Israel to extract a heavy price if Palestinians join UN bodies, says minister
US-brokered negotiations with Israel, which started on 29 July 2013 and were to last nine months, are nearing their ignominious end. And Israel, the serial defaulter that it is, has reneged on the agreed release of 104 pre-Oslo prisoners in exchange for Palestine’s postponing joining international organizations to help achieve their long-overdue freedom.
Three phases of the agreed release had taken place, and the final batch of 30 prisoners were due to be handed over on 29 March. When the Israeli government refused to release them the Palestinian embassy in London, on 2 April, announced that President Mahmoud Abbas had signed letters of accession to 15 international conventions and treaties.
We were promised the release of these prisoners, who are dear to our hearts and because of whom we withheld from going to the United Nations organizations. We were told that the Israeli government would convene to announce this final release today, but unfortunately they have failed to do so….
We concluded that if the final phase of the agreed release did not go ahead, then we would begin signing letters of accession to the 63 international organizations, treaties and conventions, which the leadership unanimously approved.
President Abbas explained that the 15 letters are for conventions and treaties that can be joined immediately and do not need further approval.
This is our right. We agreed to suspend this right for a period of 9 months…. for the sake of negotiations. The Israeli side is continuing to procrastinate, therefore we do not have any other choice but to go ahead with plans to join international organizations and conventions.
Abbas’s letter-writing included the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and conventions against torture, corruption and the prevention of genocide.
Palestinian officials also delivered a letter asking to become a party to the Geneva Conventions, and another letter to join The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
Negotiations a smoke screen
Like all UN Member and Observer states, Palestine is entitled to join the 63 treaties, conventions and agencies and will do so in the best interests of its people and whenever it thinks fit. It doesn’t need US or Israeli permission.
Question: Doesn’t this undermine US and international efforts?
No, the Israelis’ unrelenting settlement construction during this entire process has done that. Israel has tried to use negotiations as a smoke screen behind which it continues to violate human rights, expand its settlement programme and make the two-state solution increasingly impossible.
Question: What does it mean for the peace process? Are the negotiations over?
No. The Palestinians are committed to negotiations until the 29 April, as agreed.
None of the letters so far was addressed to the International Criminal Court, which the Palestinians have been strongly urged to join – a move that would certainly set the cat among Israel’s pigeons. So what could possibly be objectionable about the limited action Abbas has taken?
Nothing. Except that the Israelis are now pushing for an extension of the talks beyond the 29 April deadline before they’ll release the Palestinian prisoners. But the Palestinians see this as yet another ploy to buy more time to establish yet more irreversible ‘facts on the ground’. They made it clear many weeks ago that enough was enough.
It seems likely that when the nine months are up the Palestinians will resume efforts through the UN and the International Criminal Court to bring Israel to book over its illegal settlements and colonisation programme. There are more than 350.000 Jewish squatters living in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and 200.000 more in settlement in and around occupied East Jerusalem. All settlements are illegal under International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. And transferring part of Israel’s population into occupied territory is regarded as a war crime.
“Heavy price” threatened if Palestinians take case to UN
Response from Israel has been swift. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau warns that Abbas’s unilateral request to join 15 international institutions is in breach of peace talk conditions and “will cost the PA [Palestinian Authority] dearly…. They must know something simple: they will pay a heavy price. One of the possible measures will be Israel applying sovereignty over areas which will clearly be part of the State of Israel in any future solution.” He’s referring to areas of the Palestinian West Bank which now have a large Jewish population.
Landau warns that Israel might also “block financial aid” to the the Palestinians.
Of course, what’s he’s proposing is not only hateful but constitutes further breaches of international and humanitarian law, adding to an already long crime-sheet.
Landau’s father, Chaim, was a commander in the Irgun, a Jewish terror organisation that murdered British soldiers of the mandate government and bombed its headquarters in the King David Hotel killing 91. He hailed from Poland so what ancestral link, one wonders, does Landau have to the Holy Land that justifies playing the bully-boy, pushing Arabs off their ancestral lands and stealing their homes, farms, aquifers and offshore waters?
And here’s another of Landau’s pearls of wisdom: “A Palestinian state is not the solution.”
