Issa Qaraqi, chair fo Palestinian Prisoners Society

Issa Qaraqi, chair of the Palestinian Prisoners Society in a special interview with the Palestine News Network talks about the situation in Israeli jails and warns that the situation will explode if the current Israeli policies in the jails do not change.  He also criticizes the way the prisoners’ case s handled in the negotiations.

Q. Why is April 17, chosen to be the Prisoners Day?

A. April 17, 1974 was the first time Israeli releases a Palestinian prisoners against its will.  On that day, Mahmoud Bakr Hijazi was swapped with an Israeli who was kidnapped by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, PLO.  As a sign of hope and a call that all Palestinian prisoners will be freed, this day is seen as the day of freedom for the prisoners ever since.

Q. How many Palestinians have been in imprisoned since 1967 and how man are they now?

A. There are about 650 thousand Palestinian men and women who have been imprisoned since 1967.  This means that at least 25 percent of the Palestinians in the occupied territories have been imprisoned in Israeli jails.

During the past four years alone, between 2000 and mid 2005, 40 thousand Palestinians have been arrested.  Currently, there are around 8000 prisoners, 350 of them are minors, 120 women.  Additionally, there are 21 prisoners serving terms over 20 years.

Q. Prisoners complain of the lack of financial resource for their families, some of then did not receive their monthly payment since 6 months, why?

A. In general, all prisoners, despite of their political affiliation receive a monthly payment of NIS 900 ($200 US) from the Palestinian Authority for the singles, and more for the married depending on the number of their children.

No doubt there are complains in some cases, however, this is an administrative error only and hopefully it will be fixed.

Q. Some prisoners accuse the Ministry of Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners and the Prisoners Society of high bureaucracy and neglect, what do you say about that?

A. The prisoners issue is a big one, there are daily arrests, most of the Palestinian families have somebody in prison. It takes more than an organization or even a ministry to fulfill the needs of the Palestinian prisoners.  I reject this description of ‘bureaucracy’ because the Prisoners’ Society is a popular society and works in the field and has a very heavy load on its shoulders in following up for instance, with 3000 files in pending trial in Israeli courts.

Lawyers and staff of the society visit prisoners whenever there a chance is there.  We also try to publish reports about their different cases, in addition to organizing solidarity activity in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Despite all that, we still feel that more is needed to be done and we believe that our efforts integrate with other societies and bodies’ efforts to help as much as possible.

Q. how do you evaluate the latest negotiations, knowing that it did not give enough space for the prisoners issue, do you feel that the negotiations on the prisoners issue did not change since Oslo?

A. After Sharm Al-Sheikh summit, they agreed to form a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee to put criteria for the release of prisoners.  The committee met once and did not come up with results.  The meeting was mainly brain storming and exchange of views. They agreed to meet again, but never did.

The old negotiation mechanism must change, because has been proven failure in dealing with the prisoners’ issue.  We must also try to change the Israeli way of dealing with this issue.

Israel continues to put conditions for the release of the prisoners and they do not contribute to solving the problem.  On the contrary, they make it harder.  There should be a timetable for an unconditional release of all the prisoners.  The Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli jails must be dealt with as Prisoners of War not criminals and terrorists.

Q. how do you evaluate the situation in the Israeli jails, are they really left alone?

A. The prisoners are facing very hard living conditions.  There are daily violations of their rights in different ways.  The calm that Palestinians declared did not reflect itself on the situation there; it did not enhance their living conditions.  Prisoners are still subject to solitary confinement, naked searches, beating and torture, in addition to the bad and little food.  Many of them have to pay high fines and have to visit their families through a glass barrier.

Q. If the situation stays as it is, what results do you expect?

A. If this situation continues and the way negotiations are tackling the prisoners’ issue, there will be an explosion in these prisons that will be accompanied with explosions in the Palestinian street.  The prisoners’ issue is a ticking bomb and is also base to further settlements with Israel on the ground.