Attacks on Palestinian Prisoners on Hunger Strike and Israeli Dissidents

Recent actions taken by radical right-wing Israelis provide ample evidence that Israel’s occupation and apartheid facilitates and emboldens such actors to affirm control over the Palestinian population. This is buttressed by divergent legal systems and courts that apply discriminatory standards of evidence and procedure to Palestinians as compared to Jewish Israelis, which implicate severe, disproportionate and often baseless penalties for Palestinians while Jewish Israeli perpetrators emerge unscathed. The reports Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) regularly receives from its contacts in Palestine and Israel provide dreadful insights into how this discriminatory system plays out on the ground.

Odor of Disdain

On Thursday, 20 April 2017, extremist Israelis of the far-right party National Union (Hebrew: Mafdal) held a barbecue in front of Israel’s Ofer prison near Ramallah, in which Palestinian political prisoners were continuing the fourth day of a mass hunger strike to demand freedom, dignity and basic rights. The group asserted that they organized the barbecue to make the smells waft into the prison cells to taunt and torment the Palestinian hunger strikers with the smell of grilled meat and to break their will. This pathetic and racist act contrasts with the perseverance and dignity with which the Palestinian hunger strikers have been carrying out their nonviolent resistance.

Palestinians held under arrest and administrative detention in Israeli jails initiated the open-ended hunger strike in the context of Palestine’s Prisoners Day on 17 April to protest Israel’s persistent use of indefinite detention without charge or trial, executed on the basis of a British Mandate-era law; the deplorable conditions of imprisonment; and ill-treatment and torture. Specifically, the prisoners demand an end to administrative detention, the allowance of family visits, appropriate medical care, and an end to ill-treatment and solitary confinement.

With 1,500 participants held in six Israeli prisons, the hunger strike, which is led by Marwan Barghouti under the slogan of “Freedom and Dignity” for prisoners, is the largest in recent years. Currently, around 6,500 Palestinians – including more than 500 administrative detainees, 61 female prisoners and 300 minors – are imprisoned under Israeli custody.

Palestinian Prisoners Statistics April 2017 [Images and data by Addammeer]

Depriving Prisoners of Human Dignity

GICJ contends that the inhumane conditions and injustice reigning in Israel’s prison system – which are part of the apparatus of its occupation and apartheid – yet again expose Israel’s longstanding blatant disregard of international law and human rights.
Firstly, the internment by the Occupying Power of Palestinian prisoners in its own territory is in grave breach of international humanitarian law, which determines that prisoners from occupied territories must be held inside the occupied territory.

Secondly, Israel continues to arbitrarily detain Palestinians, including women and children, without charge or trial and to restrict access to legal counsel. The Israeli military judicial system disregards the right to freedom and due process, the right of defendants to state their case, and the presumption of innocence: Administrative detainees – whose detention periods can be renewed indefinitely – are arrested on “secret evidence”, without being informed about the accusations against them, and are prevented from defending themselves in court.

Thirdly, the conditions of imprisonment of Palestinian arrestees, including women and children, remain abhorrent and often lead to severe injury and psychological distress. They are marked by the denial of family visits or extremely short visiting times; solitary confinement; overcrowding in small living spaces far below the international standard; denial of basic facilities; poor hygiene; the denial of access to education; and lack of medical care, including deliberate medical negligence resulting in cases of death. Methods of torture include painful shackling; fixation in stress positions; sleep deprivation; threats against family members; and physical and verbal abuse. Recent years saw a rise in forms of psychological torture. “Solitary confinement; verbal assaults to religion, values or culture; sleep deprivation; random inspections at any time of the day or night; and being forced to stand naked” (A/69/355) are reported to be predominant methods of psychological torture, which permanently harm Palestinian prisoners. Different methods of ill-treatment and torture are aimed at breaking the detainees’ spirit and violate fundamental provisions of international law.