But a Jewish state is? Peace, brother……
Ramallah, Occupied Palestine – This afternoon approximately 500 Palestinian, international and Israeli demonstrators gathered close to Ofer Prison in Ramallah to protest against the refusal of the Israeli state to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners. As part of the current round of talks between Fatah (the Palestinian government of the West Bank) and the Israeli government, a series of prisoner releases was promised by the state of Israel, and the fourth was due to be carried out by the end of March, the Israeli government has now refused to honor the final release.
The demonstration began at approximately 12pm, the protests’ aim was to march towards Ofer prison itself, but due to the large number of Israeli forces present, this was not possible. The demonstrators also twice attempted a prayer at the start of the protest, but were unable to due to the high level of aggression from Israeli forces.
As the demonstration was beginning a 53-year-old Palestinian was shot at several times through the window of his car as he was driving away from Israeli forces. One of these rubber-coated steel bullets struck him in the head. The rubber-coated steel bullet broke several bones around his eye, a piece of the bullet was unable to be immediately removed and so he required surgery.
The level of violence escalated from this point as Palestinian youth threw stones at the Israeli military, while they (the military) fired hundreds of tear gas canisters, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition, injuring many demonstrators. At several points during the demonstration, Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters directly at protesters, both highly dangerous and in contravention to Israeli military procedure, which is shooting them up into an arch to lower the impacted velocity.
A full list of all those injured is currently not available, however at least 10 people were transferred by ambulance to a local hospital in Ramallah to seek medical treatment for their injuries and Red Crescent medics at the demonstration treated many others for varying wounds.
Below is a list of specific injuries that were confirmed both at the demonstration and from ISM activists at the local Ramallah hospital:
- A 21-year-old Palestinian activist was injured after being shot from extremely close range with a sponge-tipped projectile in the back.
- Two ISM activists were also both shot from extremely close range with sponge-tipped projectiles in their backs.
- A 20-year-old Palestinian was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet in the head.
- A 48-year-old Palestinian journalist was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet in the left shoulder.
- A Palestinian activist was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet in the foot.
- A 20-year-old Palestinian was shot with two .22 live ammunition bullets in his foot and in his knee.
- A 30-year-old Palestinian was shot with .22 live ammunition in his right hand.
- Another Palestinian was shot with .22 live ammunition in his left foot; the bullet was unable to be removed.
- 36-years-old Palestinian was shot with two .22 live ammunition bullets, both in his left foot.
- A 31-year-old Palestinian was shot in the left leg with .22 live ammunition.
- A 36-year-old Palestinian was shot with .22 live ammunition in the left foot.
- Mohammed Yasin, a photojournalist from Bi’lin who was wearing a press vest, was shot in his face with a rubber-coated steel bullet and also shot in his stomach with a .22 live ammunition bullet. He remains in hospital in serious condition, as the bullet may have destroyed parts of his liver.
An ISMer who was present at Ofer had this to say: “The Israeli forces present were really violent today. It was impossible to count the amount of tear gas canisters, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition fired; it felt constant for several hours. It became clear many times during the protest that the soldiers were specifically aiming at people, they weren’t trying to ‘end’ the demo, they just wanted to injure as many people as possible. I just don’t understand how people can defend the Israeli state and its military when they use this much violence against unarmed protesters.”
Photo by ISM
- PCHR Weekly Report: 3 Palestinians Killed, 34 Wounded by Israeli Troops (imemc.org)
- Week of protests cross the west bank in solidarity with Gaza (nilin-village.org)
RAMALLAH (AFP) — Israel has told the PLO it will not free the final group of prisoners they had been expecting alongside US-brokered peace talks, a senior Palestinian official said on Friday.
Under the deal which relaunched the talks in July, Israel said it would release 104 Palestinians held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians not pressing their statehood claims at the United Nations.
Israel has so far freed 78 prisoners in three batches but cabinet members had warned they would block the final release, anticipated for the end of March, if the Palestinians refused to extend the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
“The Israeli government has informed us through the American mediator that it will not abide with its commitment to release the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 29,” Jibril Rajub told AFP.
