Gazans vent anger as Israel deprives prisoners of education

Women in Gaza hold regular protests calling for the release of their loved ones from Israeli prison.

Mohammed Omer IPS

GAZA CITY (IPS) - Access to education for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is getting worse. High school students here completed their exams in June and received their results by the end of July. However, the 1,800 Palestinian prisoners who were supposed to complete their exams were not permitted to do so by the Israeli Prison Service.

In the early morning hours, Fatima Abu Jayyab, mother of Palestinian prisoner Eyad Khalid Abu Jayyab, gets ready for morning prayers. For the past nine years, every Monday morning this 57-year-old mother has stood outside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Gaza City with a poster of her son. The Israeli authorities have prevented her from seeing him for the last five years.

The Israeli authorities imprisoned Eyad Khalid Abu Jayyab for what Fatima calls affiliation to a political party. “I think of him every moment,” she said.

“I have lost faith in the International Red Cross. They are not doing what a neutral organization should be doing to meet the needs of prisoners in conflict areas.”

Fatima’s worries have increased since hearing about her son’s hunger strike. “There is nothing that I can do to stop him from doing this. I can’t get to him.”

“Unprecedented war”

Palestinian Authority (PA) representative Tawfiq al-Tirawi issued a statement earlier this month following the release of 770 Palestinian prisoners, saying: “The Israeli occupation has launched an unusual and unprecedented war against the prisoners.” Having spoken to the released prisoners, al-Tirawi accused Israel of barring the prisoners from applying for their exams, continuing their university studies or obtaining medical care.

In June, angry families of Palestinian prisoners in Gaza City pelted the ICRC building with eggs. The protest came following a statement from the ICRC demanding that Hamas provide evidence that the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive five years after his capture. “The total absence of information concerning Mr. Shalit is completely unacceptable,” ICRC Director-General Yvest Daccord told the press.

Saber Abu Karsh, spokesman for Wa’ed, a Gaza-based organization defending Palestinian prisoners said, “The ICRC statements are inhuman. Israel has been preventing 750 Gaza prisoners from family visits for five years now.”

Abu Karsh added, “There are 1,500 prisoners, including 36 female prisoners and 350 children in need of health care which is denied them. The ICRC needs to mention, just once, the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners, and should intervene to ensure that medicine, food parcels, clothes and blankets get to the prisoners.”

Hamas, however, has declined to answer the ICRC’s request, according to Ismail Radwan, the movement’s spokesman in Gaza. In October 2009, Hamas released a short video of Shalit, in exchange for the release of twenty Palestinian women.

PA Minister of Prisoners and Ex-Detainees Issa Qaraqi slammed Israel’s decision of not allowing prisoners to complete their exams inside the Israeli prisons. “There has been no justification given for the denial of education,” Qaraqi said.

“The Israeli Prison Service agreed recently to conduct the high school exams for all prisoners according to commitments and procedures whereby the ministry of prisoners, and ministry of education and higher education, conduct the exams in a transparent manner,” Qaraqi said

This year 88,768 students took their high school exams across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The prisoners, however, were excluded for the third year — since 2009.

In 2009, Qaraqi appealed to the Israeli high court to reverse the decision not to allow the exams. “This session has been postponed and has not been discussed ever since,” Qaraqi said.

According to the ministry of prisoners and ex-detainees in Ramallah, Abu Jayyab, currently imprisoned in a prison in the Negev (Naqab), is one of the 1,800 Palestinian prisoners who have been denied the right to sit high school exams.

Silence from Israel, Red Cross

“The security prisoners are held by law in Israeli Prison Service facilities,” Israeli Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Domnitz said. He refused to comment further. “We don’t deal with such matters through the media,” he said.

Qaraqi, in his capacity as PA minister of prisoners has never been allowed to visit the prisoners, or to observe their conditions.

Maria Cecilia Goin, ICRC spokesperson in Jerusalem, acknowledged the problem. “We are aware about the situation that they cannot complete their high school exams and we are following it with the Israeli prison authorities.”

However, the ICRC maintains a dialogue with Israeli authorities “which is bilateral and confidential,” Goin said. “Our recommendations regarding this problem or any other detention issue are discussed only with the authorities and thus we do not share publicly the content of this dialogue.”

In March 2010, imprisoned Fatah official Marwan Barghouti managed to complete his doctorate in political science. The University of Cairo and the Arab Academy for Research had accepted Barghouti in 1999 — three years before he was arrested by Israel. Qaraqi said that Barghouti’s success was due to “personal efforts and study in secret” without facilitation from his jailers.

The Israeli Prison Service had earlier allowed some Palestinian prisoners to enrol in the Open University of Israel. This is no longer the case, according to the PA ministry of prisoners.

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