This week I received a letter from Ali, a Palestinian political prisoner from Israel. Ali is one of the 126 Palestinian prisoners who have served more than 20 years in prison. He writes, “I spent already 23 years of my life in Israeli prison but the prison couldn’t break my spirit. I am still a Palestinian who is struggling against the occupation in every way that I can.” He explains how he is fighting the decision of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to ban “our right to finish our study at the open university.”
Netanyahu announced his plans to impose harsher conditions on Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s prisons on 23 June. He described academic studies for Palestinian prisoners as “an absurd practice” and stated his intention to end their enrollment in academic studies.
The European Community held a different opinion on academic studies for political prisoners in the 1980s. As a member of the Holland Committee on Southern Africa, I was involved in the implementation of the European Special Programme for Victims of Apartheid funded by the European Community. Millions of dollars were spent each year, including vast amounts on the study costs of political prisoners in South Africa’s jails.
Reprisals and collective punishment
Netanyahu’s outburst came after the Islamic movement refused an international call to prove that a captive Israeli soldier held in Gaza since 2006 is still alive. Surprisingly, Netanyahu claimed that Israeli respects international law in its treatment of Palestinian political prisoners. It is hard to reconcile his plans for collective punishment of Palestinian political prisoners with international law. Reprisals and collective punishment are prohibited under international law, including under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
The Israel Prison Service executed Netanyahu’s wish to ban Palestinian prisoners from registering for academic study within a month.
Ongoing inhuman and degrading treatment
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza condemned the new measures taken by the Israeli Prison Service in a press release dated 21 July. PCGR writes:
The gravity of this decision is that it forms part of a series of measures. (…) Other measures taken against prisoners include intensifying searching prisoners after forcing them to take off their clothes and placing Palestinian leaders, in Israeli jails, in solitary confinement. Palestinian prisoners have responded by declaring a set of actions in protest of such escalations. Prisoners went on a hunger strike for 10 sporadic days over the past two months.
This decision by the Israeli Prisons Administration is part of a general policy adopted by Israeli occupation authorities against Palestinian prisoners who are subjected to cruel living conditions as well as inhumane and degrading treatment, including torture, deteriorating health conditions and medical negligence towards prisoners – including those suffering from serious illnesses.
This has, in some cases, led to death. This decision is extremely serious because it is based on instructions given from the top of the Israeli political establishment.
PCHR calls upon human rights organizations to follow up cases of Palestinian prisoners and to request their governments to exert pressure on Israel to halt its arbitrary practices against Palestinian prisoners and to release them. It is time to develop an international agenda to raise awareness about the maltreatment of Palestinian political prisoners.
Security multinational G4S
The Danish-British security firm G4S delivers security services to prisons in Israel. Who Profits, a research project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, and Danish financial watchdog DanWatch, revealed this in November last year. G4S described in its own promotional material that it supplied a perimeter defense system for the walls around the Ofer prison compound, all the security systems in Keztiot prison and a central command room in Megiddo prison. According to G4S these prisons hold 4,900 Palestinian “security prisoners.
By providing services to Israeli prisons, G4S helps to facilitate Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinian political prisoners. The article “G4S delivers services to Israeli prisons and illegal settlements”, which I wrote with Basma Salem, gives an overview of these violations. In March, G4S refused to clarify to The Electronic Intifada whether it will cancel contracts with prisons in Israel.
As G4S operates in many countries, BDS activists all over the world have the opportunity to raise awareness of Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinian political prisoners.