“Israel has refused to commit to the names that were agreed upon of prisoners held by Israel since before the 1993 Oslo agreements,” Rajub said.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment.
But Israeli ministers have said previously that the prisoner releases were always conditional on progress in the talks, which had failed to materialize.
Many also baulked at the inclusion of Palestinian citizens of Israel among the prisoners slated for release.
Rajub called the Israeli move a “slap in the face of the US administration and its efforts,” and said the Palestinians would resume their international diplomatic offensive.
“Not releasing the prisoners will mark the beginning of the efforts in the international community to challenge the legality of the occupation,” he said.
The talks have been teetering on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework for continued negotiations until the end of the year.
US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Wednesday in a bid to salvage the talks, with US special envoy Martin Indyk meeting the Palestinian leader in Ramallah on Thursday.
Israel’s government has announced the construction of thousands of settler housing units and its army has killed 60 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the talks began.
The Israeli government has also insisted that it maintain a military and civilian presence in the occupied Jordan Valley, which forms around a third of the West Bank, and has insisted that the PLO recognize it as a “Jewish state,” despite having already officially recognized Israel decades earlier.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report
Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network | January 26, 2014
On December 2013, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) responded to a freedom of information request by Who Profits, which was submitted three months earlier, regarding twenty-two corporations that provide services to Israeli prisons.
These companies mainly provide security equipment and services to incarceration facilities that hold Palestinian prisoners and detainees inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank. These incarceration facilities hold Palestinian political prisoners in violation of international law, and torture and systematic violations of human rights take place within their walls. According to Addameer’s latest monthly detention report (December 2013), there are 5033 Palestinian political prisoners in the Israeli prisons, 173 of whom are minors and 145 are administrative detainees.
The following table is an English translation of information provided by the Israel Prison Service to Who Profits, regarding twenty-two corporations that provide services to Israeli prisons and detention facilities.
|Company Name||Characteristics of Contract||End of Contract||Comments||Financial Scope|
|G4S||Maintaining supporting management systems, magnetometer gates, scanning machines and ankle monitors||During the fiscal year 2015||According to an IPS tender||Tens of millions of shekels|
|3M||Based on occasional bids|
|MOTOROLA SOLUTIONS ISRAEL||Maintaining wireless systems and lighting bridgesRepairing wireless devices||During the fiscal year 2016||According to an IPS tender||Tens of millions of shekels|
|HEWLETT- PACKARD (HP)||PrintersMaintaining HP systems and central servers||During the fiscal year 2016||Tenders by the Accountant General + tenders by the IPS||Tens of millions of shekels|
|MERKAVIM TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGIES||Based on occasional bids|
|MAYER’S CARS AND TRUCKS||Based on occasional bids|
|VOLVO GROUP||Based on occasional bids|
|Biosense||Supplying and maintaining a dog-bark identification system||During the fiscal year 2014||According to an IPS tender||Hundreds of thousands of shekels|
|Myform||Based on occasional bids|
|MIRS COMMUNICATIONS||Purchase of battery servicesProviding wireless services||During the fiscal year 2016||Tenders by the Accountant General + Tenders by the IPS||Hundreds of thousands of shekels|
|AFCON HOLDINGS||Installing, providing year-round service and maintaining fire detection systems||During the fiscal year 2015||According to an IPS tender||Tens of millions of shekels|
|Contact||Based on occasional bids|
|SHAMRAD ELECTRONICS||Relocating communication infrastructureSupplying electronic equipmentRepairing sound system||During the fiscal year 2015||According to an IPS tender||Tens of millions of shekels|
|B.G. ILANIT GATES AND URBAN ELEMENTS||Based on occasional bids|
|Dadash Hadarom Distribution||Purchase of canteen products||31/07/14||According to a tender|
|Shekem||Based on occasional bids|
|Shiran||Based on occasional bids|
|S.I.R.N.||Based on occasional bids|
|Shekel||Based on occasional bids|
|ASHTROM GROUP||Based on occasional bids|
|Lymtech||Based on occasional bids|
Who Profits also provides documentation and research on several of these companies at the links below:
Palestine Center for Prisoners’ Studies revealed that many Palestinian prisoners including women and children have been subjected to torture in Israeli jails and interrogation centers.
