No peace without release of political prisoners

Sahar Francis
The Electronic Intifada
2 May 2011

Palestinian Prisoners Day was marked on 17 April, an opportunity for the world to reflect on the continuing incarceration and ill-treatment of nearly 6,000 political prisoners. On this day, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization established in 1992, launched the “Prisoners at Risk” Campaign (see Addameer’s website). The campaign aims to raise awareness of specific cases of serious concern and to mobilize people around the world to take action to force Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and end arbitrary detention.

The first case focuses on Ayed Dudeen, who has been in administrative detention since 2007. Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold detainees indefinitely on secret evidence without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli army is authorized to issue administrative detention orders against Palestinian civilians. The basis for this policy is Military Order 1651, which empowers military commanders to detain an individual for up to six months if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” On or just before the expiry date, the detention order is frequently renewed and can be continued indefinitely.

On more than one occasion, the military prosecution has offered to release Ayed with the condition that he be deported to Gaza, despite the fact that his entire family lives in the West Bank city of Hebron and has absolutely no link to the Gaza Strip. Ayed has consistently rejected these offers and remains persistent in his demands to be released and reunited with his family in Hebron, including his six children. Ayed and his family have experienced years of harassment from the Israeli authorities. He was first arrested in 1992 and has spent long periods in Israeli prisons, making it increasingly hard for him to have a normal relationship with his wife and children. This is the second time he has been held without charge or trial, having previously served an administrative detention order of 22 months. Only three months after his release, he was arrested again in October 2007 and placed in administrative detention, where he remains.

Ayed is one of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails. All were detained, sometimes without charge or trial, for their resistance to the Israeli occupation and its illegal policies and practices. Among this number, which has remained consistently high for decades, are also more high-profile cases, such as Ahmad Qatamesh. One of the longest-held administrative detainees, Qatemesh was detained for six years in the 1990s. The Palestinian writer and political scientist was recently arrested again on 21 April, and his detention appears to be due solely to his political opinions; he is now at risk of being given another administrative detention order.

There is also Nael Barghouti, the longest-held political prisoner, now detained for 33 years. Another high-profile case is that of Ahmad Sa’adat, Palestinian Legislative Council member and leader of the leftist party the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, abducted by Israeli forces from a Palestinian prison in 2006 and now serving a thirty-year sentence. But there are also lesser-known cases, such as Nelli Safadi, a Palestinian woman who spent 48 days being interrogated and subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including solitary confinement, and the dozens of activists against Israel’s wall and settlements in the occupied West Bank who are arrested each week during or after demonstrations, some as young as 14 years old.

The last year has witnessed continuing mass arrest campaigns in the villages of Bilin, Nabi Saleh and Beit Ommar and the detention of high-profile protest organizers and leaders from the popular committees. Days after the release of Bilin Popular Committee Coordinator Abdallah Abu Rahme, who had served nearly 16 months in prison, another protest organizer — Bassem Tamimi from Nabi Saleh — was arrested and is currently in detention on trumped up charges including incitement, organizing unpermitted marches, and obstruction of justice — in the latter case for informing youths about what to do in case of arrest.

From the moment of arrest, Palestinians are victim to practices which fall far short of international standards relative to the treatment of prisoners. This includes lengthy interrogation which can last up to 188 days before they are charged, during which time they are often subjected to psychological and physical torture to extract a forced confession. Palestinian prisoners are also routinely denied access to a lawyer for up to ninety days after arrest, are held in isolation either as a disciplinary measure or on the grounds of state, prison or prisoners’ security. Since 2007, Israel has had a blanket policy of denying family visits to 684 prisoners from Gaza. This punitive action has also been applied to Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank on a case-by-case basis.

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association is following all these cases closely, and offering legal aid and counseling as well as raising awareness locally and internationally of the situation facing political prisoners. We remain steadfast in our demand to free all political prisoners and end the arbitrary practices of the Israeli authorities. Addameer’s Prisoners at Risk Campaign is aimed at increasing worldwide recognition of and support for political prisoners, whether it be through sending letters of solidarity to the prisoners, writing to the Israeli authorities, or holding vigils and demonstrations. We hope the world will join us in our call to end impunity and to free all political prisoners, as without this there can be no just peace.

Sahar Francis is the Director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.