Palestinian prisoners: Hunger strike marks Prisoners’ Day

Apr 18th, 2011 | By Mona Dohle 

CAIRO: Palestinians in Israeli jails announced yesterday that they were declaring a symbolic one-day hunger strike in order to commemorate Prisoners’ Day on April 17. The strike was intended to draw attention to the violations of Human Rights carried out against Palestinian political prisoners.

Only days before the Israel’s Channel 2 broadcast exclusive footage on the death of Palestinian prisoner Mohammed al-Asqhar who died in Israeli prisons in 2007. The footage shows how detainees were called for a surprise surge at 2 a.m. When prisoners protested, the Israeli Control and Restrained Unit, also known as Masada, shot at them. The video shows how Masada officers told the prisoners that the firing would stop if all the prisoners would leave their tents. However, when the prisoners left their tents shooting continued.

Mohammed al-Ashqar died after being shot in the head at close range, and at least a dozen other inmates were wounded. According to Al Jazeera correspondent Nisreen El-Shamayleh, “the operation was intended to be a morale booster for Masada.”

The footage has been released after a legal battle.

Asqhar was one of the countless political prisoners in Israeli jails. According to the Prisoners Organization ADDAMEER, at least 40,000 Palestinians have been detained since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. Since 1967, 650,000 Palestinians, about 20 percent of the total population have been jailed.

The Israeli legal system discriminates Palestinians in several ways. Whereas an Israeli citizen has to be brought before a judge within 48 hours, Palestinians can be held in custody for 8 to 18 days before being brought to a judge. Moreover, whereas Israeli citizens are considered adults at the age of 18, Palestinians are considered adults at the age of 16. There are currently around 350 Palestinian children in Israeli jails.

There are repeated reports of torture used against children.

Another major problem is the practice of administrative detention, which means detention without charge or trial. The practice is based on British Mandate Defense regulations from 1945. Under international law, administrative detention is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. However, over the years thousands of Palestinians spent years in prison without being informed about the charges pressed against them and without being tried.

A 1999 ruling by the Israeli High Court declared that interrogation methods deemed as torture may be used “in the necessity of defense” and in “situations where the detainee is deemed to be a ticking bomb.” In practice this means that methods such as sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, beatings and humiliations such as the denial to use the toilet have become standard practices which are not punished.

Yazeed, who is currently still in prison reports in a letter: “I spent the first 58 days in interrogation, those days were very difficult. I spent them in Isolation cells without any connection to the outside world and I saw the sun for the first time after 58 days.”

He describes: “Images of the outside world become blurry … old prisoners who spent years here have forgotten what the outside world looks like.”  While Yazeed hopes to be free within the next months, many political prisoners face life-long sentences and new people are arrested on a regular basis. More than 500 Palestinians, among which several children, have been arrested following the murder of a settler family in Itamar.  The problem of political prisoners remains one of the most acute ones for the millions of Palestinians living under occupation.

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