Israeli torture techniques include beating, blindfolding, hanging, strip search, Shabh (stress position) where prisoners are made to sit on a small chair with their head hooded and hands tied behind their back, pouring hot or very cold water over the head, according to the report.
The human rights center documented several cases of tortured prisoners who were deprived of sleep and forced into painful positions for long periods in addition to many practices that violate Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The report revealed that Israeli doctors are involved in torture practices against prisoners through submitting false medical files that deny torture crimes before courts.
Amjad Abu Asab, a spokesman for a committee that represents Jerusalemite prisoners, told Ma’an that Israel agreed to free a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a former Minister of Jerusalem Affairs.
Abu Asab said that lawmaker Muhammad Tutah and former minister Khalid Abu Arafah have been detained for two years on the charge of entering Jerusalem “illegally,” after Israel revoked their Jerusalem IDs.
Both Tutah and Abu Arafah have also been accused of being leaders of the Hamas movement in the Jerusalem area, Abu Asab said.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the 24-month imprisonment was sufficient punishment, and that the two should be released, giving the Israeli military prosecution a week to respond, he said.
The response came Wednesday that the prisoners would be released but would have to leave Jerusalem.
The two were detained by undercover Israeli forces on Jan. 23, 2012, from offices of the International Red Cross Committee in Jerusalem, Abu Asab said.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Today, the Palestinian population numbers 293,000 in a city which counts roughly 800,000 residents, UN figures show.
In 2012, Israel’s Interior Ministry revoked the residency status of 116 Jerusalem Palestinians, bringing the total number over 46 years to more than 14,000 people, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
BETHLEHEM – Conditions attached to the release of Palestinian prisoners prove that Israel is not serious about the peace process, the director of rights group Addameer said Monday as 26 Palestinians prepared to be freed from Israeli jails.
Israeli authorities are expected to release the veteran Palestinian prisoners after midnight in the third stage of a phased agreement to free 104 detainees in line with commitments to US-brokered peace talks, which began in July.
In October, Israel released a group of 26 Palestinians detained before the 1993 Oslo Accords, while a first group was freed on Aug. 13.
Sahar Francis, general director of rights group Addameer, said that while any release of prisoners is welcome, strict Israeli conditions on freed detainees undermine “hope” and “trust” in the peace process.
“Israel has showed it is putting conditions on prisoner releases and the US supports these conditions. Prisoners held before 1993 should have been released 20 years ago, and not today,” she told Ma’an.
Francis says that Israel restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinians freed as part of political agreements, with residents of East Jerusalem banned from visiting the West Bank or Gaza Strip following their release.
West Bank residents are banned from leaving their district for months, and in some cases up to a year, following a return to civilian life, while released prisoners are also prohibited from leaving the country for varying periods of time depending on their sentence, with some permanently banned.
Any involvement in political activities can be also grounds for rearrest and imprisonment by Israeli authorities.
“These practices show that the Israelis are not really seeking justice and a lasting peace with the Palestinians,” Francis said.
“If the Israelis really had good intentions to end the conflict and grant Palestinians basic rights under international law they should release all Palestinian prisoners and stop arresting Palestinians in the occupied territories.”
Israel treats Palestinians like ‘terrorists’
In past prisoner releases, Israel has rearrested dozens of ex-detainees under Military Order 1651, which Francis says violates the most “basic rights” of Palestinian prisoners.
The order, which was implemented in 2009, allows for an Israeli military committee to sentence detainees to serve the remainder of their previous sentence under secret information not made available to lawyers.
Francis says the order was implemented by Israel to prepare “legally” for the release of prisoners which Israel would be reluctant to free and to impose conditions which would allow them to be rearrested in the future.
Israel has also violated international law by stipulating that freed detainees be deported to the Gaza Strip, or abroad, as part of the conditions of their release, Francis said.
Both Samer Issawi and Ayman Sharawna were rearrested by Israel under Military Order 1651 after being freed in the 2011 prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas, with Sharawna eventually deported to Gaza for 10 years after agreeing to end hunger strike action.
Hana Shalabi was also rearrested under the military order and subsequently deported to Gaza for three years under the conditions of her release.
