By Mohammed Omer – Gaza City
Access to education for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is getting worse as international organisations remain unwilling or unable to intervene. Secondary- school students here completed their exams in June, and received their results by end of July. However, the 1,800 Palestinian prisoners who were supposed to complete their exams were not permitted to do so by the Israeli Prison Service.
In the early morning hours, Fatima Abu Jayyab, mother of Palestinian prisoner Eyad Khalid Abu Jayyab, gets ready for morning prayers. For the past nine years, every Monday morning this 57-year-old mother has stood outside the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) office in Gaza City with a poster displaying her son. The Israeli authorities have prevented her from seeing him for the last five years.
Israeli authorities imprisoned Eyad Khalid Abu Jayyab for what Fatima calls affiliation to a political party. "I think of him every moment," she told IPS.
"I have lost faith in the International Red Cross. They are not doing what a neutral organisation should be doing to meet the needs of prisoners in conflict areas," she says.
Fatima’s worries have increased since hearing about her son’s hunger strike. "There is nothing that I can do to stop him from doing this. I can’t get to him."
Palestinian Authority (PA) Major General Tawfiq Al Tirawi issued a press release last week, following the release of 770 Palestinian prisoners, stating: "The Israeli occupation has launched an unusual and unprecedented war against the prisoners." Having spoken to the released prisoners Al Tirawi accused Israel of barring the prisoners from applying for their exams, continuing their university studies or obtaining medical care.
Last June, angry families of Palestinian prisoners in Gaza City pelted the ICRC building with eggs. The protest came following a statement from the ICRC demanding Hamas provide evidence that the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive five years after his capture. "The total absence of information concerning Mr. Shalit is completely unacceptable," ICRC Director-General Yvest Daccord told the press.
Saber Abu Karsh, spokesman for Wa’ed, a Gaza-based organisation defending Palestinian prisoners said, "The ICRC statements are illegal and inhuman. Israel has been preventing 750 Gaza prisoners from family visits for five years now."
Abu Karsh adds, "There are 1,500 prisoners, including 36 female prisoners and 350 children in need of health care which is denied them. The ICRC needs to mention, just once, about the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners, and should intervene to ensure that medicine, food parcels, clothes and blankets get to the prisoners."
Hamas, however, has declined to answer the request of ICRC, according to Ismail Radwan, the movement’s spokesman in Gaza. In October 2009, Hamas released a short video of Shalit, in exchange for the release of 20 Palestinian women.
PA Minister of Prisoners and Ex-Detainees Issa Qaraqi slammed Israel’s decision of not allowing prisoners to complete their scholastic exams inside the Israeli prisons. "There has been no justification given for the denial of education," Qaraqi told IPS.
"The Israeli Prison Service agreed recently to conduct the high secondary-school exams for all prisoners according to commitments and procedures whereby the ministry of prisoners, and ministry of education and higher education, conduct the exams in a transparent manner," Qaraqi said
This year 88,768 students took their secondary school exams across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The prisoners however, were excluded for the third year – since 2009.
In 2009, Qaraqi appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice to reverse the decision not to allow the exams. "This session has been postponed and has not been discussed ever since," Qaraqi said.
According to the ministry of prisoners and ex-detainees in Ramallah, Abu Jayyab, currently imprisoned in Negev prison, is one of the 1,800 Palestinian prisoners who have been denied access to secondary- school exams.
"The security prisoners are held by law in Israel Prison Service facilities," Lieutenant-Colonel Ian H. Domnitz told IPS. He refused to comment further. "We don’t deal with such matters through the media," he said.
Qaraqi himself in his official capacity as minister of prisoners has never been allowed to visit the prisoners, or to observe their conditions.
Maria Cecilia Goin, ICRC spokesperson in Jerusalem, acknowledges the problem. "We are aware about the situation that they cannot complete their high secondary-school exams and we are following it with the Israeli prison authorities."
However, the ICRC maintains a dialogue with Israeli authorities "which is bilateral and confidential," Goin told IPS. "Our recommendations regarding this problem or any other detention issue are discussed only with the authorities and thus, we do not share publicly the content of this dialogue."
In March 2010, imprisoned Fatah official Marwan Barghouti managed to complete his doctorate in political science. The University of Cairo and the Arab Academy for Research had accepted Barghouti in 1999 – three years before he was arrested by Israel. Qaraqi, said that Barghouti’s success was due to "personal efforts and study in secret" without facilitation from his jailers.
The Israel Prison Service had earlier allowed some Palestinian prisoners to enrol in the Open University of Israel. This is no longer the case, according to the Ministry of Prisoners.
– Mohammed Omer contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (First published by IPS-Inter Press Service.)