The Amnesty International said that Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law.
Ahead of a mass prisoner’s hunger strike beginning next week to mark Palestinian Prisoner’s Day on 17 Apri, Amnesty International said that testimonies gathered by the organization from family members and Palestinian prisoners detained in the Israeli prison system shed light on the suffering endured by families who in some cases have been deprived from seeing their detained relatives for many years.
“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. It is unlawful and cruel and the consequences for the imprisoned person and their loved ones, who are often deprived from seeing them for months, and at times for years on end, can be devastating,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“Instead of unlawfully transferring prisoners outside the occupied territories, Israel must ensure all Palestinians arrested there are held in prisons and detention centers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Until then, the 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.”
Palestinian prisoners have staged embark a large scale hunger strike to make a series of demands including calling for an end to Israeli occupation’s restrictions on visits and contact with family members. Palestinian detainees held on security grounds are barred from making phone calls to their families. The hunger strike was announced by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi. A number of other political parties and prisoners have announced they will be joining the strike.
Under international humanitarian law, detainees from occupied territories must be detained in the occupied territory, not in the territory of the occupying power. They must also be allowed to receive visitors, especially near relatives, at regular intervals and as frequently as possible.
According to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, a non-governmental organization, there are currently 6,500 Palestinian prisoners, including at least 300 children, detained on security-related grounds in Israeli-run prisons and detention facilities. All but one of the 17 facilities are located inside Israel. The vast majority of prisoners are men, 57 are women, including 13 girls under the age of 18. Thirteen of those imprisoned are Palestinian Legislative Council members. At least 500 people are held without charge or trial in administrative detention, a practice which flouts safeguards required by international law to prevent arbitrary detention. The Palestinian Prisoners' Affairs Commission spokesperson Hasan Abed Rabbo said at least 1,000 prisoners are prohibited from receiving family visits on “security grounds”. He added that currently there are around 15-20 prisoners held in isolation, who are banned from any contact with other prisoners and family visits.
According to Israeli Prison Service regulations all prisoners are entitled to family visits once every two weeks. However, in reality, because Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories must apply for permits to enter Israel, they can visit much less frequently. The Israeli Prison Service regulations also allow the authorities to rescind a prisoner’s right to family visits on security grounds.
Gaza prisoners continue to be most affected by Israeli restrictions as the Israeli military grants permits to families from the Strip only once every two months. This policy affects around 365 prisoners from Gaza currently detained in Israel. In addition, Hamas prisoners along with other prisoners living in the same prison wings, are only permitted one monthly visit, irrespective of where they come from.
According to Addameer Association, for most West Bank residents visiting detained relatives the journey to prison takes between eight to 15 hours depending on the prison and place of residence. Relatives of prisoners are subjected to lengthy body searches and sometimes strip searches.