These new procedures represent “serious violations” of human rights and prove that the Palestinian community can see little hope in the future of the peace process, Francis says.
Furthermore, Israel continues its policy of daily arrests in the occupied West Bank, which has increased in recent months, and has never committed to stopping the mass arrest of Palestinians while negotiations are taking place, Francis says.
“Israel recognizes Palestinians as terrorists and not as people seeking their independence and self determination, and this makes the whole difference in the treatment of prisoners in the political channel.”
“We are happy that these 26 prisoners who spent years of their life in jail are being freed, of course the sadness is in thinking of the remaining 5,000 prisoners who are suffering behind bars.”
One can only imagine the looks on the faces of Israeli settlers living in Masharef Mountain, near the Hebrew University that overlooks Issawiya, as they watched the celebrations welcoming back Palestinian prisoner Samer al-Issawi.
Issawi returned victorious to his village despite Israel’s desperate attempts to ban celebrations. The occupation forces delayed his release for about 10 hours last Monday, December 23, and erected military checkpoints near the village, but young men and Palestinian mothers insisted on welcoming their hero.
Following his nine-month hunger strike amid the “battle of the empty stomachs,” Issawi was released along with 1,026 other Palestinians in an exchange for the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
He wished to remain loyal to those who lost their lives while planning and conducting the Shalit kidnapping, and didn’t want the Israelis to arrest the liberated prisoners all over again, forcing them to serve the rest of their sentences.
From the first intifada until the mid-1990s, Issawi, born 1979, resisted Israeli occupation by setting settler cars of fire and throwing Molotov cocktails. He told Al-Akhbar that he was careful not to be arrested because he wanted to support his family, since his four brothers – Raafat, Medhat, Firas, and Fadi – were held by the Israelis. But all that changed when his brother Fadi was killed in clashes that erupted in Issawiya, following the Hebron massacre in 1994.
The day Samer saw his brother in a pool of his own blood was the last straw.
Issawi was first arrested in 1998 and sentenced to a year and a half in prison for throwing a Molotov cocktail. He was later sentenced to six months in jail for beating up an Israeli soldier, then he was imprisoned again in 2000 for 15 days at the beginning of al-Aqsa intifada. He was later arrested for six months without charges.
“Israeli military attacks escalated during the second Intifada, and we began to hear about airstrikes on Gaza,” said Issawi, revealing that on the first day of his release he joined the ranks of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He formed a five-member cell with friends and conducted 11 shooting operations targeting Israeli vehicles in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, seven kilometers east of Jerusalem.
These shootings caused material damages and injured one Israeli officer. Once Issawi’s role was revealed, the Israelis hunted him down for a whole year and finally arrested him during the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield in Ramallah.
Issawi refused to appear before the Beit Eil military court and rejected the presence of an attorney because he didn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the court. He told the judges that it was more of a traveling circus that the Israelis brought along to every territory they occupied.
Issawi was sentenced to 30 years in jail. He wasn’t surprised. Usually sentences in such cases are life in prison, even though no injuries were caused.
He said he was confident he wouldn’t serve his entire sentence, and told the judge, “I will be out before 30 years.” Ten years later, Issawi was released within the “Loyalty to the Free Men” prisoners’ deal.
Issawi as Art
Occupation forces arrested Issawi again on 7 July 2012. His interrogation continued for 30 days, following which he was accused of planning to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Meanwhile, the head of Israeli intelligence in the West Bank threatened to send him back to jail to serve the remaining 20 years of his sentence.
Issawi realized that he was in a serious situation. Hence, on July 27, he started returning two of his meals and settling for a simple one of two slices of bread and a spoonful of labneh and jam.
He maintained this diet for 19 days and was transferred to Nafha Prison. On August 24, he started training his body for an open hunger strike. He wrote a letter to prison services and informed them about his escalation. Back then, he settled for a glass of juice or milk or soup until he cut off food completely and started his open hunger strike on September 14, which also included a strike on water from time to time.
Finally, Issawi reached an agreement with the Israelis last April allowing him to return home to Jerusalem within eight months.
