Palestine (TFC) – In 1974, the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s highest authority, declared April 17th a day of solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Demonstrations of solidarity to highlight detainee suffering, raise awareness and support their ongoing battle for freedom take place, not only in Palestine, but around the world.
Israel continues to target men, women, the elderly, the disabled, political leaders, EU recognized human rights defenders and children for arrest. According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, there are an estimated 6,200 political prisoners in Israeli jails and detention centres. Over 400 of the prisoners are held under administrative detention, routinely used to hold people without charge or trial. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1967, a reported 850,000 people have been arrested.
Political Prisoner – someone imprisoned because they have opposed or criticised the government responsible.
One morning at 3 am, Israeli soldiers stormed the family home of a 17 year old Palestinian from Haifa. Ismael’s family home was turned upside down to look for weapons. Like thousands of others before and after him, he was arrested under suspicion of being active in a terror organisation. His crime: writing pro-Palestinian slogans and organising a demonstration against the Israeli occupation among his classmates.
Ismael was up late preparing for his exams when the soldiers raided. His older brother was asleep and awakened with a rifle in his face. In front of his parents and the other children in the family, Ismael’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and a sack placed over his head. He was taken away in a military vehicle and his family not told of his whereabouts for 10 days.
Moved from place to place for weeks, Ismael was taken from his cell every two hours for interrogation. In a brightly lit room, barely able to open his eyes, he was beaten in the back, legs and stomach and kicked between the legs. Many claim this is common practice that soldiers use to try and destroy Palestinian fertility. After ten days he said was unable to stand any longer. ‘’They beat me while I was lying on the ground, saying ‘you asshole, you asshole’ over and over.’’
Ismael’s mother burst into tears when she visited him and saw how thin he was. He maintains that he expected this treatment and had heard worse stories from others. He said an entire school class of 14 year old boys from Ramallah were in prison with him, after being sentenced to five years imprisonment. He is convinced that his Israeli ID meant he was treated very differently to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.
‘’Widespread, systematic and institutionalised’’
A 2013 UNICEF report stated that the ‘’ill treatment of children who come into contact with the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised.’’
In March 2014, I observed the morning proceedings at Ofer military court in the West Bank, where Palestinians, who are subject to military law, face trial. I entered one of the prefab buildings in time to see 6 young men being led in to the room. Between the ages of 16 and 20, their feet in chains with brown prison suits hanging off their gaunt frames, they looked pale and tired. None of them spoke. I sat behind rows of anxious parents, who fidgeted on the benches, attempting to make eye contact with their sons.
In a chaotic medieval scene, uniformed soldiers yelled across the room in Hebrew. Some of them were laughing. If the prisoners were lucky, one of the soldiers may speak a little Arabic and explain to them what was going on. Many detainees have reported having to sign documents in Hebrew. Some are told that if they don’t confess to throwing stones or other activities that they will spend a longer period of time in custody.
Another man from the West Bank city of Hebron told me about his numerous arrests for organising and participating in demonstrations against the occupation. During one period when he was interrogated for 104 days, he described being left on a chair for 24 hours, handcuffed to pillars, shaken violently and thrown across the room while handcuffed. Other released prisoners talk of not being allowed to go to the toilet, being kept in the same position for 72 hours with sacks over their heads, being subjected to hot and cold conditions and forced to listen to deafening music.
There are 23 women currently in Israeli jails, including Palestinian parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar. A member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and vice chair of the board of Addameer Prisoner Rights Association, Jarrar has been victim to decades of harassment by the Israeli authorities. An outspoken critic of the occupation, she has been declared a security risk despite never having been charged with a criminal offense. Jarrar has chronic health issues after suffering a series of strokes. She was recently given a six month administrative detention after defying a military order which required her to leave her home in Ramallah and be confined to the city of Jericho. The military prosecution submitted charges against her in Ofer Military Court yesterday, 15th of April with the 12 charges revolving around her role as a PLC member and her campaigning for prisoners. Despite charges being presented, she is being kept under administrative detention, making sure she will not be released on bail.
As we remember the Palestinian prisoners this April 17th and use the date to raise awareness, we must support the struggle of the detainees not only on this day but every day. Let us demand that our own governments pressure Israel to end the barbaric practice of administrative detention and release all prisoners unless they are charged with internationally recognised criminal offences.