Some Methods of Torture and Abuse Under Interrogation

The interrogators cuff the hands of the interrogees in front of them, turn the chair so they sit with the backrest to the side, and push them backwards, until the back is bent. When the interrogees cannot maintain the angle, they fall backward until the body forms an arch. [B’Tselem, 2011] Interrogees are deprived from sleeping for prolonged periods through intensive interrogation, which requires to detainee to sit on a chair with chained legs and arms. [B’Tselem, 2011] Interrogees are forced to crouch on their toes with hands cuffed behind the back. The interrogators push or lash the detainees until they lose balance and fall to the ground. [B’Tselem, 2011]

Thousands of Palestinians suffer from serious illnesses, for which most are only treated with painkillers by Israeli doctors employed by and complicit with the Israeli Prison Service. Hunger strikers in protest of the abhorrent conditions are further punished with the refusal of essential salts and water, medical negligence, banned family visits, and blocked access to lawyers. This reflects a policy of denying Palestinian prisoners and detainees respect for basic human values.

Prisoners in an Apartheid State

GICJ reasons that the prison system, in conjunction with the illegal erection of settlements, the siege on Gaza, walls, checkpoints, fences, other physical barriers, and inaccessible areas, reveal the nature of the occupation that incarcerates, controls, and oppresses the Palestinian people and seeks to rob them of their human dignity.

The discriminatory legal system reigning in the West Bank, according to which Palestinians are governed by a repressive military regime whilst illegal Jewish settlers are governed by domestic civil and criminal law, is reflective of Israel’s larger apartheid policies. These entail strategic and institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians regardless of their residence and are intended to dominate the Palestinian people as a whole – as outlined in ESCWA’s recent report.

As pathetic as the barbecue by the extremist Israelis seems, this spiteful prank reflects the want of this racist group to showcase their control over Palestinians. Under Israel’s apartheid system, which builds on the domination of Jewish Israelis over the Palestinian people, such deplorable acts are executed with impunity, are ignored, or even encouraged and endorsed by the military, by influential organizations, and public officials including the Prime Minister. Israeli colonialism and occupation is unthinkable without racism, which is the foundation of the expropriation and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Rampant Settler Violence

Reports that GICJ receives reveal that violence against Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers illegally living in the occupied West Bank is flourishing and is not merely a consequence of racism but also a form of exerting control – one that is facilitated by the disparate legal systems submitting Palestinians to military rule and endowing Israeli settlers with legal protection under civil law.

The most horrendous settler crimes are carried out with impunity, such as the arson attack on the Dawabshih family home in the village of Duma on 31 July 2015 that killed 8-month-old Ali and the parents, leaving the 4 year-old Ahmed orphaned and permanently injured. Extremist settlers regularly execute attacks, including “price tag” crimes1, against Palestinian civilians as form of affirming and strengthening control over the Palestinian population.

The bedroom in which toddler Ali Dawabshih was burnt alive during the settlers' arson attack

Apart from terrorizing innocent Palestinians, extremist settlers do not shrink away from attacking anyone perceived to act against their interests and to challenge their illegal presence and activities in the region. This was rendered evident again in a recent settler attack on Israeli activists seeking to protect Palestinians from settler violence.

On Friday morning, 21 April 2017, as Israeli Ta’ayush activists were accompanying Palestinian shepherds around Al-Auja in the Jordan Valley, fifteen masked settlers from the nearby illegal outpost “Habaladim” approached the group and attacked the activists with stones and batons. While the activists remained calm, the settlers mercilessly continued to throw heavy stones and strike at them, until blood streamed down on heads and arms. Five of the activists were left wounded, with one sustaining a head injury and another one a broken arm.

Watch the video of the settler attack below.

Ta’ayush is a grassroots group that engages in direct action and protest activities in support of and solidarity with Palestinian activists and communities to meet the realities of occupation on the ground. In addition to their regular activities in the South Hebron Hills, Ta’ayush activists began working with Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley as these are also under constant threat by Israeli settlers. The Palestinian shepherd communities of Al-Auja have been subject of extreme settler violence, which is carried out with impunity.

