Every year, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the continuing incarceration and ill-treatment of Palestinians who have been detained, sometimes without charge or trial, for their resistance to the Israeli occupation and its illegal policies and practices.
Although the total number of political prisoners held in Israeli prisons has decreased again this year from over 6,600 in April 2010 to 5,716, this overall amelioration conceals some troubling trends and as such should not be interpreted as an indicator of improved Israeli policies. Particularly worrying is the fact that although Israel’s practice of administrative detention is widely recognized as violating international human rights and humanitarian law and has been repeatedly condemned by Palestinian human rights organizations and members of the international community alike, 218 Palestinians remain in this form of detention without charge or trial, only 19 fewer than a year ago. Moreover, Israel continues to hold Palestinians from Gaza under the Unlawful Combatants Law, whose implementation results in grave violations of international law.
Furthermore, this year Palestinian Prisoners’ Day comes in the midst of a wave of mass and arbitrary arrests by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) in the village of Awarta, following the murders of 5 family members in the nearby settlement of Itamar on 11 March 2011. So far more than 500 men, women and children have been rounded up, taken for questioning and asked to sign statements in Hebrew, a language they do not understand. While most villagers were released within hours of their arrest, 50 still remain in detention without charges, including two children. These arrests demonstrate Israel’s alarming continuing willingness to resort to disproportionate measures targeting an entire community, echoing its detention practices during the first and second intifada.
Israel also persists in its attempts to undermine the Palestinian civil resistance movement and deter activism against the Wall and settlements by targeting movement leaders, as well as children from the villages engaged in these kinds of popular struggle. Children have increasingly become the target of arrests in occupied East Jerusalem too, particularly in neighborhoods like Silwan and Issawiya, which have emerged as focal points of tension as Israel continues to escalate its policies of repression, Judaization and settlement expansion in the city.
Finally, Israel continues to sanction the torture of Palestinian prisoners by allowing for unrecorded interrogations and affording interrogators involved in torture impunity under Israeli law. Moreover, despite the existence of a complaint mechanism for victims of torture, the Israeli authorities have systematically failed to open criminal investigations into these cases, thus furthering the prevailing culture of impunity.
Despite the slight decrease in the number of political prisoners held by Israel, attention to their cause should not wane. Instead, the illegitimacy of Israel’s detention policies, the gravity of the manifold violations that prisoners and detainees are subjected to and the extent of Israel’s impunity in this regard should be exposed afresh to spur renewed and more effective action. As Palestinian human rights organizations, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian political prisoners and detainees currently in Israeli jails and their families, and urge all members of the international community, including civil society, national governments, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to seize Prisoners’ Day as an opportunity to redouble their efforts in the pursuit of the immediate and unconditional release of all Palestinian political prisoners.
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights AssociationAldameer Association for Human Rights Al-Haq Al Mezan Center for Human Rights Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights The Civic Coalition for Defending Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem Defence for Children International - Palestine Section Ensan Center for Human Rights and Democracy Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling