[News] Tip of the Iceberg Come Visit the Palestinian Prisoners
News at freedomarchives.org
News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 25 12:25:05 EDT 2004
Tip of the Iceberg Come Visit the Palestinian Prisoners
Dr. Daud Abdullah
More than 600,000 Palestinians have been detained since the start of the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. A comparison of
the figures with those from Iraq explains the scale of the problem facing
the Palestinians. While Iraq with its population of 23 million currently
has about 9,000 prisoners in 10 coalition prisons, there are an estimated
7,500 Palestinians in Israels five interrogation centers, seven
detention/holding centers, three military detention camps, and nine prisons.
The Palestinian population in the territories is around 3.6 million. More
than 25% of the adult population have been imprisoned at some time or
another. This means almost every Palestinian house has been affected.
The most striking feature of the Israeli Occupation has been its obsession
with the use of excessive and disproportionate force against the
Palestinians. Some of these have been meted out to individuals. Others were
of a collective nature. The systematic and widespread demolition of
civilian homes in Rafah is the most hideous example today of collective
punishment. The Occupier uses every pretext to justify its totalitarian
acts. When it is not done in self-defence it is done to spread democracy.
In Occupied Palestine, the so-called war on terror offers immunity and
protection for the extra-judicial killings of political and civic leaders.
Similarly, the 1945 British Mandatory Defence (Emergency) Regulations are
used to legitimize the destruction of Palestinian civilian homes. Though
condoned against Palestinians, these very acts were regarded as war crimes
and acts of terror when they were committed against European Jews decades ago.
Hence the 1945 Nuremberg Charter 1945 which resulted from the trial of the
Nazi war criminals, codified a new type of international crime - "crime
against humanity" to prevent the recurrence of the crimes perpetrated by
the Nazis. Article 6 (c) defines Nuremberg Crimes Against Humanity in part
as: "namely....deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any
civilian population...." Sadly, although the Nuremberg Charter
universalized in theory the concept of crime against humanity, its
practice was never extended to the Palestinians.
Following the British enactment of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations, Dov
Yosef, a future Israeli government minister told a conference of the Jewish
Lawyers Association in 1946, with regard to the security regulations the
question is: will we be subject to official terrorism? Today, the same
regulations are used to carry out official terrorism against the
Of all the Israeli detention centres and prisons in the West Bank and the
1948 territories, some are more notorious than others. In recent months
Facility 1391 has gained notoriety as Israels Guantanamo. That is to
say, this is a place where prisoners are stripped and denied of all their
legal and human rights. Though initially used for detaining foreign
nationals from Arab countries, an increasing number of Palestinians are now
being held here because of the overcrowding in other centres.
BTselem, the Israeli human rights organization, estimates that some 85% of
all Palestinian detainees are tortured during interrogation. The process
involves cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It includes beating,
placement in uncomfortable physical positions for extended periods of time
and denial of food, medical treatment and sleep. Meanwhile, Israel is the
only country in the world that legalizes torture. It does so using the
Landau ministerial committees license of 1987, which allowed moderate
physical pressure and psychological pressure.
The use of physical and psychological torture is not restricted to adults.
Child detainees aged 16 years and over are held in detention, with no
recognition of their legal status as children and in manifest breach of the
International Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights
of the Child.
According to the Geneva-based Defence for Children International, there are
presently about 360 and 370 children in detention centers and prisons in
the Occupied Territories and Israel. The overwhelming majority of these
children (aged 14 to 17) are held on the charge of stone throwing.
In many instances armed soldiers arrest children from their beds in the
middle of the night. Last year, the Haaretz journalist Amira Haas [April
15, 2003] highlighted the case of two minors, Nader and Mamdouh, who were
detained in this manner. The soldiers cuffed the hands and feet of the two
brothers, blindfolded them, and bundled them away in a jeep to a detention
Nader recalled, "The interrogator began questioning me: `You throw rocks?'
I said, `No, maybe once, when I was little.' He started shouting at me. He
pushed me. He said I threw 300 rocks. He insisted I did, and I kept saying
no. I told him again that I did when I was little, but not now. He wrote
something on a paper and said I had to sign. I don't know what I signed."
It was written in Hebrew.
