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Addameer Speakers Tour for Palestinian Prisoners

Addameer Speakers Tour North America for Palestinian Prisoners


By Sonia Nettnin

Chicago, IL – On a North American tour, Addameer representatives Akram Al Ayasa and Sahar Francis spoke about Palestinian prisoners and their life conditions within Israeli prisons.

Based in Ramallah, Addameer is a legal organization that supports the human rights of Palestinian prisoners. Francis is a Palestinian lawyer who works with Palestinian prisoners. Al Ayasa is an ex-political prisoner and former president of Bethlehem University Student Council. Israeli forces arrested Al Ayasa for organizing student movement activities and civil demonstrations against the occupation.

“When there’s occupation, human rights will be violated,” Al Ayasa said. “But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the prisoners.”

March 2005 estimates reveal that Israeli military and police hold Palestinian political prisoners in 24 detention centers. It consists of 14 prison and military camps, as well as ten holding and interrogation centers. Out of approximately 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners, around 1,000 people are in administrative detention. As administrative detainees, they are held without trial or charge. The total number of prisoners includes 350 children and 119 women. Out of nineteen mothers held in prison, two of them gave birth during imprisonment, and they live with their children in prison.

One of the mothers, Manal Naji Mahmoud Ghanem, suffers from the blood disorder Thalasimya, also known as Cooley’s anemia. Her prison sentence began in April 2003. According to Addameer’s web site:

“Manal is serving a 50 month sentence. Officially, she was accused of conspiracy in an attempted planning to kill. The details of her case show that she had attempted to carry weapons from one site to another. The attempt failed and she did not try to do it again and has never been part of any planning to any action. The Israeli Military Judge, who ruled in her case, said in the ruling remarks:

‘Her role was very minor and insignificant in the planning and she did not know any previous information about the attempt… she joined at a very late stage of planning… we have to mercy her son who was born in a very tough situation and who will spend his first years at prison… Manal did not participate in planning… she is not a member of or a supporter of any organization… she is not affiliated to any political faction, she had never been part of or accused of any violation in the past’

Despite these comments and despite the facts of her case, the Military Tribunal of Shemron decided to sentence her to maximum possible imprisonment term relative to such an accusation. The prison administration at Telmond Prison does not provide Manal and Nour with the special medical care they require, nor does it provide Nour with the milk he needs as his mother is unable to breast feed him.”

The prisoners who suffer from chronic health problems, like Ghanem, need medical care.

“Addameer believes change only happens through grassroots movements,” Francis said to the audience. “You can send letters to the people so they know you are thinking of them worldwide.”

Six months ago, Israeli forces arrested Addameer’s executive director, who is in administrative detention.

In some cases, Israeli forces arrest people, to set an example for people who protest the system.

Contentions with Israel’s Prison System

Exactly, what are Addameer’s contentions with Israel’s prison system? Did the Oslo Accords resolve past problems with Israeli prisons?

According to Francis, Israel did not fulfill all of the Oslo Accords. For example, international law states children are persons under 18 years-old. In Israel, any person under 16 years-old is a child. Another example is that Israeli children have a separate judiciary system, including special judges. However, Palestinian children do not have the same protection under Israeli law because the Israeli government tries them in military courts.

Moreover, Israeli prosecutors have a history of postponing trials so that the Palestinian children spend more time in prison. These unnecessary extensions turn into months and sometimes years. If the children reach Israel’s adult age, they enter the legal system under a whole new set of rules. These postponements do not apply to Israeli children.

In many cases, Palestinian parents cannot see their imprisoned sons or daughters, or if they can, they cannot speak or they cannot touch them. If the child prisoner transfers from the West Bank or Gaza into Israel Proper, then the parents need a separate permit. If the parents obtain a permit, security is tight. Some people cannot pass through the checkpoints. International law states the transfer of any prisoner –adult or child - to a facility outside of the West Bank or Gaza is illegal.

When it comes to education, imprisoned Israeli children receive classes comparable to what they would receive in public school. Once released from prison, they enter rehabilitation programs so they integrate back into society. Palestinian children receive little education in prison. After their release, they have a few classes for rehabilitation.

Israeli treatment of Palestinian child prisoners is in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is reiterated in the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty.

“The detention of Palestinian children is a calculated move by the occupier,” Al Ayasa said. “They frustrate people and affect them psychologically.”

