Israel uses “primitive, racist” policies against Palestinian prisoners

Thousands of Palestinian families have a loved one in Israeli prison.

Haytham Othman Maan Images

RAMALLAH (IPS) - “I’m sick with worry about my daughter,” Yehiya al-Shalabi says. “I’m afraid of what they are doing to her. She has done nothing to deserve this. If they have anything against her why don’t they bring her to trial?”

Hana al-Shalabi, Yehiya’s 27-year-old daughter, has been languishing in Israeli administrative detention for more than two years. She is the longest serving Palestinian female political prisoner in administrative detention.

According to her lawyer, the young woman from Jenin in the northern West Bank does not know why Israeli soldiers arrested her several years ago. She also does not know how long they will keep her in jail or what they will charge her with.

Shalabi, like nearly 200 other Palestinian prisoners, is being held in Hasharon prison. A senior Israeli military officer has just renewed the administrative detention order against her for the fourth time.

Israel’s “administrative detention” policy states that Palestinian political prisoners can be held for six months without trial or charges being brought against them. The detention order can be renewed every six months.

According to the official narrative, the policy of administrative detention is used by the Israeli military when they have “classified and secret” information against Palestinian prisoners. Both the prisoner and their lawyer are forbidden from seeing the classified information, and therefore are unable to challenge accusations or to question those who made the accusations.

The administrative detention policy is used when Israeli authorities have “secret witnesses” such as Palestinian informants, or has obtained intelligence in a clandestine manner which would not stand up in an Israeli civilian court but are par for the course in Israeli military courts.

No fair trial

“It’s a primitive and racist way to hold a trial and no civilized country in the world uses such methods. Needless to say Israel’s legal system could never do this to an Israeli Jew. Even the Israeli settlers who carry out acts of terror against Palestinians in the West Bank are not treated in this manner,” Qadura Fares, the president of the Palestinian Society Prisoners’ Club in Ramallah, said.

“Administrative detainees are not given a fair trial. Basically the Israeli military prosecutor and the military judge are in agreement. It is very rare for a judge to disagree with the military prosecutor,” Fares says.

In the 1970s Ali Jamal, also from Jenin, spent seven years in administrative detention. He holds the record for the longest administrative detention to date.

“At that time the Israeli military courts relied on confessions from Palestinian prisoners for convictions,” Fares explained. “But Jamal wouldn’t confess so the laws were changed to allow the ‘secret witnesses and secret files’ to be used by the IDF [Israeli military] to convict political prisoners.”

The soldiers came for Hana al-Shalabi in the middle of the night over two years ago. “They ransacked the house and assaulted me when I tried to stop them from taking my daughter away,” Yehiya al-Shalabi said. “My daughter had finished her studies and was engaged to get married. She was very diligent and stayed home most of the time except for when she helped tend our agricultural crops. She had no social life outside and wasn’t political in any way.”

However, Israeli special forces assassinated Hana’s 24-year-old brother several years ago after they accused him of being a member of Islamic Jihad, Yehiya said. “They had shot and wounded him. He phoned us, as he lay badly injured on the ground. But before he could finish the call the death squad moved in and shot him at close range, several times in the head and in the eye.”

The conditions in administrative detention are harsh, just as they are for all Palestinian prisoners.

Confessions through coercion

“Confessions are coerced through physical and verbal humiliation, torture, emotional blackmail such as bringing in elderly or sick relatives who are held as hostages until the prisoner confesses,” Fares said.

Imani Nafa, aged 47, spent ten years in an Israeli jail as a young woman, from 1987 to 1997 during the first Palestinian intifada. Nafa had everything going for her. She had finished university and was working as a nurse. But, she became politically involved and had planned to carry out a shooting and bombing attack against Israeli soldiers.

Nafa was caught and kept in a filthy, cramped cell with no window. Fluorescent lights were kept on permanently, causing sensory deprivation and the inability to distinguish between day and night.

“I was beaten and held in stress positions while handcuffed for several days, unable to move. I was deprived of sleep and when the interrogation finished I was forced to drink from the drain in my cell and eat mouldy food,” Nafa said. “I was told that if I worked with them to spy on other prisoners I would be freed, but if I refused to do so I would be imprisoned for a very long time and harshly treated.”