1. How many Palestinian prisoners are there?
As of August 8, 2006, there are 9,273 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons or detention camps. (2) Of these prisoners, 351 are children under the age of 18, (3) 75 are women and 42 are over the age of 50. Of the total number of prisoners, 433 Palestinians, who were imprisoned prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords, remain in prison despite the Accords’ call for their release. (4) The prisoners include members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council.
2. Haven’t Palestinian prisoners been convicted of serious offenses against Israel?
In fact, of the 9,273 prisoners currently held by Israel, only an estimated 1,800 have actually been put on trial and convicted of any offense at all. According to Amnesty International, these trials often fall short of international standards for fair trials. (5)
Israel currently holds an estimated 800 Palestinians detained in prison camps who have not been charged with any crime under what is called “administrative detention.” Administrative detention violates international law. (6) Administrative detention orders may last for up to six months, with Palestinians held without charge or trial during this period. (7) Israel routinely renews the detention orders and may renew the orders without limitation, thereby holding Palestinians without charge or trial indefinitely. (8) During this period, detainees may be denied legal counsel. While detainees may appeal their detention, neither they nor their attorneys are allowed access to the State’s evidence, or know the purpose of the detention – thereby rendering the appeals procedure virtually useless.
3. Don’t most Palestinian prisoners have “blood on their hands”?
No. The vast majority of Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners who have been arbitrarily imprisoned or detained for no legitimate security reason, but for political expression, peaceful resistance or simply because they are Palestinian. According to B’Tselem:
“Security is interpreted in an extremely broad manner such that non-violent speech and political activity are considered dangerous...[This] is a blatant contradiction of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of opinion guaranteed under international law. If these same standards were applied inside Israel, half of the Likud party would be in administrative detention.” (9)
Furthermore, of those Palestinians currently being held, the overwhelming majority have not been put on trial.
Many Palestinians are arrested arbitrarily. For example, from February to March 2002, approximately 8,500 Palestinians were arrested arbitrarily. In many cities, all Palestinian males from the ages of 15 to 45 were rounded up and detained or imprisoned. Palestinians were blindfolded, handcuffed tightly with plastic handcuffs and forced to squat, sit or kneel for prolonged periods of time. Mass arrests and detention of this type have been condemned by Amnesty International as a breach of human rights.
4. How are Palestinian children treated in Israeli prisons?
The issue of child detainees and prisoners is perhaps the most striking example of Israel’s policy of arbitrary imprisonment. Approximately 2,000 Palestinian children were arrested and detained from September 2000 to the end of June 2003. (10) Children as young as 13 are held in Israeli prisons, and are housed with the adult prisoner population. Children aged 13 and 14 constitute approximately ten percent of all child detainees. Almost all child detainees have reported some form of torture or mistreatment, whether physical (beatings or placed in painful positions) or psychological (abuse, threats or intimidation). (11) Children are routinely held in detention centers under inhumane conditions. (12) For example, in some centers up to eleven children have been packed into cells as small as five square meters. (13)
5. How are Palestinian women treated in Israeli prisons?
Most Palestinian women political prisoners were previously housed with the general Israeli prison population in Neve Terze prison where drug addicts, prostitutes, and other hardened prisoners were held. After hunger strikes, most were transferred to Telmond prison. Some, however, including several administrative detainees, remain incarcerated at Neve Terze.
A few Palestinian women are raising very young children in prison; two, Mervat Taha and Manal Ghanem gave birth while under detention. For most others, contact visits with children and other family members are permitted twice every six months. However, as a condition for the visits, women are required to submit to full body searches in the nude. This is a condition most have rejected.
Prison guards have stormed Palestinian women prisoners’ cells, and searched and confiscated their personal effects without reason, beating the women prisoners in the process. Denial of medical services has been used to punish those who protest the conditions of their incarceration.
6. Does Israel subject Palestinian prisoners to torture, and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment?
Yes. Palestinian prisoners are routinely tortured in Israeli jails. A 1999 Israel High Court decision outlawing some forms of physical mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners has not ended Israel’s physical and psychological abuse of Palestinian detainees. According to Amnesty International:
“Among the thousands of Palestinians arrested after 27 February 2002, some hundreds were transferred to full-scale interrogation by the GSS [Israel Security Agency], in centers...Amnesty International has received reports that some of the detainees interrogated by the GSS were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, shabeh (prolonged standing or sitting in a painful position), beatings and being violently shaken.” (14)
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and B’Tselem report that methods of torture include the following: slapping, kicking, threats, verbal abuse and humiliation, bending the body in extremely painful positions, intentional tightening of the handcuffs, stepping on manacles, application of pressure to different parts of the body, choking and other forms of violence and humiliation (pulling out hair, spitting etc.), exposure to extreme heat and cold, and continuous exposure to artificial light. (15)
Palestinians are held in detention centers and prisons that do not meet the minimum international standards and are routinely denied visitation rights. (16) Amnesty International reports that:
“According to consistent reports received by Amnesty International, detainees’ conditions in Ofer and Ansar III/Ketziot are poor and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment...In both camps, detainees sleep in tents; in Ansar III/Ketziot nights are particularly cold. Conditions in Ofer are said to be overcrowded, with detainees sleeping 25 to 30 to a tent. In both camps detainees initially slept on pieces of rough wood...Detainees were said to be given frozen chicken schnitzels which they had to defrost in the sun; a tub of yoghurt, one or two cucumbers and two pieces of fruit between 10 prisoners.” (17)
7. Why is the release of Palestinian prisoners so important?
No issue illustrates Israel’s denial of freedom to the Palestinians more pointedly than that of political prisoners. The Palestinians have been subjected to the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Approximately 20 percent of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has, at one point, been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned by Israel. (18)
Israel’s imprisonment and detention of Palestinians is a manifestation of its failure to abide by international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention: administrative detentions and imprisonment inside Israel are both illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. (19) Israel’s failure to release Palestinian political prisoners and its continued arbitrary arrest of Palestinian civilians leads to an unfortunate conclusion: that Israel views itself as above the law and the Palestinians beneath it.