest
Arrests are most often executed late at night, without a warrant or charges. Heavily armed soldiers carry out the arrests.
During arrests, detainees are subjected to verbal abuses, humiliation, death threats, damage to house content, as well as confiscation of properties.
Detainees, especially minors, are usually denied lawyers’ visitations as well as attending investigation sessions.
The occupation authorities put all these illegal practices within a legal framework, which forces Palestinian prisoners as well as officials to deal with its outputs, legitimizing these policies and providing them with further camouflage power, and making it more difficult to expose and undermine them.
This demands a serious and strategic review of boycotting Israeli military courts, and finding a Palestinian resistance option, even if it requires further sacrifices.
Second: Violations During Investigation
Blatant violations of detainees’ rights continue to take place in Israeli interrogation centers, where interrogators practice a series of violations that start from the moment of the arrest.
Detainees are deprived of sleep for long hours, they get shackled and tightened in painful conditions of “Shabeh” torture method for several days.
They are also prevented from bathing, while some prisoners do not get permission to use restrooms unless they confess, forcing many of them to wet themselves. What could be more heinous than exploiting the basic needs of prisoners as a method to extract confessions?!
In some cases, family members, particularly parents or partners, get arrested as a pressure technique. Other violations include solitary confinement as a punitive method.
Moreover, some sections in several prisons are filled with spies who act as prisoners to deceive new detainees and trick them into confessing.
In some cases, spies use force and accuse detainees of being spies themselves, which in some cases could push detainees to unintentionally reveal information to defend themselves.
Such prisoners are sent to trials and get sentences despite the lack of, as their trials depend on their intentions only. The sections, where the Israelis use spies, are known as rooms of shame while the spies are called assafir (birds).
Third: Violations Inside Prisons
For a very long time, Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners has been violating all international humanitarian laws as well as the fourth Geneva Convention. The occupation authorities have never complied with international law, under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
No punitive measures have been ever taken by the international community against Israel, except for condemning its practices, which does not affect Israel but rather encourages it to accuse the international community of bias in favor of the Palestinians.
Violations Inside Israeli Prisons include:
1. Prisoners’ Living Condition
Prisoners are held in sections that lack basic health conditions, as the Israelis hold large numbers of prisoners in each cell.
As the number of arrests increase, overcrowding reaches its peak, forcing two or more prisoners to sleep on the ground.
The cells lack proper ventilation and sunlight. They are also infested with insects, especially cockroaches and bedbugs. They also do not comply with the minimum international standards.
Recently, occupation authorities began to partially implement the space measurement law as a result of their partnership with the European Union.
Regarding the outdoor recreation, the prisoners spend it in the very small and noisy prison courtyard, which is surrounded by high walls. Due to the unhealthy conditions in the courtyard, many prisoners avoid outdoor recreation, which causes them to have further health issues. Israeli jails also lack exercising tools, hair saloon and public libraries.
The Israeli repression unit occasionally crack down on prisoners at late night or early morning hours during search and confiscation campaigns to confiscate written notes and diaries.
2. Prisoners’ Financial Conditions
Prisoners live on their own expenses, as the IPS does not provide the minimum, stipulated in Israeli laws. The IPS can use or prevent any of Israeli laws to systematically torture Palestinian prisoners and detainees. For example, prisoners are allowed to send two letters and four postcards to their families on a monthly basis according to Israeli laws, however, the IPS doesn’t provide postcards while letters get prevented or delayed.
Israeli laws also state that jailers cannot perform strip searches unless a prisoner approves it. Even when a prisoner rejects it, the jailers should get permission from the IPS. None of this happens, as the prisoners, who reject to be subjected to strip searches get shackled and beaten then forcibly stripped.
The IPS seeks to reduce its expenditures on prisoners as a way to guarantee higher ranks on the career ladder. This is why prisoners have to buy 90% of the cleaning supplies that they need on their own expenses. Prisoners get prison clothes only once, while they need to manage it if the weather gets colder or warmer. They also get a mattress that is almost impossible to be replaced. Prisoners can buy all other basic
items from the jail’s cantine, which sells them for twice the price.
All of that has turned prisoners into consumers, who provide millions of Shekels to the IPS. In most cases, prisoners are forced to buy low-quality items, including food, as they do not have any other options. Smokers, on the other hand, are also deprived of their right to have four cigarettes on a daily basis, which saves millions of shekels for the IPS.
To bridge the gap between prisoners who can afford to have their basic items and those who cannot, the Palestinian Authority gives each prisoner 400 NIS on a monthly basis.
3. Medical Negligence
Medical negligence is the most dangerous violation against prisoners and detainees, as it results in the suffering and death of a countless number of prisoners and detainees.
To avoid the high cost of treatment, prison clinics only provide painkillers. As a response to international condemnation and criticism, in severe cases, the clinics provide more than painkillers.
Severe medical conditions do not prevent the IPS from investigating prisoners, they rather take advantage as much as possible from prisoners’ medical conditions.
Medical services at Israeli prisons are part and parcel of the Israeli security institution and they treat prisoners as terrorists, not patients. They also participate in assaulting prisoners physically and psychologically when asked to do so and play a role in insulting and torturing prisoners during hunger strikes.
Prisoners hospital in Al_Ramla prison lacks all minimum medical standards and equipment, forcing prisoners to help and support each other when needed.
