On 17 June 2008, Adalah filed a petition to the Israeli high court on behalf of eight family members of Palestinian political prisoners from the Gaza Strip, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza) and the Association for the Palestinian Prisoners demanding that residents of Gaza be permitted to visit their relatives being held in Israeli prisons on a regular basis. The case was filed by Adalah attorney Abeer Baker against the defense minister, the commander of the Israeli army for the southern district and the interior minister.
Since June 2006, following the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israeli security authorities began to impose even greater obstacles and constraints than in the past on family visits to prisoners from the Gaza Strip. These restrictions culminated in a decision by the Israeli army in June 2007 to place a total ban on visits by the families of prisoners from Gaza, alongside the severe restrictions imposed on all residents of Gaza.
Prohibiting family visits in practice means that Palestinian prisoners are prevented from receiving basic necessities in prison, including clothing and money, as visits are the prisoners’ sole means of contact with the outside world. The transfer of money to a prisoner’s account necessitates the presence of a member of the prisoner’s family in the prison.
In the petition, attorney Baker argued that the timing of the decision to ban family visits to Palestinian prisoners from Gaza leaves no room for doubt that the motive behind it is to continue the collective punishment of prisoners and their families for the capture of Gilad Shalit, for the fact that he has been refused visits, and for Hamas’s control over the Gaza Strip.
As was detailed in the petition, preventing family visits has in practice led to the complete isolation of approximately 1,000 prisoners from the outside world. “Given that there is no possibility for the prisoners to use a telephone or to take furloughs, they are unable to have any contact with their families except for through visits of a few minutes. Attorney Baker emphasized that isolating prisoners from the outside world violates their constitutional rights, including the rights to dignity and to conduct a family life, and contradicts international norms regarding minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners.
Adalah further stressed that transferring Palestinian prisoners from the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) to prisons located within the “Green Line” violates international humanitarian law. This violation makes Israel doubly responsible for allowing prisoners to meet their families in reasonable conditions and at a reasonable pace, Adalah argued.
On 26 May 2008, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a news release on this issue entitled “Gaza: ICRC Calls for Immediate Resumption of Family Visits to Detainees in Israel.” According to Christoph Harnisch, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Israel and the OPT, “This measure is depriving both detainees and their relatives of an essential life line … People continue to come to our office every day to sign up for family visits in the hope that the suspension will be lifted … The lack of direct contact with their detained relatives is becoming unbearable.”
“It is apparent that preventing prisoners from the Gaza Strip from receiving family visits is designed to put pressure on the Palestinian factions to respond to Israel’s demands, thereby transforming Palestinian prisoners into pawns used by Israel in order to secure political gains that have absolutely no relation to the official reason for their imprisonment,” argued the petitioners. “The Supreme Court previously rejected that prisoners be turned into hostages for political gain, stating in a prior decision that the imprisonment in Israel of Lebanese citizens affiliated to Hizballah for the purpose of freeing Israeli prisoners or to obtain information is prohibited because it contradicts the principles contained in the Israeli Detentions Law.”