The Israeli Prison Service

Israel’s Ministry of Internal Security has an organization called The Israeli Prison Service. The front page of their web site has an Israeli guard opening a door. Above him are the words: “Security organization with a social mission – reaching out for a brighter future.” Once inside, a female guard gives a yellow flower to a smiling, Jewish prisoner. The photograph portrays a warm, friendly atmosphere.

In November 2004, the organization published a report about security prisoners in Israel’s Prison Service Facilities. They state “…Israel has gradually changed the situation in its prisons, while drastically improving the conditions of incarceration…” and the next paragraph adds that “…besides the improvement of living conditions, security regulations have been eased.”

If the report is true, then why has the media focused on the abuse of Palestinian prisoners and prison conditions? Why are human rights organizations releasing reports about Palestinian prisoners languishing away without proper nourishment and medical care? Are there other problems?

No Distinctions, Rules Change

Palestinian men, women and children are tried in the same military courts. When it comes to interrogations, there are no distinctions between men, women and children. Sometimes, child administrative detainees and adult administrative detainees are in the same prison cells.

Most confessions are under extreme torture and the confessions describe general events with few details. How do generalized confessions affect the outcome of a trial? Attorneys rely on the details for their arguments. If they do not have the details of an event, how can they create doubt about the validity of the charges? Defense of their clients is a major challenge when the attorneys do not have the necessary information.

Another example of change is that Israel revises military law in the West Bank.

Any Palestinian can be imprisoned for 18 days without seeing a judge or lawyer. The law used to be eight days. Once in court, the prosecutor can ask for a postponement, which can last for 90 days. After the three-month period expires, they can ask for another extension. The courts place no restrictions on the number of times the prosecution renews these postponement periods.

The average time detainees spend in administrative detention - held without trial or charge - is eight years. Administrative detainees can be held indefinitely, unless the military decides to release them.

Sometimes Israeli forces imprison family members of prisoners as a means of applying pressure. Overall, Israel’s prison system affects the detainees and their family members’ continuity of life.

Prison Conditions

Overcrowding in prisons is a major problem, where prisoners sleep on thin mattresses above wooden planks. Blankets and food are inadequate in quantity and condition. Bug infestations are common. With limited access to toilets, people urinate in bottles inside their cells. In my assessment, these inhumane and unsanitary conditions would increase the risk of body infections, especially for women.

For years, human rights organizations documented violations in reports submitted to various governing bodies. Some of the abuses prisoners experience are severe beatings, torture and electric shock, sleep deprivation, denial of food and water, and solitary confinement. Israeli prison guards strip prisoners naked, threaten and/or commit sexual, sodomitic, and/or sadistic abuse. Israeli guards spray tear gas on the prisoners and medical treatment is inadequate.

In 2004, the international community expressed outrage about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, yet the world’s attention never extended to the Palestinians who experienced the same abuse for years.

For instance, during the first intifada, Israeli soldiers broke peoples’ bones. When they forced a line of Palestinian men to yell, “Long live the border patrol,” the soldiers broke the arms of the men who refused to say it. This violence is one example of a crime against humanity, and it did not take place in prison.

Do people need photographic proof published on the Internet to provoke their anger and concern? Or do they justify Israeli abuse toward the Palestinians because they fear accusations of anti-Semitism, thereby writing them off as terrorists?

Israel prevents the U.N. Commission from going into the West Bank and Gaza. The only organization allowed in prison cells and interrogation rooms is the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC cannot publish their investigative findings.

When I contacted ICRC’s Media Relations offices in Geneva and the Middle East, I asked what suggestions they could provide that would improve prison conditions. No one could be reached for comment.

Rehabilitation

Palestinian society is conservative, so these experiences prove a challenge for the people. Survivors have a difficult time expressing what happened to them.

“As an Arab society we tend to deny the psychological effects,” Al Ayasa said. “People don’t talk about psychological trauma.”

Although torture victim centers exist, Al Ayasa expressed that Palestinian society does not address these issues.

Non-government organizations provide counseling and resources for former detainees and their family members, including the people who cannot talk about what happened to them.

# # # #

The Palestine Solidarity Group, the Arab-American Action Network, the National Boricua Human Rights Network, the First United Methodist Church of Downers Grove, the Coalition of African, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois, the International Solidarity Movement, and Not In My Name sponsored the Chicago leg of this event. Eyas Alhomouz was the translator.

April 17th is Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.

*************

Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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