Randa from Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights, (www.addameer.org) has a cheerful, youthful enthusiasm that contrasts with the grim experiences of Palestinians within the Israeli court and prison systems. Established in 1992, Adameer is a human rights organization supporting prisoners and working to end torture and human rights violations through monitoring and solidarity campaigns, with seven lawyers and a dedicated staff.
I have always been struck by the number of doctors, teachers, ambulance drivers, students, farmers, activists, etc. who report being detained in Israeli prisons at some point in their lives and I have read Physicians for Human Rights – Israel studies of torture within these jails, but Randa had the numbers behind this troubling story.
There are currently 5,000 Palestinians in prison, 20% of the total Palestinian of population has been arrested, 40% of the male population, over 800,000 Palestinians since 1967. The key issues include torture during interrogation and raids, administrative detention, (no charges, no trial, renewable for years), child prisoners, the use of prolonged isolation, medical negligence, arrests of human rights activists, and hunger strikes and their health implications. As of May 2013, there are 4,979 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, 139 of them less than 18, 16 women, half of them mothers. The number of administrative detainees is actually low at 158, but these folks can be held indefinitely with no charges, no trials, and secret files. Think Guantanamo in Hebrew. There has been an uptick in imprisoned journalists with thirteen currently detained, half between January and May.
There are four interrogation centers: three detention centers (including Ofer just outside of Ramallah), 17 prisons, mostly inside of Israel. This is actually against international law as Palestinian families cannot access these prisons due to an inability to obtain permits and this further isolates and demoralizes the prisoners.
Many arrests occur at home in the middle of the night with a massive military presence, military jeeps surrounding the home, soldiers breaking down the door, sleepy family members corralled and interrogated one at a time including small children. The prisoner is taken, blindfolded, shackled, and put into a military jeep which will either go to a settlement or interrogation center. The interrogation can last for 90 days and is renewable; the prisoners can be denied a lawyer for 60 days, a renewable restriction as well.
During interrogation there are regular reports of physical and psychological torture, 20 hour sessions, isolation cells two by four meters in size with a hole in the floor for bathroom needs. The prisoner may be tied up in stress positions for hours during interrogation, experience physical abuse, sleep and sensory deprivation which is very disorienting, and threats of sexual violence, especially against children and their family members. As expected, forced confessions are common and 73 prisoners have died in custody since 1967, allegedly due to torture. This year, Arafat Jaradat died during his first arrest. He was accused of throwing stones. He requested a medical exam due to severe back pain and was rewarded with an extension of his interrogation. At autopsy, he had severe bruising and fractured ribs and no action was taken against his torturers. Even more frightening, Randa reports that when he was originally arrested, the security forces told him to say good bye to his wife and children as he would never see them again.
Interrogation is followed by the farce of a military court where innumerable international laws are violated. Randa describes temporary buildings, an intrusive search for all attending the trial, inadequately trained military judges, and a court inundated with soldiers. The proceedings are conducted in Hebrew, the translators deplorable, misinterpreting and injecting their own opinions, the shackled prisoner has often not met his attorney before, and the average hearing lasts three minutes. Needless to say there is a 99+ conviction rate.
So for what are Palestinians languishing in jail? There are 2,000 military orders in the West Bank but #1651 is the most common, and includes participation in demonstrations, destruction of public order, raising the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem, belonging to an illegal party, (all PLO organizations are illegal), etc, etc. The military frequently goes after political activists who are convicted of writing slogans on walls, throwing stones, ten years imprisonment towards a nonmoving object and 20 years towards a moving object.
90% of arrested children are accused of throwing stones, 60% ripped from their beds at night in front of terrified and powerless parents, and children older than 16 are tried as an adults. Palestinian childhood appears to be an ephemeral and brief experience thanks to occupation. There are 700 child detainees per year, over 8,000 since 2000. Randa describes a number of tragic cases of young children detained, strip searched, mentally and physically tortured, for instance, ripping off braces one tooth at a time, interrogated, and pushed to be collaborators in order to protect their families. Families are also forced to pay huge court fees. These traumatic experiences in children have major long term implications. Some children stop speaking, refuse to attend school or leave home, suffer from bed wetting, a loss of interest in life and fear of participating in any future political activities.
With the females in detention, there have been several births, the women shackled during delivery, the children removed after the age of two, and no extra food provided after childbirth. The women report sexual harassment, and repeated strip searches.
There has been public information about recent hunger strikes protesting issues like repeated strip searches, extended administrative detention, extreme overcrowding, lack of hygiene and inadequate medical care. There are often eight prisoners per cell and they are given three hours in the open yard per day. All of these basic requirements are treated as privileges that can be easily revoked. Because of the increasing privatization of the prisons, much like the US, prisoners now have to pay for the canteen, cleaning products, clothes, and the money raised by often poor families is split between the private company, ie Dudush, and the Israeli Ministry of Prisoner Affairs.
Prisoners are economically exploited and can sometimes exchange a month of sentencing for 2,000 shekels. And then there are repeated examples of medical negligence; 52 prisoners have died from deliberate negligence, such as denial of cancer treatment, and less egregious issues such as malnutrition, deliberate errors in the clinics such as pulling the incorrect tooth, lack of treatment for chronic disease, lack of adequate treatment of injuries that then become even more serious medical problems. Apparently the health care is often “provided” by soldiers in white coats with some first aid training. A recent hunger striker developed hepatitis when non-sterile instruments overtly contaminated with blood were used for a tooth extraction. I wonder where are the doctors, the psychologists, the professionals who above all are trained to do no harm? Where is the outcry from the Israeli Medical Association? When is blindness and ignorance a symptom of racism and growing fascism within a country that claims to be operating according to democratic principles?
Randa explains that clearly Adameer “does not have a whole lot of wins in military court,” but they continue to provide free legal aid, work in the Jerusalem high court to reveal these gross injustices built into the system, provide advocacy work, and put pressure on international governments. 95% of their work is with political prisoners and their office has been repeatedly raided, computers and records removed by Israeli soldiers. They have also attracted the ire of the Palestinian Authority which increasingly collaborates with the Israeli military court system. Adameer works closely with the UN and with the Israeli organization Adalah, and has begun contacts with prisoner support groups in the US, drawing obvious parallels.
We ask if there are any signs of hope and Randa tells us of a new campaign (www.stopadcampaign.com) against the British/Danish security company, G4S, which owns child detention centers in the US, provides security in Israeli prisons, runs immigration detention centers in the UK, and provides security for the hajj in Saudi Arabia.
It seems that once again, we are all in this together one way or another. It seems also that in Israel/Palestine, military might tramples the rights of the powerless, the youth, the activists, the Arabs, the very human people engaged in a struggle for survival that is easily visible if you choose to see. I can only hope their voices can be heard.