Israelis resorted to different tactics to try and exhaust Issawi into giving up his hunger strike. They sent him on prisoners’ buses to courts and moved him from prison to prison, forcing him to wait for hours for his jailers. They demolished his brother Medhat’s house and attacked him and his family in court despite his deteriorating health.
Samer dropped to 99 pounds and suffered attendant health risks. “When I slept on my right side, I felt numb, and the same with my left side. I also couldn’t sleep on my chest because I had a broken bone,” he said.
With His Family
“Every time I heard about Palestinians and freedom-loving people around the world joining this this battle, I forgot my own pain, mainly after the martyrdom of Mahmoud al-Titi and Mohammed Asfour. There was nothing I could offer them, just insisting on the goals that we put together before the hunger strike. I was also moved by young men protesting for the first time in front of Jerusalem Magistrates Court,” he said.
Issawi said, “The anger I saw in the eyes of the jailers after seven months of the hunger strike proved to me that we succeeded in raising the voices of prisoners and revealing Israeli violations of the prisoner swap deal, while preserving Palestinians dignity. All the goals were accomplished and the only thing left was me going back home.”
On the Palestinian official position, Samer said, “Let’s be honest, all of us Palestinians, from the president to common citizens, can’t even move from one region to the other without Israeli authorization. We don’t count on the official position as much as we count on the will of the people to exercise pressure to force politicians to take more serious steps. A Palestinian negotiator can sign a deal, but it would not be applicable on the ground without popular support.”
At the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Israeli ambassador Eviatar Manor stated that the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails defines the Jewish state’s attitude towards peace. “Their release, I believe, illustrates Israel’s determination to reach an agreement with our Palestinian neighbours that will, once and for all, end the conflict.” As usual, Israel’s discourse contains various illusions, including references to ‘conflict’, which implies no hegemonic disparity between both parties.
Reference to Palestinians as ‘neighbours’ and human rights violation as ‘conflict’ portrays the manipulative use of language to distort the reality of a colonisation project which has prevailed for decades. There is no conflict between Palestinians and Israel, which renders the concept of negotiations a convenient farce for the belligerent occupation and its allies – a project of alienation which is easily converted into fodder for consumers of corporate media. In discourse which would reflect the ongoing situation, Israel should be depicted as the epitome of colonialism – an illegal state which has plundered land, people and resources to sustain fabrications of nationhood and the right to land. In place of negotiations, the international community should be clamouring for Israel to be held accountable and face the ramifications of accountability, including the dismantling of illegalities which would allow Palestinians to reclaim and assert their rights over land and nationhood.
Israel’s participation in the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review comes after vehement rejection of the council’s alleged bias against the occupying power. The indefinite boycott of the session was discussed in May by deputy foreign minister Ze’ev Elkin, who agreed to diplomatic discussions while “ensuring that fair play and international standards are applied towards Israel”. A Jerusalem Post opinion article about the UNHRC expounds upon the alleged bias against Israel, stating that “The majority of its 47 members are from the third World, which not only guarantees massive anti-Israel bias but makes mockery of human rights”. What it fails to mention is that Third World countries have experienced the ramifications of colonialism and exploitation, camouflaged within the West as implementation of forced democracy through various forms of intervention sanctioned by governments who are never held accountable for their crimes against humanity.
While the debate focused on Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinians, including that of Bedouins in the Negev, Israel attempted to manipulate the discourse away from the wider framework by concentrating on the prisoner release and portraying the decision as a commitment towards peace, despite the state’s preoccupation with security concerns which, according to Manor, ‘strain the delicate balance between effective steps necessary to overcome the various threats to a state’s security and the protection of human rights”.
The release of Palestinian prisoners has been transformed into nothing more than a bargaining over land compensated with lives which Israel deems expendable. While their freedom is undoubtedly cherished by Palestinians, official rhetoric from Israeli and Palestinian representation has created an additional realm where negotiations are equivalent to prisoner release. Abbas recently declared that the Israeli concept of life in prison has deteriorated, yet nothing is uttered regarding the continuous usurpation of Palestinian land. While Netanyahu triumphantly approves further illegal settlement construction as ‘compensation’ for releasing Palestinian prisoners, Abbas remains committed to relinquishing Palestine in return for freedom which can be easily revoked within Israel’s system of administrative detention.
