Israel’s cruel practice of isolation of prisoners should be banned

“Solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” said Juan E. Méndez to the UN General Assembly on 18 October. Méndez is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In his first interim report he examines the practice of solitary confinement. Méndez includes Israel in his report. He writes: “In Israel, solitary confinement cells are often lit with fluorescent bulbs as their only source of light, and they have no source of fresh air.”

The law of the State of Israel permits prisoners and detainees to be held in solitary confinement under three circumstances: during interrogation, as a disciplinary measure, and during so-called “separation” for an extended, unlimited period of time. Detailed information on the inhumane practice of isolation can be found in the report Solitary Confinement of Prisoners and Detainees in Israeli prisons, published in June 2011 by three Israeli-based human rights organizations.

UN Rapporteur Méndez defines solitary confinement as any regime where an inmate is held in isolation from others (except guards) for at least twenty-two hours a day. According to Méndez, “Solitary confinement reduces meaningful social contact to an absolute minimum. The level of social stimulus that results is insufficient for the individual to remain in a reasonable state of mental health.” 

The report adds: “The use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement has increased in various jurisdictions, especially in the context of the ‘war on terror’ and ‘a threat to national security’. Owing to their isolation, prisoners held in prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement can easily slip out of sight of justice, and safeguarding their rights is therefore difficult.” Méndez recommends that indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, longer than fifteen days, should be prohibited.

Hunger strike did not end isolation practice

In October, Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails held a three-week mass hunger strike demanding that Israel end the policy of keeping detainees in solitary confinement. The number of prisoners held in isolation had increased sharply over a period of months. Last May twelve prisoners were held in isolation by Israel for “security” reasons, according to Addameer. After Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the introduction of harsher detention conditions for Palestinian prisoners, another seven prisoners were placed in solitary confinement in June and three more in July. 

During the hunger strike, a large number of participating prisoners were placed in isolation, in particular in Ohal Keidar and Shatta prisons. Addameer could not access exact numbers because the Israeli Prison Service substantially limited visits to prisoners by Addameer’s lawyers.

The hunger strike was put on hold after Israel agreed to end the practice and release detainees from isolation. The agreement was not applicable to Palestinian Hamas movement prisoners Abdallah Barghouthi, Mahmoud Issa and Ibrahim Hamed, who have been held in isolation since 2003, 2002 and 2006 respectively. 

Ahmad Saadat’s 31 months of solitary confinement was extended for one year in October 2011. The decision was based on secret evidence.

Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Detainee Affairs, told Ma’an News Agency that around 20 Palestinians remain in solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, three prisoners who had been held in isolation for “security” reasons were released in the prisoner swap on 18 October.

Aweidah Kollab suffered 12 years in isolation

The European Network to support the rights of Palestinian Prisoners, UFree, has released an exclusive report on the situation of Aweidah Kollab from Gaza City. His story clearly shows the devastating damage that can be caused by the inhumane, despicable practice of solitary confinement. Kollab was released as part of the prisoner exchange after 24 years in prison, 12 of which he spent in solitary confinement. His family was shocked by his psychological condition.

Released prisoner Aweidah Kollab reunited with his son


UFree reports:

At the age of 48, Aweidah suffers from memory loss after years of mental torture and is unable to have a full meal because his stomach is not accustomed to receive a proportioned meal.

His brother told UFree: ‘My brother has a problem sitting on a chair – he adjusts his body as though he is squatting – after more than a decade in isolation in a tiny space.’

Aweidah’s youngest son was only 40 days old when his father was arrested. Now a grown man with his child, it is the first time he has seen his father – only to find that his dad cannot recognize him.

One of the first things his family did upon his release was admit him to hospital because of the deliberate lack of medical care in Israel’s prisons for Palestinians, equivalent to a policy of slow death.

Doctors discovered that Aweidah suffered from numerous diseases, including a stomach ulcer and a lean body condition, inflammation of the valve, a hernia in the chest area and a stone in the kidney. He also needs several sessions of massaging of the limbs so he can sit down properly – an ability he lost whilst living in the inhumane conditions in solitary confinement.

The family have been advised to gradually increase his interaction with his children and grandchildren, to help his adjustment to outside life.

His brother told UFree how he contacted many organisations, such as the International Red Cross and B’tselem to inform them of Aweidah’s deteriorating health whilst in prison. He was also forcibly moved from one prison to the other where he was subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment.

His family are seeking to file a lawsuit against the Israeli prison administration in international forums, due to the long lasting inhumane treatment of Aweidah.”

It is important to intensify our campaigns in support of the political prisoners.


Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh