In an interview, conducted by the Al-Quds Daily Newspaper, and published Saturday, February 1, 2014, Palestinian Minister of Detainees, Issa Qaraqe’, said Israel has kidnapped more than 3000 Palestinians in 2013, and that the detainees face very harsh conditions, systematic abuse, and harassment by Israel.
Q: How would you describe the conditions in Israeli prisons nowadays?
A: The conditions are rapidly deteriorating; prisons became hubs for diseases and psychological torture, there is a systematic Israeli policy to crush the detainees, turn them into beings without human or national value.
Let me be frank here, we are very concerned about the detainees, they are facing constant pressure and abuse, physical and psychological, Israel is trying to turn them into individuals without an aim in life, trying even to crush their intellect.
Israel is conducting serious escalation against the detainees, forcing them into solitary confinement, denying their right to medical attention, denying family visits, denying them the right to education, in addition to abuse.
Q: How About the fourth phase of releasing veteran detainees, will it be carried out as planned?
A: The U.S assured us the release of veteran detainees will be carried out as planned, 30 detainees, held before the First Oslo Agreement, would be released as planned. This is a binding agreement, not dependent on direct peace talks.
The agreement includes all veteran detainees from Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem and historic Palestine. We hope it will be implemented as planned by the end of March.
Q: How about detainees from historic Palestine, what is their status?
A: There is an ongoing Israeli incitement against them, blackmail, abuse and attempts to marginalize them. They are part of the Palestinian people; their rights must be guaranteed under negotiations, or any peace agreement.
Should Israel try to sideline them, marginalize them, it will be violating the understandings that led to the resumption of direct peace talks.
Q: How about Marwan Barghouthi, Ahmad Sa’adat, and the rest of the detainees?
A: Keeping leaders like Barghouthi and Sa’adat imprisoned angers us, makes us feel ashamed and powerless.
If Israel really wants peace with us, or should there be an agreement to extend direct talks, then the moral, national and the humanitarian thing to do is to release them, schedule the release of all detained children, women, elderly, ailing detainees and all administrative detainees.
Q: How would you evaluate the year 2013?
A: Israel kidnapped more than 3000 Palestinians in 2013, %75 of them were children and teenagers. The arrests were violent; approximately 5-15 Palestinians were taken prisoner each day.
Israel is ongoing with its crimes, daily invasions, assassinations, arrests. The Israeli army is invading the lives of the Palestinians, such violations and arrests are very serious, and are part of serious war crimes that must stop.
Q: “Are you facing pressure regarding the way the detainees’ issue is being handled?
A: Yes sure, this is a struggle on the very definition of legitimacy, Israel is leading an international incitement campaign against the detainees, labeling them as terrorists, preventing the Palestinian Authority from providing support to them.
Those detainees are prisoners who fight for freedom; they are prisoners who struggle for the liberation of occupied Palestine. We reject all attempts to describe them as terrorists.
They are legitimate fighters who struggle for independence and liberty, we are still under occupation, and we have the right to resist it.
Q: “What is being done to the ailing detainees?”
A: Should the situation continue as it is, there will be more martyrs among the detainees, especially those suffering with serious illnesses.
We noticed over the last two years a dangerous increase in cases of fatal diseases, especially cancer, spreading among the detainees.
Those prisons became agents for death; the detainees are denied the right to specialized and adequate medical care.
The international community needs to act, and do something before it is too late; we are trying our best, politically and legally, to save them.
Q: What is your opinion about the resumption of individual hunger strikes?
A: Yes, this year started with a series of hunger strikes, carried out by detainees held under Administrative Detention, and sick detainees.
The ongoing suffering pushes them to conduct open-ended hunger strikes.
This is an indication that what the detainees face in Israeli prisons is a real disaster, I think the situation is heading towards an escalation, especially since the Prison Administration and the Israeli security departments are determined to impose further restrictions, further abuse against the detainees.
A: How about the system, the law approved by the Palestinian Government regarding the detainees?
Q: This law is supposed to be included in the budget of 2014; this is an important strategic law.
It is a simple, but essential, strategy to serve the detainees. There should be wide cooperation with all civil society institutions, the private sector too.
This is a vital issue, we are all responsible for the welfare of the detainees, and I hope the government will seriously act on implementing this law, this strategy. It is currently discussing it.
Q: What would you tell the Palestinians, the world, about the detainees?
A: I ask the Palestinian people, the Palestinian leadership, to bow in respect to the detainees, to their sacrifices and suffering. This is a humanitarian issue; their case is now a vital and viable issue around the world.
The detainees are no longer a marginal issue, I would ask the world, legal and human rights groups, to provide international protection to the detainees, to pressure Israel into respecting their rights as stated in International Law, and all human rights treaties.
We obtained a state status at the UN; the detainees have rights, rights guaranteed by international agreements, and UN resolutions.
Q: What would you tell the Israelis?
A: I would tell them peace starts with freedom, closing all prisons, releasing all detainees is the base for peace.
Should Israel continue to act as a state of prisons, settlements, invasions and abuse, it will face isolation, political and moral collapse.
The Israeli public needs to act, to stop the deterioration that threatens their very own security, and internal peace.
This abuse and deterioration jeopardizes the entire region.