After gathering hundreds of similar testimonies local and international
human rights organizations now confirm that Palestinian children are
subjected to patterns of physical and psychological abuse, which often
amount to torture.
In March 2002, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights,
John Dugard, reported on the issue of Palestinian child detainees in the
occupation prisons. The report called for an urgent and impartial
investigation into the, "allegations of inhuman treatment of children under
the military justice system and that immediate steps be taken to remedy
this situation." As so many before and after, this report has since
remained a dead letter.
There is hardly a household today in the West Bank and Gaza that has not
had a son, father, or brother who was not imprisoned. The entire
Palestinian population has directly or indirectly experienced the trauma of
imprisonment. And, although the abuse of Palestinian detainees is endemic
in the Occupation prisons, conditions have grown significantly worse since
the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada. This is especially the case in the
Shatta, Qadumem and Hawwara detention centers.
Even in the less infamous centers, conditions are deliberately geared to
break the will and discourage the detainee from participating in the
resistance. Palestinian detainees are routinely neglected and denied
medical attention. Skin diseases are commonplace, as are chest infections,
ulcers, hypertension, diabetes, poor vision and heart diseases. Worse yet,
is the frequent exploitation of prisoners to carry out medical experiments
without their consent.
Zuhayr al Askafi (28 years old) from Nablus was in good health before he
was injected two years ago. He has since lost all the hair on his head and
face. Female prisoners have similarly suffered sudden loss of hair after
been injected. Despite concerted campaigns in recent years, human rights
organizations have failed to attain an impartial investigation into these
Although it ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT0 in 1991), Israel
declared under article 28 its non-recognition of the competence of the
monitoring committee to investigate allegations.
Like the US, it has subsequently refused to ratify the Rome Treaty, which
in July 2002 brought into existence the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On its part, the US is currently seeking special agreements from
governments around the world, to protect its citizens from ICC
prosecutions. Naturally, it prefers to have its own kangaroo courts the
type of which was set up in Baghdad for the crimes committed at Abu
Ghuraib. Given the strategic relationship between the two, it remains only
a matter of time before Washington demands similar immunity for Israels
Throughout the 1967-2000 period, an estimated 1,400 Palestinians have died
in Israeli prisons because of torture or medical neglect. Those who
survived will bear the physical and psychological scars of their ordeal for
the rest of their lives. As it stands, neither the Occupying Power nor the
Palestinian Authority (PA) could ignore the issue while the conditions of
Palestinian detainees slide from bad to worse.
While Israel seeks to exploit the issue for political gain, the PA cannot
afford the luxury of dealing with the fate of 7,500 detainees as a tactical
or secondary concern. The vast majority of these have sacrificed much for
the national cause. Their freedom and the freedom of Palestine are
inextricably linked. Neither could be completed without the other.
Despite its huge significance, the issue of the Palestinian detainees in
Israeli jails is only the tip of the iceberg. Their suffering represents a
small fraction of the total misery and overall crimes committed against the
Palestinian people. There is ample evidence that Israel is not only in
breach of the Convention Against Torture but worse still, the 1948 Genocide
Convention. Its military, political and economic policies in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories have created conditions of life that are calculated
to bring about the physical destruction of the Palestinian people in
substantial part. They all contravene Article II [c] of the 1948 Genocide
Indifference in the face of genocide is not simply a dereliction of duty.
It is in effect an act of complicity, which is itself a crime under the
Genocide Convention. In the circumstances, the PA must waste no further
time in American sponsored road shows and public relations exercises. It
needs to explore other options and demonstrate more faith in its people and
the power of world public opinion. It is not enough to call for
investigations and inquiries. Tangible steps must be taken to hold the
Israeli government and its supporters criminally responsible for genocidal
acts committed against the Palestinian people.
After been marginalized on the premise that they are no longer credible
negotiating partners the PA should respond in the language of those who
seek to disqualify it. In this regard it may take a page from the South
African experience. There, the leadership of the liberation movements were
not beguiled by Washingtons policy of constructive engagement with
Pretoria. On the contrary, they mobilized world opinion against the threat
of apartheid. Similarly, Americas current support for Israel must not
conceal the danger of Zionism. Whether it is manifested in the torture of
prisoners or the bombing of civilians the consequences are the same death
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