Israeli must end “unlawful and cruel” policies practiced against Palestinian prisoners in its jails, Amnesty International said .
“Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law,” said Amnesty International.
The London-based rights group said that “testimonies gathered by the organisation from family members and Palestinian prisoners detained in the Israeli prison system shed light on the suffering endured by families, who in some cases have been deprived from seeing their detained relatives for many years.”
“It is unlawful and cruel and the consequences for the imprisoned person and their loved ones, who are often deprived from seeing them for months, and at times for years on end, can be devastating,” Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International Magdalena Mughrabi said.
“Instead of unlawfully transferring prisoners outside the occupied territories, Israel must ensure all Palestinians arrested there are held in prisons and detention centres in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“Until then, the Israeli authorities must stop imposing excessive restrictions on visitation rights as a means of punishing prisoners and their families, and ensure that conditions fully meet international standards.”
Israeli cruelty is not limited in the deprivation of family visits. “Palestinian detainees held on security grounds are barred from making phone calls to their families,” Amnesty International said.
“Under international humanitarian law, detainees from occupied territories must be detained in the occupied territory, not in the territory of the occupying power. They must also be allowed to receive visitors, especially near relatives, at regular intervals and as frequently as possible,” the organisation stated.
According to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, a non-governmental organisation, there are currently 6,500 Palestinian prisoners, including at least 300 children, detained on security-related grounds in Israeli-run prisons and detention facilities.
All but one of the 17 facilities are located inside Israel. The vast majority of prisoners are men, 57 are women, including 13 girls under the age of 18.
Thirteen of those imprisoned are Palestinian Legislative Council members. At least 500 people are held without charge or trial in administrative detention, a practice which flouts safeguards required by international law to prevent arbitrary detention.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs Commission spokesperson Hasan Abed Rabbo said at least 1,000 prisoners are prohibited from receiving family visits on “security grounds.”
He added that currently there are around 15-20 prisoners held in isolation, who are banned from any contact with other prisoners and family visits.
“Ahmed” a 32-year-old from Hebron currently held in administrative detention in Ketziot prison in the Al-Naqab desert, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, has only had one family visit despite spending five and a half years in an Israeli prison on and off between 2005 and 2017.
He told Amnesty International he was joining the mass hunger strike in the hope that it will pressure the occupation to allow his 70-year-old mother, who has been repeatedly denied a permit, to visit him. He said he had been arrested seven times in total. His administrative detention order is up for renewal on 29 July.
“I have had one family visit while in jail. In 2006 my mother and father were able to visit me because my father was sick. He was 75 then, it was the last time I saw him. He died while I was in prison,” he said.
“No one can visit me, my mother is in her seventies and she is denied a permit for security reasons…I do not know when I will be released or how long I will be in prison for, I want to be able to see my family.
“The Israeli authorities are using the permits to punish me… I do not know how long [my mother] has [left] and if I will be able to see her if or when I am released.”
Najat al-Agha, a 67-year-old woman from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, told Amnesty International that her son, Dia al-Agha, 43, has been imprisoned in Israel for the past 25 years. At the age of 19 he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted on murder charges. He is being held in Nafha prison in Mitzpe Ramon in the south.
“I do not know why I get rejected. I am 67 years old. What security threat am I to Israel? All I want is to see him and make sure he is well. I do not know how long I will live, any visit can be my last. I am scared of dying without seeing him,” his mother said.
“Every time I apply for a permit I get rejected. It is almost a year that I have not seen my son, it is devastating. They are punishing us, they are trying to break us.”
According to Israeli Prison Service regulations all prisoners are entitled to family visits once every two weeks. However, in reality, because Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories must apply for permits to enter Israel, they can visit much less frequently.
The Israeli Prison Service regulations also allow the authorities to rescind a prisoner’s right to family visits on security grounds.
Gaza prisoners continue to be most affected by Israeli restrictions as the Israeli military grants permits to families from the Strip only once every two months. This policy affects around 365 prisoners from Gaza currently detained in Israel.
In addition, Hamas prisoners along with other prisoners living in the same prison wings, are only permitted one monthly visit, irrespective of where they come from.