This Monday started a 2-day meeting organized at the UN Vienna by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People under the title “The urgency of addressing the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities” and which was attended aiming others by the Ambassador of Senegal to the UN in New York, Abdou Salam Diallo, the PA Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, and which was opened by Maxwell Gaylard, deputy special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The meeting is supposedly aimed at raising awareness about the plight of Palestinian political prisoners and to strengthen the support of the international community for a solution to this issue. The speakers at the conference discussed the current situation and the inhuman conditions of imprisonment of Palestinians at the Israeli prisons and detention facilities, including the situation of women and minors. They highlighted the legal aspects of the arrests and detentions of Palestinians by the occupying power and considered at length the issue of Palestinian political prisoners in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian political process and discussed ways of strengthening the role of the wider international community, including non-governmental actors, in promoting a solution. Click once on the picture to make it bigger.
Minister Qaraqe showed a short film of three minutes at the opening session, before delivering his speech. The film exposed the criminal face of the Israeli war criminal occupation soldiers who chased a Palestinian child about 8 years, kidnapped and jailed him while his mother and relatives all were screaming at once “yeled, yeled” – meaning “he is a boy, he is a boy”, but the Israeli monsters ignored the screams of the mother and the boy, who urinated on himself in fear while the soldiers were pulling his young arms. The film, which moved everybody present at the meeting, showed but a drop of the ocean of daily crimes against humanity and other horrors perpetrated by Israel in Palestine
What called my attention during the session was the absence of Arab and western Ambassadors from this important meeting. I found out that they were attending a closed session at the IAEA. This rendered the meeting about Palestine essentially useless. It was a missed opportunity to internationalize this issue of the Palestinian prisoners in an appropriate way.
After hearing the speeches during the morning session , several questions came to my mind, specially about the PA, which while supposedly supports this effort, is jailing and torturing thousands of Palestinian political activists, most of whom were locked in jail after the Israeli occupation had released them. I asked myself:
- – Why does the PA not release those thousands of prisoners, who are crowded like sardines in its prisons and detention centers which are spread throughout the small cantons under its nominal control, while the formal authority is still under Israeli occupation?
- – Why has the PA intelligence tortured them and even sexually abused their relatives and wifes sexually?
- – Why does the PA pull the nails of the prisoners, hang them, shock them with electricity, beat them with cables?
- – Why are hundreds of Palestinians jailed for no reason and without trial and denied the right to a fair judicial process?
- – Does the Palestinian National Authority have the power to release the political prisoners from its own prisons? Of course not, because the PA is arresting political activists as part of a conspirative and traitorous “security coordination” with the Israeli occupation and its americans allies.
I went to press conference held at 13:00 and I presented some of my thoughts and questions. I asked:
“According to my information based on statements issued by human rights organization about Palestinian prisoners, the human rights accords have deteriorated at the jails of the Palestinian authority. Prisoners are usually tortured. Last month February 2011, 200 political prisoner were jailed by the Palestinian Authority and 3000 politically involved persons were jailed during last year 2010. Most of these 3000 were jailed due to the so-called Israeli-Palestinians coordination.
1404 Palestinian prisoner were released from the Israeli jails, only to be jailed by the Palestinian authority a few hours after their release. At the same time, many Palestinians who were released from PA jails were executed or jailed after one day by the Israeli occupation.
How will Minister Issa Qaraqe justify jailing the Palestinians after Israel releases them? Can you give us more information about the poisoning in Israeli jail of political prisoner Haitham Salehiya, and where Salehiya can be reached? Can you tell us more about what you have found out about the trafficking of organs of Palestinians by Israelis?”
Qaraqe said that the issue of the political prisoner Haitham Salehiya is one among thousands of prisoners which the Israeli jailors have used to perform human experiments. The prisoner was given tablets from a “bird” (collaborator) at jail, who in turn had received the tablet from the Israeli intelligence. Salehiya was poisoned and became very sick after taking this pill. Qaraqe said that the issue of trafficking Palestinian organs was true, relying on his confirmation on Yehuda Hess, the director of autopsy hospital Abu Kabir who stated that they had taken the organs of the Palestinians who were transferred to the hospital and implanted them in the bodies of Israeli soldiers without taking permission of the family of the victims.
Minister Qaraqe also evaded giving further answers by stating that the number of the prisoners which I had given was “exaggerated” and that the political prisoners were in jail because “it is the right of every state and authority in the world to put some people in jail when there is a necessity and affect of the of security interest, and national interest and with accordance to legal steps”?? (The minister personal translator translated this paragraph wrongly to English.
