Deal averts protests by Palestinian detainees in Israel

Amid allegations of rights violations, jailed Palestinians had planned 'civil disobedience' and a mass hunger strike.

    Deal averts protests by Palestinian detainees in Israel
    As of December 2014, there were 6,200 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centres, according to rights group Addameer [AFP]

    Ramallah, occupied West Bank - A series of planned protests by Palestinian detainees has been held off after Israeli prison authorities and prisoners' representatives reached a preliminary deal guaranteeing prisoners some of their demands.

    The planned protests, which had been slated to begin on Tuesday in prisons throughout Israel and culminate with a mass hunger strike next month, came amid tensions inside Ramon Prison, a Negev-based facility where Palestinian prisoners clashed with guards last month after the transfer of four incarcerated leaders of the Islamic Jihad political faction to other prisons. Prisoners intended to protest their ill treatment inside Israeli prisons, including solitary confinement and administrative detention without indictment or trial.

    The preliminary deal includes longer, more frequent family visits, and would guarantee the return of the transferred Islamic Jihad prisoners to Ramon. Talks between representatives for detainees and Israel's prison system were expected to continue.

    INTERACTIVE: Freedom denied

    "The situation inside the prisons is tragic," said Issa Qaraqe, who chairs the Palestinian Authority's committee of prisoners' affairs. "The prisoners can no longer accept having their rights violated."

    Qaraqe told Al Jazeera that prisoners had been planning to take "several civil disobedience measures" against wardens. "They will begin with a work strike and will cease to participate in roll calls, and then they [will] gradually move on to a hunger strike," he said. Such measures could still be taken if the preliminary deal is not implemented.

    In addition to the mass hunger strike, which had been planned for April 17, prisoners had intended to burn their bedding if prison officials would not agree to their requests, including better access to healthcare and ending isolation as a punitive measure. 

    Previous protests at Ramon, built for around 900 prisoners who are spread among several wings divided according to their political affiliation, were quashed last month after guards attempted to enter a ward containing prisoners linked to Islamic Jihad.

    The situation inside the prisons is tragic. The prisoners can no longer accept having their rights violated.

    Issa Qaraqe, Palestinian Authority's committee of prisoners' affairs

    Four Islamic Jihad members were subsequently placed in isolation, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a Ramallah-based rights group. Other Islamic Jihad members returned their food trays the following day in protest and refused to participate in a roll call, prompting guards to impose a number of punitive measures, including turning off television sets, imposing fines and placing many more in isolation, the rights group said.

    Tensions inside Ramon heightened further when a prisoner from Gaza, Hamzah Abu Suwwan, attacked a prison guard. Abu Suwwan was beaten by the guards and had to be hospitalised, according to the Prisoners Club. The four Islamic Jihad members were subsequently transferred to a criminal prison and put into isolation for three weeks.

    As of December 2014, there were 6,200 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centres, according to Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners' rights group. The number included 465 administrative detainees, 23 women and 156 children.

    Hunger strikes have long been used as a tactic to exert pressure on prison authorities for more rights. In recent years, such strikes have proved to be a challenge for Israeli authorities because of the large number of prisoners taking part, and their subsequent deteriorating health.

    Last year, Israeli authorities mulled legislation that would allow hunger strikers to be force-fed. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave preliminary approval to a bill that would permit medical treatment against a prisoner's will, but it failed to pass all three readings at the Knesset.

    Last June, 70 Palestinian prisoners who were on a hunger strike were hospitalised. Even though the Israel Prison Service (IPS) said this was simply to monitor the prisoners' medical condition - and not because of any marked deterioration in their health - it acknowledged it had concerns.

    "When someone is on strike for a long time, even if they go back to eating, it will impact his health," IPS spokesperson Sivan Weizman told Al Jazeera at the time. "We are responsible for their lives. If their condition deteriorates as a result of their own choice, then we are ready to deal with anything that might happen."

    RELATED: Israel cancels Palestinian prisoner release

    Palestinian officials have accused Israeli authorities of reneging on a previous agreement made in May 2012 to limit administrative detention to exceptional circumstances. The IPS has previously said it does not have the authority to negotiate on matters other than prison conditions, calling administrative detention a political issue.

    The latest unrest comes after a Haaretz investigation revealed that  torture of Palestinian prisoners by Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet, rose sharply in 2014. That year, 59 complaints of torture were filed by Palestinians, compared to 16 and 30 in the previous two years, according to data collected by Haaretz from military courts and cross-referenced against figures provided by the Public Committee against Torture in Israel.

    In 1999, the country's Supreme Court ruled that the Shin Bet could not use "physical pressure" during interrogations.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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