Tomorrow, April 17th is Palestinian Prisoners' Day, a global day of action in support of Palestinian prisoners. Since 1967 around 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by the occupying Israeli military. That means 2 out of every 5 males. There have been around 10,000 women arrested or detained, and each year there are around 700 prosecutions of people who are under 18. Currently there are approximately 4,600 Palestinian political prisoners inside Israeli jails. Palestinians, living under occupation and oppression for nearly 64 years, have been targeted for mass imprisonment and detention by the Israeli occupation. Nearly every Palestinian family has been touched by political imprisonment – a father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, cousin, uncle, aunt – from the elderly to children.
Detention is used as a weapon of mass punishment by the Israeli military, who want to suppress every sign of resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. But this cruel practice only strengthens Palestinian resolve - and brutalises those who perpetrate it. That the Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners, detained solely for their opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation is evidenced by the range of people who are imprisoned. They include 27 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Some of the prisoners are Israeli citizens, like Ameer Makhoul, who was general director of Ittijah – The Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and the Chairman of the Public Committee for the Defense of Political Freedom.
Writers, scholars, students and artists are also Palestinian political prisoners, including Palestinian scholar Dr. Ahmed Qatamesh, who has now been held without trial or charge for nearly a year, Dr. Yousef Abdul Haq, a professor at An-Najah University whose administrative detention was just extended for an additional six months, and Ola Haniyeh, a student leader at Bir Zeit University and a leading political prisoner solidarity activist abducted just before student elections and currently held under interrogation.
The whole process of detention and imprisonment is inherently brutal and contrary to international law. After arrest, in which Israeli soldiers may deliberately destroy the family home, Palestinians are handcuffed and blindfolded. Humiliation and beatings are routine, and systematic abuse includes long periods of solitary confinement, and prisoners constrained in uncomfortable positions. In this way, many are coerced into signing ‘confessions’ - frequently written in Hebrew, which they can’t understand. Trials are in military courts, which ignore international law. Contrary to International law, these courts treat Palestinians as adults from the age of 16. Even those classified as children are not treated very differently and there are no provisions for them to have a lawyer or family member present when they make a ‘confession’. The majority of Palestinian detainees can be held for 6 months without charge, and once court proceedings start, these can be extended indefinitely. Hundreds more Palestinians are held under indefinite administrative detention for never-specified ‘security’ reasons.
This brutal and inhumane treatment continues once prisoners are put into captivity. Prisons are overcrowded, airless and suffer extremes of temperature and humidity. Cells are Spartan, food is poor and there is a lack of basics like soap and toothpaste. Medical neglect is systemic, and former prisoners are often left with chronic health problems. Newspapers, learning materials and many TV channels are outlawed. Family visits are severely restricted and often impossible. Gazan prisoners have had no family visits at all since 2007. Israel has frequently gone back on agreements to release prisoners, and last year’s much publicised release of prisoners in exchange for one captured Israeli soldier, was not all it seemed. Many released prisoners remained under severe constraints, and the prisons were soon refilled with new prisoners.
Opposition, both within Israel and Palestine, to this ongoing injustice is growing. 10 Palestinian prisoners are currently on hunger strike and thousands more prisoners plan to join in a massive hunger strike starting April 17th. Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is an opportunity for us in the rest of the world to show our solidarity with Palestine. In Dundee, Tayside for Justice in Palestine will be participating in this global day of action. Join us at the City Square in demanding the immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. They have been targeted by an unfair and unequal legal system. Their imprisonment reflects Israel’s inherent system of injustice and racism.