This week, more than one hundred Palestinian political prisoners ended a hunger strike in solidarity with Nahar al-Saadi, a Palestinian prisoner who was held in solitary confinement for more than 570 days by Israel.
The action resulted in an agreement between the leadership committee of the striking prisoners and the Israeli Prison Service. It brought the solidarity hunger strike, which began on 9 December, to an end on 17 December.
The Israeli Prison Service gave in to the hunger strikers’ demands to end al-Saadi’s isolation and respect his right to family visits.
After the agreement, al-Saadi suspended his own one-month-long hunger strike and was finally allowed to speak with his mother by telephone.
In 2012, the Israeli Prison Service agreed to the demand to end the use of solitary confinement after thousands of Palestinian political prisoners went on a mass hunger strike. That action ended the solitary confinement of nineteen Palestinian prisoners at that time.
Al-Saadi is part of a group of twenty Palestinian detainees who have been held in long-term solitary confinement.
It is appalling that Israel continues this practice.
Torture and ill-treatment
After his arrest in September 2003, an Israeli military court — in which Palestinians have few rights and no due process — sentenced 32-year-old al-Saadi to four life imprisonment terms plus twenty years.
International law expert Jeff Handmaker told The Electronic Intifada that “such an extreme sentence would likely be regarded as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which, according to Article 16 of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ‘each State party shall undertake to prevent.’”
In February 2013, al-Saadi was transferred to al-Jalameh interrogation center where he was questioned for thirty consecutive days, the Palestinian prisoner support group Addameer reported in an urgent appeal. Al-Saadi stated that he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment during the interrogation, saying he was questioned for up to 22 hours at a time and shackled in stress positions. The notorious British-Danish security firm G4S provides the security systems to al-Jalameh.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez found that the practice of solitary confinement has severe psychological effects and causes “psychotic disturbances, anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, paranoia, psychosis and self-harm.”
It can also cause physiological damage. Méndez unequivocally denounced solitary confinement as a punishment or extortion technique at the UN General Assembly of 18 October 2011. “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,” Méndez wrote in his 2011 report.
To protest his long-term solitary confinement, al-Saadi launched his hunger strike after a district court renewed his confinement nearly one month ago. He lost more than thirty pounds and suffered from back pains, abdominal pain and stomach problems. Surveillance cameras in his cell monitored him 24 hours a day. The Israeli Prison Service denied al-Saadi’s repeated requests for medical treatment.
Samidoun Palestinian prisoner solidarity network published the full agreement which includes the transfer of al-Saadi to Ramon prison. According to the agreement, he will be treated like any other Palestinian political prisoner and have access to the prison canteen. His television will be returned, and he will be allowed to have telephone calls to his parents until they receive a permit for visits. He will receive clothing provided by his family.
In addition, the prisoners who were punished with isolation or solitary confinement during the collective hunger strike will be transferred to their original places in the prisons.
The Israeli Prison Service also agreed to phase out isolation and solitary confinement — for a six-month period — for twelve Palestinian political prisoners accused of attempting to dig a tunnel under Gilboa prison. The administration also promised to end the use of isolation and solitary confinement “without cause.”
For decades, Israel has shown its utter disregard for international law and rights of Palestinian prisoners. As members of international civil society, we can show our solidarity by boycotting companies like G4S and pressuring our governments to hold Israel to account for its serious violations of Palestinian rights.