Extremist Immunity

When the police showed up at the site of the attack, they ordered the activists to go to the Binyamin police station to file a complaint. However, the police station was empty and the activists were thus forced to leave and to return on Sunday. A police spokesperson had merely said that they had received a report and would open an investigation. The activists expect the police to close the investigation soon under the pretext that they could not find the attackers as they were masked – a pathetic yet very common excuse that forestalls investigations into and prosecution of settler crimes.

Adherents of the extreme right, like the barbecuing radicals and the settlers of “Habaladim”, feel that they can do whatever they want as they are endowed with impunity by the Israeli State. They are perfectly aware of their rule over the Palestinian population, which is underpinned by the disparate legal systems inextricably linked to Israel’s apartheid regime. The destructive hatred of the extreme right and of growing parts of the Israeli public encompasses Jewish Israeli political opponents and allies of Palestinians, who are subject to verbal and physical assault.

Israeli right-wing protesters march through the streets of central Tel Aviv, shouting “Death to the Arabs”. During the protest, they attacked left-wing activists protesting against the Israeli attack on Gaza. 12 July 2014.

To sustain the system of occupation and apartheid, internal enemies also need to be disenfranchised and silenced. The atmosphere of terror that Palestinians and increasingly their Jewish Israeli allies experience is enabled and fueled by the contempt for the rule of law, human rights, and humanity by the Israeli State.

Defying Acts of Aggression

As the cases discussed above reveal, Palestinians have to submit to different legal systems and different courts, which set forth divergent standards of evidence and procedure. These entail disproportionately severe penalties for Palestinians as compared to their Jewish Israeli counterparts. This discriminatory system emboldens extremist acts of aggression.

Rather than diminishing the Palestinian hunger strikers’ determination, however, the provocative barbecue has strengthened their will to fight against the brutal occupation and for their rights. Indeed, it may further enhance the growing solidarity and support among the Palestinian, dissident Israeli, and international public. Hundreds of Palestinians have taken to the streets to express solidarity with the current hunger strikers – which are from across the political spectrum. The hunger strike thus not only demands the prisoners’ rights and dignity but also reminds of the steadfastness and sacrifice Palestinians continue to show in the face of injustice and leads the way towards a politically more united struggle against the occupation.

In the face of criminalization, of attacks on their lives and safety, and of a toxic public atmosphere, the political and private lives of Israeli dissidents are becoming more difficult and dangerous. The experienced threats, however, will make them more resolute in their fight against an inhumane system that negates humanity, erodes the rule of law, scorns international commitments, and persecutes defenders of fundamental rights.

GICJ reiterates its position that the only way to end violations in the region is to dismember the brutal occupying system. The liberation of Palestinians from the shackles of occupation and apartheid and the dissolution of discrimination against ethnic and increasingly political minorities within Israel would give way to real democracy and just peace in the region. To finally achieve this aim, all actors that are genuinely concerned about human rights and peace must act as united front to bring to an end an inhumane system that threatens the humanity of and justice for all of us. Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls on the United Nations, in particular the Human Rights Council, and Member States to take all necessary measures to ensure that Israel:

• Fully comply with the demands of the hunger strikers, inter alia,

      by releasing immediately all political prisoners and administrative detainees and ensure fair and speedy trials for those charged with an offense;

   by ensuring that prisoners are treated in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law; hence by ceasing torture and ill-treatment and solitary confinement of Palestinian prisoners;

      by allowing for family visits and appropriate medical care;

• Facilitate access of independent representatives of humanitarian organizations to monitor and alleviate the situation of the hunger strikers and other prisoners;

• End the use of the criminal, legal and security tools to obstruct legitimate opposition to the occupation, including the use of arbitrary arrests and detentions;

• Prevent incitement and attacks against Palestinians and Israeli political opponents, thoroughly investigate violations, and bring perpetrators to justice.

We call on all civil society actors to continue their courageous and intrepid efforts to document and expose violations by the Occupying Power and to raise their voices to finally achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

1. “Price tag” crimes are acts of violence against Palestinians as reaction to actions by Israeli authorities perceived as harmful to the settlement enterprise.

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