Friends of Humanity International released today Wednesday a detailed report* about the condition of the Palestinian prisoners inside the Israeli jails in 2007. The report confirms that the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians is one in a series of the dark episodes in the history of the Palestinian people considering the consequent anguish endured by the victimsThe Organization states that the captured Palestinian movement strikes unmatched human examples of patience, endurance and agony that brought about tragic circumstances as the prisoners are left with no choice but to engage in ongoing confrontations with the Israeli squads that are equipped with helmets, batons and gas guns. It confirms that prisoners have been continually subjected to assaults and aggressions at the hands of the occupation army forces and Shabas gangs.

The assaults exceeded all limits during the 1990s and last year when squads shot fire at the defenseless prisoners at the Naqab desert prisons where the prisoner Mohamad Sati Al Ashqar was killed. It states that the history of the Palestinian prisoners is replete with various forms of protestation, including hunger strike, which succeeded to spur a powerful reaction that forced the occupation jailers to respect the commissions elected by the prisoners to represent them. 

Friends of Humanity commends the prisoners of Palestine for their notable efforts in restructuring their intellectual, cultural and sport activities which have given birth to a number of learners of the Holy Quran, poets, authors, calligraphers and many artists. A good number of prisoners challenged the detention restraints and managed to learn foreign languages fluently which reflects a determined will that have turned the jails to centres of education and knowledge.

The report indicates that the number of prisoners at the occupational detention facilities reached last year (2007) a total of eleven thousand including 120 women and 345 children besides 51 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Seven active ministers from the former government were also arrested five of whom are still imprisoned. The Organization remarks that the detention of tens of ministers and members of the Legislative Council is an unprecedented incident in the human history and occupation chronicles.

It includes a description of the prison structure which consists mostly of 2.5 m2 rooms shared by two prisoners besides other 5 m2 rooms that accommodate three prisoners. There are a number of rooms that lodge 6-18 prisoners while the new rooms offer a space of 13 m2 where 8-10 prisoners settle and suffer from poor ventilation and strict security fortifications.

The report also details the daily routine inside the prison where prisoners are allowed only one hour workout in the early morning after counting is over in addition to one and a half hours in the morning and in the evening to walk across an 80-120 m2 yard. It should be noted that such space provides room for 20 prisoners while there are 80-150 prisoners in each section in the prison, bearing in mind that providing larger spaces is possible as most of the jails are located in the desert.

 The food offered to the prisoners is extremely poor in quality and quantity and consequently the prisoners in all detention facilities have no choice but to buy their needs from the prison grocery.

Furthermore, the imprisoned children are not given any care or education. The repeated detentions and long imprisonment periods are an established policy whereby a prisoner is brought back to the custody soon after his release under false charges and the label of confidential case to which neither the prisoner's lawyer nor family can have access. This accounts for the lengthy detention periods when prisoners remain in jail for two or three years or even longer in some cases.

The Organization adds that the prisoners sustain a true tragedy inside the investigation rooms where the jailers exercise the most atrocious tactics against them. They are brutalized by various torture methods over long hours and are pressured by seeing their children and wives captured for no reason. Yehya Al Sinwar is a prisoner who was placed in torture dungeons for almost 11 months during which he was taken to the hospital seven times. It is a world where the end justifies the means in the pursuit of information.

Given the purposeful torture tactics applied upon the prisoners by the occupational authorities, the Organization makes reference to the statement made in 1999 by the former Israeli Prime Minister and the present Minster of Defense Ehud Barak calling to "Let them (prisoners) decay inside the prison", while Tzachi Hanegbi, the Minister of Interior Security at that time, reacted to the prisoners' hunger strike in 2004 by saying: "Let them all die".

The report addresses the deliberate policy of degradation which is exemplified by the naked search of prisoners who are fiercely chained and stripped off their clothes under the pretext of searching for illegal items. This practice infuriates the prisoners especially that it is not limited to occasions when the prisoner moves out or in the prison but also upon his return from the prison clinic or the visitation room or when transferred from one section to another. It remarks that this policy was suspended only following the spread of the scandal of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and under the pressure of the 19-day hunger strike which the prisoners waged in 2004. However, this does not mean that this repugnant policy is totally ceased, but it is occasionally applied at limited scale. 

