As protests continue across Palestine in support of thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, local organizations say that the Israeli authorities have increased their pressure on Palestinian human rights defenders.
“This is a way to [break] the principle of solidarity between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian prisoners, and the case of the Palestinian prisoners in the conscience of the Palestinian people,” said Mourad Jadallah, a legal researcher with Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners support group.
In October 2012, Israeli soldiers arrested Jadallah’s colleague, Ayman Nasser, from his home in the West Bank village of Saffa, near Ramallah, in the middle of the night. He was taken to Jerusalem’s infamous Russian Compound prison — Moskobiyyeh in Arabic — and kept in isolation for weeks of interrogation.
Addameer reported that he was held in painful, stress-inducing positions during interrogation sessions that sometimes lasted for more than 20 hours, was barred from sleeping, psychologically intimidated and frequently denied access to a lawyer and to proper medical care.
The Israeli authorities eventually accused Nasser of organizing and participating in demonstrations as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and recruiting others to join the group.
Through the use of torture, the Israelis also coerced witnesses — other Palestinian prisoners held in Israel — to incriminate Nasser. These witnesses later testified in front of an Israeli military court that they gave false statements (“The Shin Bet’s dream investigation,” Haaretz, 10 February).
Nasser is currently being held in Israel’s Megiddo prison; his next hearing will take place on 4 March at Ofer military court.
“This kind of arrest and attacks is a collective punishment for the Palestinian people for supporting the prisoners. They want to say [to] the Palestinian society that the Israeli forces are able to arrest Palestinians and to punish those that will support them,” Jadallah told The Electronic Intifada.
“It’s a message for the prisoners that even these kinds of organizations, such as Addameer, are not protected, so don’t hope to get [help from] these organizations.”
Arrested in front of 8-year-old
Israeli pressure on Palestinian human rights defenders and organizations continued unabated into 2013. Another case that has drawn widespread criticism was the arrest and continued detention of 28-year-old Palestinian activist Hassan Karajah, also from Saffa.
More than 20 Israeli soldiers stormed the Karajah family home, waking up all the family members, including Hassan’s 8-year-old sister, and held everyone in two rooms as they conducted a three-hour search.
Before arresting Hassan and taking him away, blindfolded and shackled, in an Israeli army jeep, the soldiers confiscated computers, cell phones, paperwork and family photos from the home, and threatened and interrogated other family members.
“Hassan is one of the youth activists well-known within the youth circles in Palestine. He is one of the recognized, youth leaders who can organize [people],” said Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign.
“They are trying to be aggressive and to finish their colonial project in the West Bank. They don’t want any Palestinian, organized reaction. Anybody that they think that he can be influential on the street, [with] the people, of course he will be targeted because they want to continue their project quietly,” Juma’ told The Electronic Intifada.
After his arrest, Karajah was taken to the al-Jalame interrogation center near Jenin. He has had his interrogation period regularly extended since January. In a hearing at Ofer military court on 28 February, the court decided that Karajah would spend at least seven days in prison before the state presents its evidence, and charges, against him.
According to Addameer, Karajah has lost 16 kilos (35 pounds) since his time in prison began, and was not given the correct dosage of medication for nerve damage in his leg.
“I think Hassan as well as all the other Palestinian prisoners should be [released]. There is no crime that has been committed, other than being committed to their cause and their people and trying to defend the rights of their people and the rights of humanity. [They] are in [prison] for values that [they] believe in that don’t belong just to Palestinians, but to the whole world,” Juma’ added.
Killed in custody
Tens of thousands took to the streets across Palestine earlier this week to show their anger at a Palestinian prisoner’s death in Israeli prison. Thirty-year-old Arafat Jaradat — a father of two from the West Bank village of Sair — was killed in Megiddo prison on 23 February. An autopsy revealed signs of torture on Jaradat’s body, including laceration marks, broken bones, bruises and cuts.
Jaradat’s death has drawn attention to what many say is the widespread use of torture in Israeli interrogation centers and prisons, medical neglect of prisoners, and the lack of accountability with which Israeli interrogators operate.
According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, between 2001 and 2011, 700 complaints were filed to the Israeli attorney general on behalf of detainees alleging torture was used against them. To date, not a single criminal investigation was launched into these complaints (“Failure to investigate alleged cases of ill-treatment and torture,” 1 January 2011).
“This mechanism transmits a message to interrogees, [and] the potential complainants, that the chance of measures being taken against the persons responsible is zero,” B’Tselem found.
According to Anat Litvin, director of the prisoners and detainees department at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the level of medical care provided to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is lower than that given to Israeli civilians held in the same facilities.
Israeli prison doctors are not under the authority of the Israeli health ministry, but the Israeli Prison Service and ministry of public security. These doctors are often not specialists and receive little, if any, additional training annually, and are often hesitant to transfer prisoners to Israeli civilian hospitals, due to the high financial costs and resources required, Litvin said.
“These [doctors] are employed by the security authority, by the security system and they see themselves as part of this system and they fear that they are going to be fired. There is loyalty and also some basic hostility towards Palestinians, and some basic hostility towards people in prison, in general,” she said.
“It’s basically a security system that has within it a medical system and the security prevails.”
Loopholes for torture
In 1987, the Israeli government appointed a judicial committee — known as the Landau Commission — to investigate the practices of the Israeli General Security Services (also known as the Shin Bet or Shabak). The commission stated that if interrogators employ a “necessity” defense — arguing that their actions helped prevent pressing and unavoidable harm — to justify their use of physical force against detainees, they wouldn’t be held criminally liable.
The Israeli high court finally prohibited torture more than a decade later, in 1999, and outlawed certain interrogation techniques. The court left a loophole open, however, for Israeli interrogators: the use of physical force remained permitted in “ticking time bomb” situations.
In February, the Turkel Commission — a government-appointed committee charged with investigating the Israeli navy’s killing of nine activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 — recommended that the Shin Bet videotape and record all interrogations of individuals suspected of security offenses.
Despite this recommendation, the Israeli high court recently rejected a petition filed by local human rights groups challenging a long-standing exemption shielding the Israeli authorities from recording interrogations of “security” detainees. The court argued that the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, must be the one to amend the law, and completely ignored the Turkel recommendations.
According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Knesset has regularly extended the exemption since 2002. As it stands, the Israeli security services will not be forced to record their interrogations before 2015, at the earliest.
Addameer’s Mourad Jadallah argued that Palestinians need a long-term strategy based on forcing Israel to apply international law and international humanitarian law standards to its treatment of Palestinian prisoners.
He explained that implementing the Third Geneva Convention, related to prisoners of war, and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which sets out protections for individuals in a time of war, is crucial. “If they do so, most of the Palestinian prisoners’ problems will be solved,” Jadallah said. “We know that Israel is refusing, but this is our demand. This is the demand of the prisoners.”
While this strategy begins to take shape among Palestinian organizations and activists, Jadallah said the struggle to support Palestinian prisoners — and to free his colleague, Ayman Nasser — will continue, despite Israeli pressure and intimidation.
“It’s very emotional and sensitive for Palestinians all over the world. They look to the prisoners as the real leaders. The prisoners issue means that we are still in occupation and we still have to resist,” Jadallah said. “We are ready to pay the price. Just like Ayman said, I am supporting the Palestinian prisoners and I am ready to pay my freedom as a price for my support.”
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at jkdamours.com.