Here is a disturbing ordeal that has not yet been mentioned in any mainstream US papers or media. It exposes some shocking aspects of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian political prisoners, including the use of a gas that impacts the nervous and respiratory systems. It should be noted that Israel has denied using nerve gas against Palestinians, even though one account of its use has already been documented in James Longley’s searing film, “Gaza Strip.”
The source of the following information, Muhammad Burgal, a Palestinian lawyer and member of the Israeli Bar who lives in London, but is currently visiting East Jerusalem, is reliable. His brother Mukhles, a prisoner, was one of the victims of a gas attack in Ashkelon prison last week. (Muhammad was able to visit his brother in prison on August 4th.)
Mukhles Burgal was sentenced to life in 1988. He had recently been moved from Shatta to Ashkelon prison. There, he was kept in a crowded room with 14 other prisoners. The guards kept conducting unnecessary searches every five minutes. There may have been other accompanying forms of harassment, which Muhammad can clarify.
In response, the prisoners mounted a protest and put a mattress against the door to minimize the guards’ harassment. Alarmed by this act of defiance, about 50 guards forced their way into the crowded cell, spraying two canisters of a some type of gas. Some of the 14 prisoners passed out. Mukhles did not lose consciousness. They were all beaten with long sticks, including the ones who had lost consciousness.
Muhammad reports that his brother Mukhles has 16 stitches in his head following the gassing and beating. He has been moved to Ramle prison for medical treatment. One of the other prisoners has a similar number of stitches in his head, and another prisoner has a very bad injury to his eye. According to Muhammad, there is a risk that he may lose it.
The effects of the gas were severe muscle spasms and an overwhelming sensation of not being able to breathe.
Of the 14 prisoners attacked by the guards, four have life sentences. Apart from Mukhles, there was ‘Emad Asfour, Mahmoud Zaghal, and Yahia Ramadan.
Journalists or human rights organizations seeking more information about this incident can reach Muhamamd Burghal in East Jerusalem at 00972 54 211-031.
Angela Gaff is a British lawyer and human rights activist; Jennifer Loewenstein is a writer and human rights activist. They filed this report from London.