The experience of being a prisoner is as common as land confiscation for Palestinians. Thousands of young boys, men, women, children are kept prisoners without any basic rights and necessities. Around one-fifth of the Palestinian population has once or more than once been imprisoned since the occupation began. This ‘administrative detention’ is a disturbing experience for thousands of Palestinians, who are held captive without being charged or even knowing what crimes they have committed.
Since 1967, 40% of the adult male population in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, or roughly 800,000 people have faced detention in several forms. In prison, these Palestinian prisoners are subjected to harsh treatment and live in appalling conditions. The administration isn’t just guilty of keeping innocent people in jail but also of physically and psychologically abusing them.
Violation of human and social rights
According to a former prisoner, “Israelis do this to turn human beings into a creature barely alive. Someone has forgotten. Living only to eat and sleep.”
Another former prisoner Ismat says that after someone is arrested, the first thing administration does is ask the prisoner to sign a paper that lists the rights and obligations of the prisoner. It includes seeing his/her lawyer, eating, taking a bath, etc. According to Ismat, the interrogator has the right to deny prisoners any of their rights if he thinks it is necessary for interrogation. This is mentioned in the first article of the obligation sector.
This is done to completely isolate the prisoner, which is why most of the prisoners are not allowed to see their lawyers as well. The civil law of Israel allows prisoners to be held for 30 days without any charge.
The condition of prisoner cells is worse than anyone can imagine. Prisoners can only think of watching sunlight, laying on a bed, or even a soft mattress or a pillow. The light in the cell is always on and the prisoners are given a thin mattress on the floor without a pillow to sleep on. The bathroom is a hole on the ground, right next to the mattress of prisoners.
These cells are made to torture prisoners mentally and physically. There is no chair and prisoners cannot even lean against the wall. Palestinian prisoners were initially denied access to books, pencils, and papers. Inmates were granted access to books, pencils, newspapers, and monitored radio broadcasting after a series of protests.
After decades spent behind the bars, the prisoners who are released suffer mentally and struggle with the trauma resulting from the torture. Prisoners are not allowed to meet their families for long periods. Most of the prisoners from Gaza and occupied West Bank are jailed inside Israel. This is a violation of humanitarian law as transferring residents is not allowed. Families having an imprisoned family member are required to obtain a permit from the military to enter Israel to visit them. These families including the ones who can visit their imprisoned family members easily fund themselves rejected on unspecified grounds.
Palestinian prisoners and Covid-19
Palestinians have been facing torture and cruelty since the beginning. Despite so many international movements, no one has been able to help Palestinians and Palestinian prisoners. The Coronavirus situation has set a new alarm for the prisoners in Israeli jails as the cells are overcrowded and no one observes social distancing.
The 4636 ‘security’ prisoners inside jails including 43 women and 180 children are denied the right to phone calls and family visits. These thousands of Palestinians in custody are isolated from their homes, families, and legal representatives.
Al Mezan, alongside other human rights organizations, submitted an urgent petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The petition demanded rights for the security prisoners to communicate with their families and lawyers. The court allowed the minor prisoners to have 10-minute calls every 2 weeks. However, the decision regarding the adults is still pending.
According to reports, almost 8 Palestinians are held captive in a single cell, while the regular number is four persons per cell. Considering the Coronavirus pandemic, this number violates all rules of social distancing and puts the lives of Palestinian prisoners to risk.
Al Mezan also sent a letter to the IPS on 10th March, requesting appropriate measures to improve hygiene, resolve to overcrowd and regulate the social communication of the prisoners. There are no such measures taken till now that ensure the provision of hygiene and healthcare needs of the Palestinian prisoners.
The International community including the United Nations, the United States, and the International Committee of Red Cross must take necessary measures to ensure Israel’s respect for the prisoners. There is a dire need for the authorities to consider WHO recommendations and provide basic health and hygiene facilities. Prisoners should be allowed to have contact with their family members and lawyers to come out of the phase of depression and torture.