Further information about how the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities is being addressed, was released by UNIS in their press release quoted below.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said in a message delivered this morning by Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Maxwell Gaylard, that urgently addressing the plight of Palestinian political prisoners was “very important” to reaching a just and lasting peace, and he had publicly urged the release of prisoners — numbered in the tens of thousands — last year during a visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
The detainees’ release, the Secretary-General’s representative told the opening of the United Nations Meeting designed to raise awareness of the political prisoners’ plight and explore core components for a solution, would significantly boost confidence. He pledged at the gathering of nearly 100 representatives of Governments and parliaments, intergovernmental organizations, lawyers, civil society, and the United Nations Agencies that the Organization would continue to raise the issue with the Israeli leadership.
In the end, however, it was Israel’s responsibility, as an occupying Power, to comply fully with its legal obligations, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, he stressed. Also of concern was the detention of elected Palestinian officials and the more vulnerable among the detainees, such as the approximately 200 minors and 200 individuals held in administrative detention without trial.
The United Nations, he said, opposed measures of forcible transfer and remained engaged on that issue, which had broader implications for the human rights of Palestinian East Jerusalemites. At the same time, he reiterated United Nations calls for humanitarian access to Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit and for his release.
Settlements were among the main impediments; they were illegal and contrary to the Road Map, and it remained Israel’s obligation to “freeze settlement activity”, he said. Meanwhile, progress was being made by the Palestinian Authority in institution-building and the delivery of public services, and Israelis should be comforted by the emergence of a real partner and neighbour committed to Israel’s right to live in peace and security, opposed to violence and terrorism.
Chairman of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Abdou Salam Diallo, said the Meeting was the first such gathering organized by the Committee that was devoted exclusively to the sensitive, crucially important and highly emotional issue of Palestinian political prisoners. However, the issue had always been central to the Committee’s concerns.
The Committee’s first ever report to the Security Council, in 1975, he recalled, had recommended that Israel, pending its withdrawal from the areas occupied in June 1967, should release all Palestinian prisoners. That recommendation remained the “burning question of our time”, and the Palestinian leadership accorded the same importance to that painful matter as to the permanent status issues.
An estimated 700,000 Palestinians had been arrested by Israel since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, and an estimated 7,000 remained incarcerated today, outside the Occupied Territory, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said.
The Palestinians in the Occupied Territory were living in fear, he said, under arbitrary Israeli military laws that fell far short of minimum international legal standards, criminalizing legitimate protest and political self-expression, painting everything with the broad brush of “security offences”, which had not been clearly defined.
A system of military orders allowed Israeli soldiers to arrest Palestinians without giving a justification, he said. Palestinians tried in military courts were often convicted on “secret evidence”, based on confessions extracted under duress or torture, denied access to lawyers, with children tried as adults, in contravention of international law. Many did not even get a trial. They suffered in detention, sometimes for years, not charged with any specific offence.
Prisoners were huddled in overcrowded unsanitary facilities, he continued, denied access to health services, abused and beaten by the guards, subjected to solitary confinement, with family visits severely restricted. He joined the international community’s calls for Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and halt those grievous practices. The “war on terror” did not excuse gross violations of prisoners’ rights. Neither did the occupation justify attacks against Israeli civilians, which the Committee unequivocally condemned.
Speaking on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, ISSA QARAQE, the Authority’s Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs, said he wished to “transfer the file” of the prisoners to today’s Meeting to raise awareness of the situation. The prisoners’ families looked to the conference as a ray of hope and a serious step towards ending the brutal treatment of their family members and their release from the “prisons of occupation”.
He said that the organization of this conference was pinned on a question central to the permanent status issues; it was not merely a humanitarian issue, but a basic element of a just peace in the region and a step towards ending the conflict. The Meeting should highlight the miserable conditions of Palestinian detainees and prisoners and the crimes perpetuated against them by the Israeli occupation authorities.
Palestinian prisoners were prisoners of war, an issue which preoccupied the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, it was a key element of a permanent solution with Israel. He reaffirmed that the end of conflict and realization of peace “will not take place without the settlement of all these matters, including the question of Palestinian prisoners and detainees through their full release from prisons before and during the independence of our State”.
Agreeing that the plight of the prisoners must be placed in the more general context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process, ANN CLWYD, President, Committee on Middle East Questions, Inter-Parliamentary Union, said the Union was well-placed to contribute to a resolution of the conflict and, in 1987, had set up the Committee to promote direct contacts between Arab and Israeli parliamentary members and to further parliamentary action in support of peace.
The IPU President had reiterated time and again that continued conflict would get the parties nowhere, she said. It tried to bring that message forward in the Committee on Middle East Questions and it was trying to get a process under way for parliamentary dialogue. Meanwhile, the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians was very actively examining individual human rights cases of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who are in jail.
