In the middle of the night of 27 March 2008, at around 3am, Hanna Qassis was woken up by a loud thump at the door. When he went into the living room he saw seven soldiers standing in his house. His mom had opened the door. A soldier who appeared to be the commander and spoke in broken Arabic, asked who else lives in the house. Hanna, the eldest in the family after his father passed away, said his brother also lives there. He was told to go and wake him up.
Once Omar got up and joined his family, the three of them were locked in the balcony of the house which was guarded by a soldier, while other soldiers searched the house. After 10 minutes, the commander returned and took Omar into another room for questioning. Hanna could hear their conversation and heard Omar repeat many times that he did not know what they were looking for. This questioning went on for about five minutes until the commander came back into the balcony and asked Hanna to give Omar some clothes — Omar was under arrest.
Omar asked his brother to also get him some money for the taxi ride home after his interrogation, as he believed he would be home later the same night, knowing he had not done anything wrong and had nothing to hide. This seemed to annoy the commander, as he interrupted:
“You will go home whenever I decide to write this on my own hands.”
Looking for a charge
Despite Omar being from the West Bank and it being illegal under international law for Israel to transfer him into another territory, he was taken to Mascobia Detention Center in West Jerusalem, where neither his lawyer or his family were able to see him. It is common practice that lawyers must apply for permission each time they want to visit a detainee in the detention center and this process commonly takes eight days. A week later, on 3 April, Omar’s interrogation was extended for 19 days and the lawyer was officially forbidden from seeing him. On 21 April the interrogation period was again extended for another 18 days. On 23 April, the lawyer won his appeal against the ban and managed to see Omar. He also appealed against the extended interrogation period and managed to lower it to nine days. The first hearing on Omar’s case was set for 29 April, at Ofer military court, near Ramallah.
Despite being held without access to legal counsel for a month, which put Omar at high risk of being subjected to torture, the head of interrogation at Mascobia applied for a further 30 days of interrogation as they did not have anything to charge Omar with. The lawyer appealed the extension and won; the Israeli army was given two days after which they had to produce a charge sheet.
On 1 May, an administrative order was issued by the Deputy Military commander of the West Bank putting Omar under three months of Administrative Detention. He was also charged with throwing stones some time between 2001 and 2002 to which he pleaded “not guilty.” The charge of throwing stones does not involve a specific day, making it impossible for Omar even to refute the allegations and provide an alibi, thus denying him the right to a proper defense. He is also being tried as an adult for something he allegedly committed as a 16-year-old, which under international standards means he was a child even though the Israeli military courts treat Palestinians as young as 16 as adults.
Conditions of detention
On 17 May 2008, Omar told the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University about his conditions while under interrogation and once he arrived in Ofer prison in the West Bank:
I am OK but since my arrest my weight has dropped from 67 to 59 kilos. Since arriving in Ofer I have not been given enough sugar so I have been feeling dizzy and dehydrated, and I couldn’t sleep for the first four days. I had hemorrhoids which were painful but my requests to see a doctor were ignored. In the end I had to skip meals to be able to see a doctor.
The hemorrhoids developed while I was under interrogation because I wasn’t given any clean clothes and the solitary confinement cell I was in, “the hole,” was really humid. I was in “the hole” for 11 days. Also when they started interrogating me I was tied down to a chair while intelligence officers questioned me for four hours at a time. Some soldiers told me that I would get hemorrhoids from sitting down so much if I didn’t start confessing.
I also couldn’t sleep because of the mental distress I was under. I wake up easily, every time a soldier walks past. I saw soldiers beating other inmates and fear that I could be next. I’m also very disoriented; I hear sounds of dogs barking and people screaming at night. I think these are recordings but they affect me. I also heard a siren the other night and I imagined Israel was going to war with Iran and that they had evacuated the prison leaving me there alone. I have lost my bearings and am generally confused about the times of day or night.
The other day I cried. I cried at the sight of an old man, probably in his 60s, sitting alone and looking very fragile. I also know that he is diabetic. I can’t stand to see the injustice he is in, and even less to imagine the injustices he has seen.
