[Ppnews] Palestinian political prisoners within reach of Israeli gunfire

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Mon Mar 28 08:57:21 EST 2005



Ahmad Sa'dat and his imprisoned comrades within reach of Israeli gunfire

Amal Shehadeh--Jericho

Al-Hayat Newspaper

22/3/2005

Translated By: Abu Laila Al-Akkawi

  It was hot in Jericho, causing the British soldier setting on the roof of 
the Palestinian prison to feel tired and bored. Her job is to guard the 
rooms of 5 Palestinians whom she views as murderers who pose danger towards 
Israel.

She noticed our presence when we stepped into the area reserved for the 
prisoners' exercise. She looked worried. Her worry deceased as she saw us 
talk to the Palestinian guard, who let us into the rooms of three 
prisoners. Then, she began pacing back and forth on the roof's top, 
occasionally talking through her walkie talkie and watching us closely.

This soldier is one of 15 British and American soldiers charged with 
keeping an eye on Ahmad Sa'dat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for 
the Liberation of Palestine, and 4 PFLP members who are imprisoned in the 
Jericho prison. They are charged with killing the extremist, right-wing 
Israeli minister, Rahbam Za'evi. They are kept in prison in accordance with 
a May, 2002 agreement between the PA, on the one side, and the British, 
American and Israelis, on the other in the wake of the siege of the 
Muqata'a and the late Palestinian president, Yaser Arafat.

At that time, the Palestinian police arrested the four and put them on 
trial. The court was composed of the head of the Palestinian police force, 
a high-ranking officer in the Palestinian-Israeli joint committee whose job 
was to coordinate security matters and resolve security problems between 
the Palestinians and Israelis, and a high-ranking official from the 
Palestinian military intelligence service. The defendants lawyer was the 
vice chair of the head of the Palestinian military intelligence. The court 
sentenced Ahed Abu Ghulmah, who is a member of the PFLP's Central 
Committee, to one year in prison. Majdi Al-Rimawi was sentenced to 8 years 
imprisonment. Basil Al-Asmar was sentenced to 12 years, and Hamdi Qur'an, 
the person accused of shooting Za'evi, was sentenced to 18 years. Israel 
demanded that Ahmad Sa'dat be arrested for organizing and coordinating the 
assassination. However, he appealed his case in the Palestinian Supreme 
Court, which found him innocent and ordered his immediate release. The 
Court also ruled that the imprisonment of the other four members was 
illegal because they were not convicted by a legal and legitimate court. 
The Palestinian Authority claims that its refusal to release Sa'dat and Abu 
Ghulma stems from the need to protect them from being assassinated by the 
Israelis.

The decisions of the Supreme Court were never implemented. What was 
implemented, instead, is the agreement, drafted by Israel, of transferring 
all 5 prisoners to Jericho. And since their imprisonment three years ago, 
the prisoners have participated in a popular struggle to secure their 
release. However, when the Palestinian Authority refused to release them, 
they decided to take their case to international legal forums.

"The British government is the main party supervising us for three years. 
This is in violation of Palestinian and international laws concerning human 
rights," said Ahed Abu Ghalma from his prison cell in Jericho. "The party 
who is supervising us is in fact violating the law, since the Palestinian 
Supreme Court ordered the release of Ahmad Sa'dat," he added. "In addition, 
I continue to be held in prison even though I had completed serving my 
sentence. As for the other three, they are serving sentences which had not 
been approved by an official and legitimate Palestinian court of justice. 
The party which took it upon itself to issue the sentence during the trial 
at the Muqata'a is not even involved in the application of that sentence."

What do you mean?

--I mean that the British and the Americans are supervising, and in an 
official manner, practices that violate the law. This is a major offense. 
It caused us to prepare an official complaint against the British 
government, which will be sent to the British legal authorities. We will 
demand that we are released immediately."

What about the Americans?

--"We will first challenge the British government since it is the official 
signatory on the mission to supervise us. And the decision that will come 
out of the challenge against the British government will be employed 
against the American administration".

Preparations to file a legal complaint against the British government had 
reached a significant point. The challenge is being filed on behalf of the 
prisoners by a London-based Iraqi lawyer, Abdel Haq al-'Ani and the 
Palestinian lawyer, Abdel Karim Hamaad. Both lawyers, who consider what the 
British government is doing constitutes a grievous violation of human 
rights, will represent the five prisoners in front of a British magistrate.

Abu Ghulma believes that moving legally against the British government as 
soon as possible will prevent Israel from using the case of the Jericho 
prisoners' in order to extract concessions from the PA relative to other 
wanted Palestinian activists who are presently in PA hands. He adds: "There 
is serious concern that Israel might use its withdrawal from Palestinian 
areas in order to place Palestinian resisters currently in PA hands under 
indirect Israeli supervision, just as is the case with us in Jericho".


