By EA Dave.
Our team recently ventured out of city-base to visit a small West Bank town in the countryside between Hebron and Jerusalem. Here, I was welcomed into the family home of local Palestinian, Ali Ayyad, to hear about his life.
When Ali was younger, he tells us that he traveled all over South America and can speak Portuguese. However, as a Palestinian political activist, involved in resisting the occupation, he has since been arrested and imprisoned numerous times by the Israeli military. He has spent a combined total of ten years of his life in Israeli jails. Ali is not alone. According to the Palestinian human rights group, Adameer: “Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, Israeli forces have arrested more than 800,000 Palestinians”. The majority of these are male – about 40% of Palestinian men in the occupied territories have been arrested, most of these suspected of political resistance.
During one of his interrogations, Ali described having a bag over his head for 48 hours and having finger and toenails pulled in an attempt to force him to confess. According to joint reports by Israeli human rights organisations Bt’Selem and Hamoked, based on hundreds of testimonies from former Palestinian detainees, Israel “routinely employs psychological and physical abuse in interrogations”.
Such treatment is completely unjustified and contravenes international law and moral principles: “No circumstance whatever may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” (The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, 1988).
Ali tells us that such harsh treatment has ruined his health and goes on to share that most of his family have been imprisoned at one point or another. His son Saadam (aged 29) is currently in administrative detention. Administrative detention is a procedure that enables the Israeli military to potentially hold prisoners indefinitely, without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. Detainees are not informed of the reasons for their detention, denying them the possibility of examining evidence or gathering a defense.
Ali’s other sons, Hansa (22), Ahmed (27) and Mohammed (25) have all spent time in jail. Ali tells us that Ahmed was cuffed on his arrest and then left on the ground for four hours. Mohammad was kicked so hard his appendicitis scar burst. Although all detainees should have access to adequate medical provisions in prison (Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, 1955), this was not Mohammed’s experience. After serving his sentence, he was released disabled due to receiving incorrect medication in jail, which had caused damage to his internal organs.
Ali explained that, even now he is ‘free’ his punishment continues because in occupied Palestine, Israel demands permits for everything; building, movement within Palestine (such as medical appointments, family visits, cultural visits and access to land) as well as leaving Palestine. The permit system is one of a number of ways that Israel maintains bureaucratic control over the Palestinian population. Once you’ve been in prison, you cannot obtain a permit and your freedom of movement (a universal human right) is even more restricted.
There was a time when Ali and his four sons were all in prison leaving just his wife and daughter Rahaf (15) behind. The commonality of imprisonment can have economic, as well as obvious emotional consequences for family members. Due to rigidity of the permit system, applications for prison visits can be difficult to arrange. Rahaf tells us that she has a special bond with her youngest brother Hansa and visited him seven times. However, for six months she was denied a permit for visits and when she asked why, was told it was because she is a terrorist. The distress caused by this situation meant she had needed pyschological support from Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Ali reflects on the the treatment of Palestinian activists across the occupied territory. He describes being with his best friend at a protest, when the friend was shot in the head at point blank range. His sister’s son, Yusef, had been shot dead. He said he never complained to the authorities because it caused too many problems (our recent blog, Violence with Impunity, describes the poor treatment Palestinians often receive when reporting a crime).
Ali feels that prison puts life on hold so is “like a cemetery”. However he also tells us that among Palestinian prisoners there is solidarity and unity. Ali tries to cultivate hope by working with families in his community of Beir Ummar, who have family members in prison. He said 118 people from Beit Ummar are in prison and 60% of them are under 18.
The justice system under which Ali and other Palestinian activists are tried is cause for concern. Israel has established an asymmetrical legal framework for Palestinians and Israeli’s. Unlike Israeli’s and Israeli settlers in the West Bank who are tried in civil courts, Palestinians in the occupied territory are trialed in military courts, with a 99% conviction rate.
Torture and ill-treatment on arrest, forced confessions, prolonged detention without trial and impeded access to legal counsel are just some of the issues frequently faced by Palestinians in Israeli military detention. To find out more about about these issues, please visit the websites of the Israeli human rights organisation, B’tSelem and the Palestinians prisoners rights organisation, Adameer. For child prisoners, please see DCI Palestine.
Write to your elected representatives today to raise your concerns about the unlawful detention and torture of Palestinians. Ask them to take action under the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.