Through those cases, the Union had become very much aware of the situation, she said. Parliamentarians, like other Palestinians, faced the “utter arbitrariness” and contempt of the Israeli authorities for international humanitarian human rights law obligations. Hopefully, the conference would explore more effective means of ensuring Israeli respect for the human rights of Palestinians, particularly, political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.
Secretary-General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean SERGIO PIAZZI said that while the issue of the prisoners was not always highlighted as a key component of the peace process, the Assembly fully embraced it two years ago as a top item on its agenda at the request of the President of the Lebanese Parliament. Since then, the Assembly had used every opportunity to request the Israeli authorities to be able to visit the prisoners and ensure their proper treatment.
Currently there were some 6,000 Palestinians in detention for political reasons, mainly members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and each had a story to tell, he said. The common story concerned the fight against occupation and the increase in the number of arrests and detentions with each uprising. Then too were the human stories of despair, ill treatment and torture, widely documented by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Israel must comply with its international law responsibilities, he declared, and fully respect human rights principles, particularly those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Indeed, it was impossible to talk about the prisoner issue without recalling the Fourth Geneva Convention. The right to a fair and public trial was fundamental in a State governed by the rule of law and essential to respect of the detained person. Torture and degradation must be strictly prohibited. The Assembly was strengthening its regional platform on the issue and it would call again for a delegation to visit the Palestinian political prisoners in Israel.
A keynote address by Mr. QARAQE, Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs, began with a short video clip depicting the scene of a 12 year-old boy seized by Israeli Defence Force soldiers from a residential street in front of his family.
The twenty-first century, said Mr. Qaraqe, should be the age of justice, democracy, human rights, and rule a law – a time when oppressed peoples rose up against dictatorships and repressive police systems in an effort to live in dignity and freedom without fear, without imprisonment, persecution and terror. Instead, however, a wave of religious and racist trends, and a “call to kill” were growing in Israel. That was evident in newspaper reports calling for the establishment of extermination camps for Palestinians; there were many other extremist and provocative statements as well. Even past Israeli leaders had said of the Palestinian prisoners – “let them rot in jail; let them die”.
In today’s extremist culture prevailing in Israeli society, soldiers and female recruits took pleasure in the prisoners’ plight, he said. There were pictures of the prisoners, handcuffed and blindfolded, in the detention camps, treasured as a kind of “animal trophy”. Israel was becoming a Spartan State, a military State and an intelligence State. Aggression and extremism were spreading throughout its society; claims about their arms and Army as being the “most ethical” should be debunked. Peace and the teaching of human rights were totally absent in Israeli school curriculums.
It was as if the prisoners were not human, he continued. There were testimonies of torture, beating with pipes and rifle butts, the use of wild dogs and electric shock, stripping, drinking urine, threatening rape, and tightening shackles. A book by an Israeli author entitled “Breaking the Silence” should be read by everyone in this room, as it related the conduct of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinian people and prisoners and described the Israeli Army as a “brute”.
He urged the conference to ask the Israeli State and Army why it executed prisoners after it arrested and handcuffed them, why it had fired on prisoners who had carried a white flag during the Gaza War, and why it had used civilian human shields during those operations, as highlighted in the Goldstone report. The Israeli State was not satisfied with the arrest of the living, but also retained the corpses of Palestinians within secret military cemeteries, sometimes for as long as 30 years.
The silence and lack of serious intervention by the international community was alarming in light of the ongoing policy of torture against prisoners, young and old, and their deprivation of legal representation, he said, urging that it be broken. The United Nations General Assembly should seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legal status of the prisoners, as prisoners of war, struggling against an occupation and for the right to self-determination. Only then, when they were defined as prisoners of war, would laws be applied to protect them and ensure their rights as they endured the long struggle to overthrow the yoke of occupation.
In the ensuing discussion, a representative of the Arab League discussed the spike in the number of Palestinian prisoners, which was now at 6,000 in some 25 prisons and detention and arrest facilities. They were subjected to deplorable prison conditions. Women delivered babies there and minor children were subjected to the unthinkable. The situation described this morning amounted to “silent murder”, perpetrated in a systematic fashion, which sapped the dignity of the prisoners, destroyed their morale and denied their basic human rights. He added his condemnation of the lack of medical assistance, denial of family visits and legal counsel, assassinations, and trafficking in organs.
Iran’s representative deplored what he described as the “inaction and silence” of the international community and ignorance of Palestinian peoples’ human rights. The Israeli regime continued to violate internationally recognized norms and principles through crimes such as massacres of innocent Palestinians; including women and children; planned assassinations; illegal settlements; destruction of houses and infrastructure; and construction of the “apartheid wall”. The occupying regime was committing such brutal crimes before “the eyes of the world’s people”; one could only imagine the suffering of innocent Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine will meet again at 3 p.m. today in plenary to consider the current situation and condition of imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons and detention facilities.