The Organization details the night raids, undertaken by the Metsada forces under the pretext of search, during which rubber and pepper bullets, electric rods, batons, gas firings and sometimes live bullets are used against the prisoners. These raids are carried out at midnight when prisoners are chained, thrown to the ground where they lie with the faces down for long hours and are cruelly beaten once they show signs of resistance. This is exemplified by the attacks waged against the prisoners at Naqab in October 2007 during which the prisoner Mohamad Al Ashqar was killed. Many prisoners believe that this tactic is intended to panic them and is applied as part of collective suppression measures. For instance, if a heated argument takes place between a Palestinian prisoner and an Israeli officer in the jail, all the prisoners in the section are punished by barring family visitation or paying cash penalty.

Individual punishment includes continuous transfer. Some prisoners are transferred every three months while others every month. Jihad Yaghmour is transferred 10-15 times each year. This applies also to the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Dweik, who was moved 10 times from Majedo prison to Owfer court in July 2007 under degrading circumstances.

The Organization adds that the jails authorities deprive the prisoners of the right to pursue their college education or to see their families at visitation time.  Additionally, the authorities apply the policy of medical negligence as statistics indicate that more than 1000 prisoners are suffering from chronic diseases including 150 critical cases that require continuous care and follow-up such as cardiac diseases, blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and kidney failure. 

As for the administrative detention policy, the number of administrative detainees since the Aqsa Intifada has reached nearly 1500. Some of them were freed after they had completed five years in prison while some 1000 detainees are still waiting their turn in the jails of Naqab, Majedo, Ramon and Owfer.

In the report, the Organization provides an account of the procedure of moving the prisoners to the court or from one prison to another which depicts the culmination of the agony and hardships experienced by the prisoner who is accompanied by members of a special Israeli security squad named Nahshon. Those are well versed in the most repulsive and ruthless degrading methods as, during the transfer process, they subject the prisoner to naked search several times. This search is backed by a flood of swearing that might develop into brutal beating without consideration to the health condition or age of the prisoner.

Inside the vehicle the prisoner is seated on narrow chilly iron-made seats which turn out to be harmful in terms of the pains they cause to the knees, joints and back. Further, the hand and foot cuffs make the situation worse as they are so tightly fastened that the prisoner is rendered incapable of sitting or moving comfortably.

The drive goes on till the prisoner reaches what is called the "passage" which is a waiting room where the prisoner is lodged for two or three days before and after the court session. Being narrow and unfurnished, these rooms are in no way suitable for human accommodation. Fifteen or twenty prisoners are stuffed in a room with a capacity of four persons. Prisoner traveling from the southern prisons to attend the court in Salem in the north or in Owfer in the middle have to stay in the "passage" for eight or tend days.

Al Ramlah "passage" is known for all prisoners for its horrible setting. It is the destiny of those prisoners who travel to the court to stay for some time in dark and filthy rooms with extremely low temperature in winter and unbearably high temperature in the summer. There the prisoners are forced to eat the poor quality food offered to them in despicable circumstances.

Following a prolonged anguish the prisoner reaches the court where he is made to wait for long hours inside 2m x 1.5m cement chambers which resemble graves. Twenty to twenty five prisoners are crammed in standing position inside one chamber over the court working hours, i.e. from early morning till 3 p.m. These chambers are guarded by members of the aforementioned Nahshon gangs who prevent the prisoners from using the toilet or performing their prayers.

Finally, the prisoners are led to the court where they are not allowed to speak or just signal to their families. They are even forced to incline their heads to avoid looking at their families for security reasons as any attempt to exchange words or gestures would prompt assaults on the prisoner and his family members by the Nahshon squads.

Vienna, 30 January 2008

* The report was prepared by a group of experts in prisoners affairs under the supervision of the researcher Mr. Fuad Al Khoffash