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Israeli Organizations call for an immediate change in policy towards the Palestinian Political Prisoners
On the 12th Day of the open-ended Hunger Strike by 2,800 Palestinian Political Prisoners, Israeli organizations demand a reversal of the harsh policy inflicted by the Israeli Government on Palestinian prisoners.
Ahmad Jaradat, staff member of the Alternative Information Centre and former political prisoner; Human Rights Lawyer Lea Tsemel; Lawyer Abir Bakr of Adalah; a member of Physicians for Human Rights and Executive Director Hannah Friedman of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) spoke at a press conference at 11AM, August 26th at the office of the Alternative Information Center in west Jerusalem.
Speeches by Human Rights Lawyer Lea Tsemel, Lawyer Maher Telhami of Physicians for human rights, Hannah Friedman of the Public Committee against Torture in Israel and Adalah Lawyer Abeer Baker, are reported below.
Human Rights Lawyer Lea Tsemel
Speaking of the prisoners’ conditions:
Against the Geneva Conventions the prisoners are not held in the Palestinian Territories but within Israel. This means that family members have to get travel permits to enter Israel to visit them.
The prisoners are forced to use Israeli lawyers that are more expensive. Only one is from the territories.
Are there mobiles smuggled into the prisons? Yes. [...] but I believe that this is intended by the Security Services as it is easier to monitor the prisoners' contact with the outside world. [...] Anywhere people will find a way, legal or illegal, to get in contact with their families.
Really, I don't see anything in the demands that is extreme. The demands were made months ago.
Last week I went to visit the prison in Beer Sheva [...] the prisoners are shifted from cell to cell all the time [...] instead of three hours in the courtyard – we call it tiul – they are forced outside for an hour between seven and eight in the morning.
Doctors don't see them on a daily basis. They see only those that complain.
They take them into a room and set food on the ground. If after five hours they still have not eaten they are sent back.
The guards smoke cigarettes in front of them and grill steaks outside the windows so the smell goes inside the cells.
It is very hard to hear about the threat they pose from the Security Minister, Tzahi Hanegbi. Most of these "security prisoners" are charged for membership in an organization, or writing on the wall. Not more than 50 % of the prisoners are hard-core. And then we have more or les 700 prisoners that are administrative.
Physicians for human rights
Lawyer Maher Telhami
Prisoners and Detainees project
The prisoners' decision to go on a hunger strike was not an easy one. A hunger strike is a serious matter. You can die from it, or it can seriously affect health conditions. Prisoners are aware of that.
Since the Second Intifada, the Prison Service would not want to have anything to do with them and has treated them with violence.
What happens in prison services reflects what happens in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and vice versa. Now we talk only about conditions of prisoners, but they have gone through a tough time before being arrested too.
We think that a lot of them are being shot before getting arrested. We find wounds in their bottom and legs areas. Then for treatment, they are brought to an Israeli hospital—if they are lucky—and then are moved a prison service hospital, which is not in good condition. We got a lot of complaints about that and we now have to appeal to the Supreme Court.
About our demands:
We checked the international demands for doctors working in prison services. The World Medical Association (WMA), has strict guidelines. The problem is dual loyalty, meaning that a doctor has an ethical obligation towards the patients: they must prevent they die and their health deteriorates. On the other side they should work with prison services, who are doing almost everything to stop the strike (we've heard of the barbequing; I am hearing of a lot of prisoners being beaten or brought to the clinics where are given milk by doctors, who would then declare they are out of the hunger strike; doctors don't give any medical care if prisoners don't break the hunger strike). From the WMA, we got the guidelines, translated into Hebrew and distributed to doctors in all clinics, hoping they'll work them through.
The other demand is to have our doctors in the prisons to check out the patients. From the WMA you understand that the most important thing that a doctor has to do is to come to a situation where prisoners trust him, because, eventually the doctor is the one deciding whether to feed the patient. In addition, doctors should keep in touch with the families.
