Price of Dignity: Palestine’s Political Prisoners

By Kim Bullimore – The West Bank

Currently there are more than 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners locked up in Israel’s jails. This week, I found out that my friend Hasan (not his real name) is one of them. When in Ramallah, I mentioned to a mutual friend that I had planned to ring him to let him know I was in Palestine. Our mutual friend informed me that Hasan was being held under “Administration Detention” and had been in prison for three months.

I last saw Hasan more than a year ago, when I was last in Palestine. A year previous to this last meeting, he had emailed me to apologise for not answering my phone calls and emails when I had tried to contact him when I was in Palestine. Unfortunately, he apologised, he had been in prison for seven months held without charge or trial by the Israeli military under an Administrative Detention order. 

When I met him last year in a local Ramallah coffee shop, he looked the same but different.  In his early to mid-twenties, Hasan, who I had met him several years before, had always had a lean but strong build, but now he was thinner than I remembered him. He was also smoking more and his demeanour was different. He was still as politically sharp as I remembered him, but his youthful, upbeat enthusiasm had been tempered and he was much more cynical and world-weary than before. I could see that the seven months he spent in Israel’s prisons had taken a definite toll on him. Hasan told me that he had been repeatedly tortured while in prison but it had made him stronger and more committed to his people’s struggle.

Hasan with wry humour, also recounted the toll his imprisonment had also had on his family, particularly his mother. An atheist himself, Hasan, comes from a Christian Palestinian family and upon his release from Administrative Detention; he came home to find that his mother, a believer, had hung a crucifix on his bedroom wall and left a small crucifix on his study table. For the first few weeks, he told me, he out of love and deference for his mother he allowed the Cross on the wall to remain but would put the small one on his table away. However, every time he returned home from being out, he again would find the small cross had reappeared on his table, placed there by his concerned mother. Our mutual friend, when she told me of Hasan’s re-incarceration, also recounted to me that his mother after his release from his first imprisonment woke at 3 am every morning, the time the Israeli military had raid the family’s home to kidnap Hasan. His mother, terrified that the Israeli military would again raid her home and take either one or both of her sons, woke at this time each morning to check they were safely in their beds. 

Hasan’s imprisonment, our mutual friend informed me, came at a time when he was finally getting over the horrors of his first imprisonment and torture and was much more like his “old-self”. As I write this article, I worry that my friend is being tortured and that his family is suffering, like so many other Palestinian families who are experiencing the same horrendous situation. 

Since 1967, more than 650,000 Palestinians or twenty percent of Palestinian population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been detained by Israel. According to the Palestinian prisoner’s support and human rights association, Addameer, most of those detained are male.  Addameer notes that this translates to more forty percent of the total male Palestinian population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories being incarcerated since 1967.

Since 1967, when Israel illegal seized and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, more than 1500 military regulations have been issued by Israel’s military to “govern” the West Bank, while more than 1400 have been issued to “govern” the besieged Gaza Strip. These military orders can be issued on the whim of an Israeli military commander and do not need to be publicised. As a result, the Palestinians and the wider public, including the media and legal services, only become aware of the existence of such orders when they are implemented. In 1970, Israel issued Military Order 378, which authorised the military commanders of regions to issue “Administrative Detention” orders. These orders allow Israeli occupying forces to detain and arrest large numbers of Palestinian civilians without charge or trail. In 1988, Military Order 378 was amended by Military Order 1229 in the Occupied West Bank and Military Order 941 in the Gaza Strip, with these amendments allowing military orders to be issued for Administrative Detention without designating a maximum period of time for incarceration without charge or trail.

According to the first paragraph of Military Order 1229: “If a Military Commander deems the detention of a person necessary for security reasons he may do so for a period not in excess of 6 months, after which he has the right to extend the detention period for a further six months according to the original order. The detention order can be passed without the presence of the detainee…”

Under this regime, 22% of persons held under administrative detention are held for less than 6 months, while 37% have been held between 6 months to 1 year.  Another eight percent have been held for 2-5 years. The longest period an individual has been held under administrative detention without then being charged is 8 years.

Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem notes that the highest number of Palestinians held under administrative detention was during the First Intifada, with almost 1800 Palestinians detain in November 1989. During the early to mid 1990s, between 100-350 Palestinian political prisoners were detained under administrative detention at any given moment. By the second year of the Second Palestinian Intifada, approximately 1000 Palestinians were detained under Israel’s regime. B’Tselem notes that as of August of 2010, 189 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention.

B’Tselm points out that while administrative detention is allowed under international law, it “can only be used only in the most exceptional cases, as the last means available for preventing danger that cannot be thwarted by less harmful means”. B’Tselem notes, however, that Israel uses administrative detention in an arbitrary and regular manner in order to detain Palestinian civilians, denying them proper legal recourse, which is in violation of international law. Not only are Palestinians, who are detained under Administrative Detention orders, not charged with anything and denied the right to a trial, both the detainee and their legal council are denied the right to even know what the detainee is accused of. The detainee’s lawyers are also denied the right to access the military ‘evidence’ against those detained under the Administrative Detention regime. Addameer notes that the use of administrative detention by Israel is such a manner is in contravention of Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as other international and human rights law.

Nearly all Palestinian political prisoners, both male and female, as well as adults and minors, have suffered torture at the hands of their Israeli captors. According to Addameer, “Physical and psychological torture against Palestinian and Arab prisoners has been a distinguishing factor of Israeli occupation since 1967”, noting that “torture has taken different shapes throughout the period of occupation”.  According to Addameer since the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada in 1987, at least 30,000 Palestinians have been tortured by Israel.

Many of the Palestinian political prisoners detained under the Administrative Detention regime are minors. In the last week, the village of An Nabi Saleh, has been raided almost nightly and at least four Palestinian minors have been kidnapped by the Israeli military, including an 11 year old off the streets of the village. Under Israeli military law, Palestinian children age 14 years and over are tried as an adult in Israel’s military courts. In practice, however, children as young as 11 and 12 have been brought before these courts and held under Administrative Detention. According to Defense for Children International, 213 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli prisons as of December 2010. The majority of Palestinian child political prisoners report that they have also been tortured by the Israeli military.

The children kidnapped and detained in An Nabi Saleh are now being imprisoned under the same barbaric and illegal regime that my friend Hasan is imprisoned under. Their freedom is denied and the Israeli military will attempt to break their spirits and their resistance to the brutal military occupation which Israel is intent on perpetuating. While the Israeli state and its military machine may break the bones and tear the flesh of its captives, it will fail to break their resistance because these young boys, men and women understand the struggle in which they are engaged is not just a struggle for a homeland, but a struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. And no man or woman or child, no matter how hard pressed by their oppressor, will ever give up the struggle for such basic and inalienable human rights.

– Kim Bullimore is currently living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where she is a human rights volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service: www.iwps.info. She writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action: www.directaction.org.au and has a blog at: www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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