Palestinians of all political persuasions welcomed the release of 26 prisoners last night. They are the first of 104 pre-Oslo life prisoners due to be released over the next nine months as long as Israel is satisfied with the progress of its negotiations with the PLO/PA. Incredibly, these 104 prisoners now slated to be freed should have been released 20 years ago according to the terms of the Oslo Accords, so it is not such a big concession for Israel to be releasing them now.
Despite the overwhelming euphoria that marked the occasion, that joy remains incomplete because there are still an estimated 4,800 other Palestinians behind bars in Israel. An additional 1,267 Palestinians are held in Israel Prison Service facilities for being in Israel illegally. However, Palestinian prisoners are not just statistics. Israel regards criminal prisoners and political detainees alike; they are all criminals in its eyes. With a stronger Palestinian leadership capable of exercising real leverage at the negotiating table, there would be cause to be hopeful about this release. Sadly, this is not the case; the PA’s negotiators are dependent on their misplaced trust in American “impartiality” and Israeli “goodwill”. Decades of concessions have got the Palestinians nowhere.
While the Israelis continue to hold thousands of Palestinians in detention because they are “terrorists” with “blood on their hands”, not a single Israeli is held in a Palestinian jail despite the thousands of Palestinians who have been killed by Israelis; presumably Israeli hands are regarded as clean.
The issue of the Palestinian prisoners is one that evokes an unquestioned national consensus. It affects every strata of society. Whether they were imprisoned before Oslo or after, they have all suffered. Fuad Al-Khouffash, the head of the Ahrar Center for Detainees’ Studies and Human Rights based in Nablus, says that there are about 500 prisoners serving life sentences.
Over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained and imprisoned since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967. This represents almost 20 per cent of the total Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
When asked to explain this abnormally high incidence of incarceration, Palestinians insist that they were only defending their land and freedom. Earlier this month, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni confirmed the importance of land in the equation when she told Israeli Radio that she prefers a prisoner release deal rather than the possibility of resuming peace talks based on the June 1967 borders. Freeing a few prisoners, it appears, is much easier than withdrawing from the occupied and colonised territories.
To the same degree, land is also the overarching issue for the Palestinians. While they all value the release of their loved ones from Israeli prisons, it must not be at any price. If it means giving up their land they would much rather remain behind bars. Nazareth-born Karim Younis, who has been on a life-sentence since 1983, is regarded by many prisoners as their dean. He wrote in a letter from Hadrim Prison this week: “We never thought in our wildest dreams or nightmares that the issue of the pre-Oslo prisoners would be turned into a blackmail card in the hands of the Israelis and a sword on the necks of the Palestinian negotiators. We reject that categorically and we prefer to remain in the graves of the living rather than be used as an instrument in the hands of our enemy to blackmail our leaders.”
Contrary to the recommendation of the internal intelligence agency Shabak, Israel’s ministerial council responsible for identifying those to be released refused to free 40 prisoners described as posing no threat to Israel’s security. They were substituted by others identified by the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The Israelis conceded this point allegedly to strengthen Abbas’s domestic position.
Every one of the prisoners has a history and a record of struggle. They are not mere numbers. Yet the new releases ignore these truths and condition their freedom on two grounds; that they do not pose a threat to the Israeli establishment and the degree to which their release will strengthen the hand of Mahmoud Abbas among his people. With Israeli settlement activity in accelerated mode the PA has little to justify its decision to return to the negotiating table. Apart from Abbas’s Fatah movement all of the other Palestinian political groups oppose the resumption of talks while Israel’s conquest and colonial-settlement of land continues.
After the well-deserved celebrations for the freed prisoners are over, Palestinians will realise that there is a still a heavy price to be paid. It is not just the resumption of negotiations with the Israelis but rather the continued occupation and settlement expansion on their land as well as the Judaisation of Jerusalem. Indeed, the mere fact that the negotiators are meeting in occupied Jerusalem is in itself recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.
