Question of Palestine

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The urgency of addressing the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities

United Nations Office at Vienna, 7 and 8 March 2011

Concluding statement of the Organizers
1. The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine was convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People at the United Nations Office at Vienna, on 7 and 8 March 2011. Participants in the Meeting included internationally renowned experts, including Palestinian and Israeli, representatives of United
Nations Member States and Observers, representatives of the United Nations system, and other intergovernmental organisations, parliamentarians, representatives of civil society, academic institutions and the media.

2. The objective of the Meeting was to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinian political prisoners and to strengthen the support of the international community for a solution to this issue, namely their speedy release and reintegration into the Palestinian society. The Meeting, among other things, looked into the current situation and conditions of imprisonment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, including the situation of women and minors. It discussed legal aspects of the arrests and detentions of Palestinians by Israel, the occupying Power, and considered the issue of Palestinian political prisoners from the point of view of International Humanitarian Law and in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian political process. Finally, the
Meeting discussed ways of strengthening the role of the wider international community, including non-governmental actors, in the search for a solution to the plight of these Palestinian prisoners, on the basis of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

3. The Organizers and the participants expressed appreciation for the opening message by
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, delivered by Mr. Maxwell Gaylard, Deputy
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Organizers heard and shared the assessment of H.E. Mr. Issa Qaraqe, Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs of the
Palestinian Authority, who noted in his keynote address the need to internationalize the issue of Palestinian political prisoners and to treat these as Prisoners of War, when applicable.

4. The Organizers took note with interest of the Minister’s suggestion to explore the possibility of raising the legal issue of the status of Palestinian political prisoners with the appropriate legal bodies of the United Nations, including the International Court of Justice.

5. The Organizers noted that this was the first time the Committee has convened one of its international meetings on the issue of Palestinian political prisoners in Israel. According to the recent Palestinian statistics, there are currently around 6000 Palestinians held in 22 prisons and detention camps in Israel and in the West Bank, of these 300 prisoners were under the age of 18.
Among the prisoners were also 37 women and some 10 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

6. The Organizers emphasized that the security argument by Israel, the occupying Power, was not a justification for routine violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The scope of arrests of Palestinian civilians, the arbitrary use of administrative detentions and the transfer of prisoners to Israel demonstrated that the imprisonment of Palestinians opposing the occupation was a policy of Israel, the occupying Power, aimed at intimidating and subjugating the Palestinian population.

7. The participants noted with concern that the conditions of detention were often extremely poor, and in some cases, life-threatening. They expressed concern at the fact that Israel continued to practice torture and other forms of mistreatment against Palestinian detainees who have been protesting poor treatment, abuse of their dignity and living conditions. In this context, Palestinian prisoners have drawn attention to their grave situation through hunger strikes since Israel began its occupation in 1967, with the last hunger strike as most recent as January 2011. The participants drew attention particularly to the situation of the most vulnerable groups, Palestinian women and minors in Israeli detention, as well as to physically and psychologically vulnerable prisoners, who were reportedly subjected to mistreatment and deprived of adequate health care. The participants noted the devastating effect of detention upon Palestinian prisoners and their families. They stressed the urgent need for reintegration of former prisoners into society.

8. The Organizers called upon Israel to guarantee that appropriate standards of detention were maintained, that all detainees were brought to trial without delay, and that minors’ and prisoners’ visiting rights were guaranteed, in full compliance with international Treaties and Conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Israel is State Party. The Organizers commended the consistent and valuable work of the ICRC aimed at alleviating the detrimental consequences of the Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners. The Organisers called on the World Health Organisation to visit Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and detention facilities and inspect their conditions, and requested Israel to grant such access.

9. The Organizers called once again on Israel to release without any precondition Palestinian prisoners arrested in relation to their activities opposing the occupation. The participants furthermore urged Israel to take immediate steps to clearly define “political offences” and undertake with urgency the drafting and enactment of the necessary legal provisions to prevent future arbitrary arrests of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as their unlawful transfer to prisons inside Israel.

10. The participants pointed out that the majority of detainees were being held in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention in prisons outside of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In most of the cases, prisoners were even denied access to legal counsel as well as family visitation rights, contrary to international humanitarian and human rights laws. The Organizers called upon Israel to fully respect the rule of law in the treatment of all prisoners. The participants also expressed grave concern at Israel’s use of the practice of administrative detention which contravenes fundamental human rights. In this respect, the participants noted with grave concern that Israel uses administrative detention orders in a highly arbitrary manner, with the right to appeal, but without charge, trial or right of defence. The Organizers joined the participants in calling on Israel to adhere to international law, impose restrictions on the use of administrative detention and meet minimum international standards for due process, including by providing the detainees with prompt and detailed information as to the reason of their detention, and with a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves.

11. The Organizers commended the international efforts to shed light on the issue of Palestinian political prisoners, including through convening of the meetings held respectively in Algeria in December 2010 and in Morocco in January 2011. The Organizers joined international calls for an immediate release of political prisoners, who include children and women, and for a proper international inspection of their current condition which should be a priority for the United Nations General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights organs and the international community.