WALLS DESTINED TO FALL

What consoles the British soldier and other members of the team supervising 
the Jericho prison is the fact that their mission will allow them to learn 
more about the history of the British Mandate over Palestine. This prison 
used to be a British estate during the Mandate period. On that estate 
happens to be another prison housing members of the Islamic Jihad Movement. 
The British mandatory authorities used that same jail to imprison members 
of the Palestinian resistance against the Mandate.

Entering to the Jericho prison as well as to the city itself is very 
difficult these days. For despite the fact that the negotiations over the 
handover of Jericho to the PA by Israel went well, and despite the fact 
that the city is under Palestinian control, Jericho is completely besieged 
and is witnessing continued Israeli provocations, the numbers of which had 
in fact increased by twofold since the transfer of authority to PA hands. 
For instance, the same day we conducted the interviews was also the same 
day the Israeli authorities lifted its closure of the city and permitted 
journalists to enter it. However, a day later, Israeli jeeps and AVs 
entered the city and began to impose an order determining who could and 
could not enter Jericho. As for Palestinians from areas occupied in 1948, 
they were prevented from entering the city altogether, including 
journalists who were theoretically permitted to enter.

 From the outside, the prison in Jericho seems like any other Palestinian 
estates built in accordance with British architectural styles. The first 
person one meets is a member of the Palestinian police force that surrounds 
the building. Next to the entrance there is a small room manned by a 
policeman, who pointed to us the main gate, which is made of heavy metal.

On the inside, the building is divided into many segments, some of which 
are reserved for Palestinian political prisoners. The other part, which is 
under American and British administration, is composed on a number of 
old-looking rooms.

Doors are old. The floor is made up of cement. The humidity in the building 
is high, causing parts of the ceiling to chip. In fact act, one of the 
walls collapsed a few months ago short distance away from the PFLP's 
Secretary General. Only luck prevented the occurrence of a major disaster 
considering the large size of the ceiling that fell.

The prisoners had posters of Che Guevara adorning the walls. A statement 
reading: "The revolutionary is the last person to sleep or eat, but the 
first person to fight " was placed under the posters. Other walls were 
adorned with posters of Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa, former Secretary General of 
the PFLP who was assassinated by Israel.Family pictures hung above the 
prisoner's beds.

The close, constant and 24 hrs/day supervision the prisoners are subjected 
to prevents them from even meeting when they are exercising. Each 
supervisory team is composed of three, the leader, a British soldier and an 
American soldier. But there is another type of supervision taking place, 
and that is Israeli supervision, which is carried out through means unknown 
the prisoners. Yet, the prisoners are certain that Israel is supervising 
each and every movement they make. They know that because they are aware 
that Israel is constantly sending official complains to the British and 
Palestinian teams of what it considers violations of the agreement reached 
between the Israelis, the British, the Americans and the PA in 2002. The 
constant Israeli interference and covert supervision of the prisoners 
prompted the latter to file protests with the Palestinian Authority.

Ahmad Sa'dat, who met Mahmud Abbas, head of the PA and discussed with him 
the fate of the prisoners and the truce with Israel, stressed to Abu Mazin 
that he rejects any negotiations between the PA and Israel over his and his 
comrades' fate, which he considers as a domestic Palestinian issue. "Our 
case should be viewed and discussed on the basis of the national 
Palestinian law that governs the relations between the PLO and other 
Palestinian organizations. Or, the case must be dealt with exclusively 
within the context of the Palestinian law. In either case, our imprisonment 
is illegal and the PA must release us immediately", said Sa'dat. " We are 
here illegally since there are no national Palestinian laws that punish 
Palestinians on the basis of his resistance to occupation," he added.

But, the decision to continue your imprisonment was taken in order to 
protect you from assassination by Israel, according to the late president 
Yaser Arafat?

--"This protection which the PA conferred on me is nothing but a cover for 
an Israeli decision. We did not ask for PA protection, nor did we ask 
anyone to protect us. We were sought, arrested and placed in a place that 
may seem like offering us protection, when in fact it is in fact under 
Israeli mercy. In other words, we are under constant threat. The Israelis 
know the places we stay in. They know that we are in this room. They are 
watching us daily, and not a single month passes without them submitting an 
official complaint to the British and Americans. This is especially the 
case when they object to some of our activities. That is why the whole 
argument that we are here for our own protection is nothing but a cover, a 
justification. The job of the Palestinian guards is to open and close the 
doors. Nothing more, nothing less. This violates the very laws which the PA 
is trying to enforce on Palestinians in general. That is why the PA must 
not insist on applying laws which it never ceases to violate, and to do so 
in the ugliest of manners."

In the opinion of Sa'dat, the PA could protect the prisoners by securing an 
Israeli commitment, signed in the presence of the British and the 
Americans, not to harm us. This is a right which must be demanded demand 
from Israel if in fact the British and Americans want to help the PA to 
establish the rule of law in a manner that helps it avoid violating the 
very laws it wants to enforce.



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