With American mediation, the most the Palestinians can reasonably hope for is to emerge with a promise of financial support on condition that they continue to protect Israel’s colony-settlements in the West Bank. After all the sacrifices the prisoners have made over the years the best tribute the Palestinian Authority can make in their honour and for the sake of their national status is to withdraw from the negotiations. Abbas knows that they are leading to nowhere but humiliation.
Tubas, Occupied Palestine – Last Tuesday Sireen Sawafteh, a 24 year old woman from Tubas, was detained by Israeli forces. She is currently being held in Al Jalameh, an Israeli prison. Her family and friends fear for her safety. She has been denied access to a lawyer and she has not been allowed to make any contact with her loved ones since her arrest.
At around 3pm last Tuesday Sireen’s car was stopped at a temporary checkpoint on the road between Nablus and Tubas in the West Bank. After brief questioning by Israeli forces she was detained. The second person in the car was also detained.
In the early hours on Wednesday, Israeli forces raided Sireen’s family home whilst her father Khalid Sawafteh, her mother, three brothers, sisters in law and their two young children were sleeping. Twenty-five army jeeps entered the town of Tubas. Twenty officers entered the home and over one hundred remained in the street cornering off the house. The family and young children were all taken into one room whilst their home was ransacked. Israeli soldiers took all the computers in the house leaving Sireen’s relatives in shock.
Tubas is located in Area A as designated under the Oslo Accords, an agreement drawn up between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. ‘Legally’ it is under total Palestinian civil and military control. Israeli civilians and military are prohibited to enter Area A and any incursion into this area is considered a breach of this agreement. Despite this, Israeli forces have continue to carry out ‘operations’ in Area A.
The illegal incursion on Wednesday morning sparked protests in Tubas. Israeli forces fired tear gas and sound grenades at local residents as they gathered. Omar Abed al-Razaq, a 20 year old local university student from Nablus, was injured. He is in a serious but stable condition in Nablus Hospital. He has lost some of his fingers and is currently unable to communicate with his visitors. The full extent of his injuries are not yet known. The head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society in Tubas, Mahmud Sawafteh, denounced Israel’s continuous raids, which he says causes ‘fear and panic among residents (1).’
Since her detention, Sireen has been forcibly transferred out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories to an Israeli prison in Haifa located in the north of Israel, a practice illegal under international law.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the cccupying power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive”. While Article 76 states clearly that ‘protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein”.
Last Thursday, lawyers acting for Sireen tried to visit the prison inside Israel where she is being held. They were refused entry. She appeared in court on Monday with her hands and legs shackled. The spurious charge was internet activism, creating a Facebook page which is considered a ‘threat’ to the ‘security’ of the region.
Sireen is active in the non violent campaign for human rights in Palestine. She studied computer science at the Open University in Tubas. During her studies she was actively involved in a twinning project between Tubas and the University of Sussex, England. She took part in a delegation of students which visited the UK from Palestine to strengthen links and foster friendships.
Rashed Kahled, Sireen’s older brother said; ‘We in the family are very concerned for Sireen and we would love her to be returned to us soon. My mother is very sad and fears for Sireen, she cannot sleep. How can we be at peace? We do not know what is happening and we are not allowed to see her.’
Many Palestinian women prisoners suffer abuse during their detention. Palestinian women prisoners are often kept in the same cells as Israeli female convicts. This practice often leads to female Palestinian prisoners being humiliated, suffering from threats and assault perpetrated with impunity by the Israel prisoners.
Adameer, a Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Organisation reports that Palestinian women prisoners ‘are subjected to some form of psychological torture and ill-treatment throughout the process of their arrest and detention, including various forms of sexual violence that occur such as beatings, insults, threats, body searches, and sexually explicit harassment. Upon arrest, women detainees are not informed where they are being taken and are rarely explained their rights during interrogation. These techniques of torture and ill-treatment are used not only as means to intimidate Palestinian women detainees, but also as tools to humiliate Palestinian women and coerce them into giving confessions (2).’
Sireen was in court for the second time this Wednesday. The judge extended her detention for a further 6 days. She will appear again on Monday, when it is possible her detention will be further extended.
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- Israel renews administrative detention of 11 Palestinians (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Inhuman: Israeli abuse of Palestinian children in prison ‘systematic’ says UN report (sott.net)