Doctors should also talk to prisoners in order to understand if they are on a hunger strike against their will, and should be in a neutral position to negotiate between prisoners and prison authorities.
Our demand is thus to have our doctors inside prison services, in accordance with WMA guidelines, demanding that neutral doctors are used.
Another problem is the way that the government is handling the situation. As we see with the statement of the Security Minister, Tzahi Hanegbi, "The prisoners can strike for a day, a month, even starve to death, as far as I am concerned”, which means he doesn't consider them as human beings, because their life is not important for him. Another serious statement of the health minister was that in case of hospitalization, he wouldn't allow them to be put in hospital next to Israeli citizens, and would only allow them to be brought to the IPS, Prisons' services.
So these are our demands and we are organizing a doctors' demonstration in front of the prison services.
We have a paper that was signed by prison doctors and distributed to prisoners, containing wrong information, such as that prisoners might lose the shiny look of their hair and that they might become impotent.
Public Committee against Torture in Israel
The Committee has regular visits in all prisons, but since the nomination of the new head of the Prisons Services (Yaakov Ganoot) and the [then] Internal Security Minister Tzani Hanegbi, there have been problems of accessing the prisons by the Committee.
Lawyers arrive for visits and are sent back with the excuse there are other procedures going on. This is against the rights of the prisoners.
During the strikes our lawyers who visited the Eshel prison in Bersheva, found out the water had been cut off from the morning to the night and this is against any law.
On the 17, August we submitted a pre-trial to the Court demanding that reverse all the negations of rights (prisoners are not getting water, fluid…).
On the 18 of August we got an answer. The legal advisor replied that all actions are legal and respect the rights of the prisoners.
In Haasa Hospital in Jerusalem, we ask the opinion of what happens to a prisoner who doesn't get water for the whole day and the answer was that this causes irreversible medical damage, especially for prisoners who have high blood pressure.
We demanded an answer from the legal advisor of the prison and demanded an answer for his responsibility regarding the question of water, and if he doesn't provide a response by Sunday, we plan to prosecute him and submit a petition to the High Court, demanding the reversal of its decision.
Israel is committed to all international conventions on prisoners' rights, including the UN Standards Minimum Rules.
Prisons are also extremely crowded and medical treatment is faulty.
A prisoner, Dragma, had fractures during interrogation and didn't receive treatment until when the Committee intervened and requested the surgery.
Adalah Lawyer Abeer Baker
Just came from the Supreme Court, filing a petition regarding the salt. Severe damage will be caused when prisoners drink only water. Prisons authorities confiscated salt and other fluids from their cells. We think that salt and liquids should not be confiscated. Even though the prison authorities consider the strike as a disciplinary offence, we don't think that confiscation as punishment should be carried out.
Last week we filed another petition to the High Court, on ten Palestinian children. It was about physical contact between children and parents: prisons authorities denied them even that. So, in the petition we pointed out children rights to be in touch with their parents.
We also filed a petition regarding restrictions on the access of lawyers to prisons. Prisons Services said that they will allow lawyers to visit prisoners, even if they are on hunger strike while already sentenced prisoners on hunger strike do not have access to lawyers. So, in the petition we requested that all prisoners be given the right to meet a lawyer.
Regarding Marwan Barguti:
I mentioned this issue while I was trying to improve the policy of the prisons authorities to break the hunger strike. He was used to accomplish this goal. We think this is a violation of the right to privacy. Prisons Authorities do not have the right to do that. Allegedly, his picture was distributed along with the caption “is he or is he not on hunger strike?”,.
Considering that Prisoners didn't have access to TV, we believe that the intention of the authorities was rather to influence Palestinian public opinion, given that Marwan Barguti is considered a leader.
Answering to the question if we have had a response from the Supreme Court on the physical contact petition, the Court ordered to the Attorney General and the Prison Authority, to give an answer by 20 September. I am willing to file a motion to advance this issue. By going to court and exchanging documents, raising questions is the only way to be updated. Remember that only a few lawyers have succeeded to visit detainees.