Now that I am here in prison I am in less physical pain but I am still stressed at the uncertainly of it all. I have no idea how long I will be in prison. I have no idea what they are doing or claiming. All I know is that I’m not a threat to security but I was still being questioned about all sorts of things, so anything and everything is going through their heads.
I basically just want to know when I can see my family again.
In mid-May, Omar’s mother and brother, Hanna, applied for permission to visit him in prison but by the end of May Omar had been moved to a prison in the Negev inside Israel. It took one month for the Israeli authorities to process the request and in mid-June, they heard the application was denied.
In Israel, prisoners are usually allowed family visits once every two weeks and by law, every month. Omar has been denied his rights to see his family, which effectively serves as further punishment — punishment for something, although he still doesn’t know what that something is. His family are also being denied their right to see him thus they — the family who are undoubtedly innocent — are also being punished.
Administrative detention is a system of incarceration without charge, where secret evidence from the Israeli General Security Services (GSS) is shown to the military judge and used to justify incarceration for a period up to six months, on a renewable basis. The information provided by the GSS is not communicated to the detainee or to his/her lawyer. The mental suffering caused by not knowing the grounds for detention can amount to torture as defined under the UN Convention Against Torture and such lengthy detentions without charge or trial also constitute “arbitrary detention” which are a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 9).
In Birzeit University, there are 10 students currently under administrative detention, one of whom will have been in administrative detention for three years next month. Students under administrative detention are not only subjected to mental torture, they are denied many of their basic rights such as the right to liberty, fair trial, and freedom from arbitrary detention, as well as their right to education.
Omar was in his last semester of a four-year course and had been studying every day as soon as he got home. “He was determined to finish his studies and to do well; honestly, I’d never seen my brother so committed to his studies as he was at the beginning of this year. It’s as if it was his New Year’s resolution,” said Hanna. Now Omar will have to wait until next year to be able to graduate — that’s if his administrative detention order is not renewed.
Call for release
The Right to Education Campaign calls on Israel to release or charge the prisoners in administrative detention, and not to subject people in their custody to acts of torture and to provide them with a fair trial, thus upholding its responsibilities under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture, to which it is a signatory.
It also calls on the EU to make the upgrade of EU-Israel bilateral relations conditional on measurable progress by Israel to uphold the EU human rights standards in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as is required under the terms of the agreement. Article 2 of the agreement states:
Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.
Please demand for Omar Qassis to be released on 31 July when his current administrative detention order expires, and for it not to be renewed. Also demand the same for the other nine administrative detention detainees from Birzeit and that such an unjust, arbitrary and barbaric system of incarceration without trial as is that of administrative detention, be stopped immediately.
What you can do
Please write to the International Bar Association (IBA), asking its members and Human Rights Institute to put pressure on the Israeli Bar Association to ensure that all subjects under Israeli jurisdiction be granted the basic principles of rule of law — transparent processes which do not allow for arbitrary justice or governance — to which the IBA’s Human Rights Institute (HRI) claims to be dedicated to: “The HRI is now a leading voice in the promotion of the rule of law worldwide.”
Please send your letters of concern to the Director of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, Fiona Paterson, and copy it the Chairs of the Council, Ambassador Emilio Cardenas (Argentina) and Justice Richard Goldstone (South Africa).
Director of Human Rights Institute
International Bar Association
London, W1T 1AT
Tel: +44 (0)20 7691 6868
Fax: +44 (0)20 7691 6544
Please also write to the European Union urging the EU to pressure Israel to release or charge all prisoners in administrative detention and to put an end to such an unjust, arbitrary and barbaric system of incarceration without trial.
Send your letters of appeal to:
Personal Representative for Human Rights (CFSP) of the EU Secretary General/
High Representative Javier Solana
Ms. Riina Kionka
175 Rue de la Loi BE 1048 Brussels, Belgium
Fax. : +32 2 281 61 90
Email : email@example.com
The Commissioner for External Affairs and European Neighbourhood Policy
HE Ms. Benita Ferrero- Waldner
Or send a comment via ec.europa.eu/external_relations/feedback/question2.htm