[News] Tip of the Iceberg – Come Visit the Palestinian Prisoners

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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 Israel’s 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 “Israel’s 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.

B’Tselem, 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 committee’s license of 1987, which allowed ‘moderate 
physical pressure’ and psychological pressure.

Child Torture

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 Israel’s 
Occupying Force.

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 Washington’s policy of ‘constructive engagement’ with 
Pretoria. On the contrary, they mobilized world opinion against the threat 
of apartheid. Similarly, America’s 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 
and destruction.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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