Various reports issued by human rights institutions, including B’Tselem, state that occupation authorities steal organs of martyrs. In 1996, Dalia Itzk, who was president of the “Knesset” at the time, stated that Israel had conducted more than 1,000 medical experiments on Palestinian prisoners in the interests of Israeli and international pharmaceutical companies during the first intifada.
4. Violations in transport vans
‘Bosta’ is the Israeli prisoner transport van in which the Palestinian prisoners are cuffed all the way between jails and courts or clinics while sitting on metal chairs.
The metal chairs in those vans can barely accommodate one person in a sitting position. Most prisoners set in this metal vehicle between two to twelve hours while their hands and feet are shackled and without being able to use toilets.
‘Bosta’ is a term that sums up a journey of endless pain through which prisoners go. Many prisoners resort to fasting to avoid using toilets. However, what cannot be avoided is hemorrhoids, rheumatism, and back pain as bosta is technically used as a means of suppression and deterrence, to the point that sick prisoners refuse to go to medical examinations at Al-Ramla prison to avoid being transported by Bosta.
When the conditions get intense in some prisons, officers frankly threaten prisoners to send them on Bosta if they do not end their protests, which usually call for improving their living conditions inside prisons.
5. Collective Punishment
From Nakba until this day, the Israeli security institution has practiced collective punishment against Palestinians including prisoners and detainees. A prisoner who commits a legal violation is not only subjected to an individual punishment, however, all other prisoners are subjected to collective punishment.
In one incident, one of the second-degree relatives of a prisoner tried to smuggle a cell phone. After getting caught, the IPS issued a decision to put the prisoner in solitary confinement and deprived all prisoners of second-degree relatives’ visitation.
When one of the prisoners filed a lawsuit at the supreme court against the decision, the court allowed relatives’ visits only for him after he provides a list of only fifty names for visitation. This reflects the cooperation between the judicial institution and the IPS as the later practices collective punishment while the first approves visitation only for the prisoner who filed the lawsuit. They also practice collective punishment when any prisoner defends himself against jailers.
Collective punishment is a flagrant violation of all standards, norms, ethics, and international humanitarian laws.
6. Violations Against Female Prisoners/Detainees
Muslim female prisoners are subjected to harsh conditions without taking their privacy into consideration. Israel uses male jailers in women’s jails, which keeps them stressed and affects their mental health. Jailed women also face difficulties in purchasing their basic requirements from jails’ canteen.
7. Violations Against Minors
Violations against minors are yet another form of oppression used by Israel, as it violates all international laws when it treats minors as adults and imprisons them instead of detaining them in rehabilitation centers.
8. Detaining Martyrs’ Bodies
Neither ethical standards nor humanitarian laws can stop the brutality of the Israeli occupation. The occupation authorities practice the policy of holding prisoners’ bodies who were executed inside the interrogation rooms, attacked by jailers, or died due to medical conditions and use them as a bargaining chip.
Currently, there are dozens of bodies held inside Israeli cemeteries of Numbers and morgues. Anees Doleh, Nasar Taqatqa, Aziz Owaisat, Faris Baroud, and Bassam Al-Sayeh are only some a few names of martyrs, whose bodies are held by the Israelis.
9. Violations During Hunger Strikes
Prisoners are subjected to all kinds of assaults and violations during their hunger strikes, which are usually used as their last option to demand their legitimate rights according to international law.
Once prisoners start a hunger strike, jailers assault them, deprive them of their basic rights, take off their clothes and repeatedly send them from a prison to another in order to force them to end their strike. The IPS also allows some criminal prisoners to cook in prisons’ corridors or have barbecues.
Even more dangerous, the IPS denies hungerstriker prisoners from medical care. Medical teams intentionally fill clinics with food and offer milk as a supplement to force prisoners to break their hunger strike.
During hunger strikes, cigarettes are used as an instrument of pressure. Unfortunately, it is the most effective way leading to ending hunger strikes. Salt is also confiscated in daily inspections during hunger strikes.
Prisoners get provoked and dragged into confrontations with jailers, either by using verbal abuses or rough treatment. The jailers spray prisoners with tear gas or water when any simple confrontation takes place. Jailers also break into cells and assault prisoners.
Fourth: Violations Against Relatives of Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees
The relatives of prisoners are subjected to collective punishment as the occupation authorities demolish the houses of prisoners, accused of carrying out resistance attacks. The relatives of prisoners are also subjected to arrests and all kinds of assaults and humiliation.
Moreover, prisoners get deprived of visitation for flimsy pretexts, while their relatives get humiliated at military checkpoints. Gaza Strip prisoners and their relatives have been subjected to collective punishment in the last fourteen years and some of them have not seen any of their relatives for over ten years.
Fifth: Psychological Impacts of Violations
All previously mentioned violations have direct impacts on the mental health of prisoners and their relatives, as they cause permanent mental breakdowns. The violations include denial of visitation, humiliation at military checkpoints, late-night inspections, and constantly moving prisoners between prisons.
On the other hand, prisons are infested with bugs and cockroaches, which physically and psychologically affect prisoners while the IPS intentionally refuses to address these issues.
While addressing Israeli violations again Palestinian prisoners/detainees in full details requires a profound study, this paper sheds light on some of the Israeli violations, aiming to create a reference for everyone interested to learn more about this subject.