12. The Organizers agreed with the assessment by participants that the issue of Palestinian prisoners had a major impact on both, the Palestinian society and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In that context, the release of a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners, as well as the immediate release of the imprisoned members of the Palestinian Legislative Council would constitute a positive step towards establishing a climate of mutual trust needed to resume the permanent status negotiations. Political prisoners should not be viewed as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations.

13. The Organizers also pointed out that the Committee had on several occasions called for the release of the captured Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit and for humanitarian access to be granted to him. The Organisers urged an early release of a large number of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and other detention facilities.

14. The Organizers concurred with the view of many participants that the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention could be detached from the peace negotiations, but peace cannot be complete without the release of all Palestinian prisoners. It was noted that the continued stalemate in the political process remained a cause for serious concern. The Organizers stressed that the vast majority of the United Nations Member States, including this Committee, considered all ettlement construction, including the so-called “natural growth”, to be illegal and had to be halted immediately. A complete and immediate cessation of settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was imperative and would positively contribute to the success of the political process. The Organizers also stressed that settlement construction undermined trust between the two sides and obstructed the prospects for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian permanent status negotiations. The Organizers expressed concern over the worsening situation in and around East Jerusalem, in particular with regard to house demolitions, land confiscation, residency rights revocations and deportations of Palestinian residents.

15. The Organizers stressed that the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. They noted that the occupation had to end without conditions, allowing the Palestinian people to establish an independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital and on the borders of June 4, 1967, thus realizing their inalienable right to self-determination. The Organizers took note of the statement of the Quartet Principals, issued following their meeting on the margin of the Munich security conference on 5 February, which regretted the discontinuation of Israel’s moratorium on settlement activity, reaffirmed “that negotiations should lead to an outcome that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and resolves all permanent status issues, in order to end the conflict and achieve a two-state solution”, and reiterated “its support for concluding these negotiations by September 2011”. The Organisers urged the Quartet at their next meeting to take bold and effective measures to expedite and complete the Israeli-Palestinian peace, based on the well-known parameters for peace, by September 2011.

16. The Organizers also acknowledged and welcomed the recognition by a number of Latin
American countries, of the State of Palestine based on the 1967 lines and urged countries that have not yet recognized the State of Palestine to do so as soon as possible.

17. The Organizers were in agreement with the participants on the importance of the role played by the United Nations and the international community at large in raising awareness of the question of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities and in calling for an urgent solution to this issue. They highlighted the need for and the obligation of the international community to use all available mechanisms to ensure compliance with international law. They stressed the important role of non-governmental actors, including parliamentarians and civil society, in mobilizing international support for the resolution of the issue. In particular, the Organizers urged all the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligations in accordance with common Article 1, which requires the High Contracting Parties to respect and to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances, and at the individual or collective level. In addition, the High Contracting Parties are urged to take all the appropriate steps for the convening of a High Contracting Parties Conference to address this subject.

18. The Organizers expressed appreciation to the United Nations Office at Vienna for hosting the Meeting and the services provided to them.

Israeli Security Pretext for Arbitrary Detentions of Palestinian Political Prisoners, UN Meeting on Question of Palestine Told

Palestinian Prisoners, Israeli Institutions that Incarcerate Them
Symbol of Oppression to Which Entire People Subjected, Delegate Says

Reissued from UN Information Officer

VIENNA, 7 March (UN Information Service) – The United Nations Meeting on the Question of Palestine this afternoon turned its attention to the bleak situation and conditions of confinement for Palestinians in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, as it continued its examination of the urgent need to address the political prisoners’ plight.

The oldest such prisoner, now 84, had been confined for 33 years, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club in Ramallah, QADURA FARES told a cross-section of representatives of Governments and parliaments, intergovernmental organizations, lawyers, civil society, and the United Nations Agencies, during the two-day Conference in Vienna. The youngest prisoner was 11. The occupation authorities, he said, presently detained more than 350 children and imprisoned 37 women.

The captives were held in 27 prisons, one detention centre and one Israeli Army camp, none of which were in compliance with international standards in terms of space allotted to each prisoner, lighting, ventilation and health facilities, he said, describing a practice of “regular, continuous and comprehensive” torture, suffered by 90 per cent of prisoners. Israel was the “only country in the world to have legalized torture”, he said.

For four years, Israel had prevented the families of the 700 prisoners from the Gaza Strip from visiting their children, he said. Thousands of close relatives of prisoners in the West Bank, and those who lived outside Palestine, also had been prevented from visiting their children on the grounds that that would constitute a danger to the occupying State. Moreover, the occupation authorities had withheld the bodies of more than 350 Palestinians who had died in detention, refusing to return them to their families for the traditional burial.

Addressing his remarks to the history, scope and conditions of imprisonment in Israeli prisons and detention centres, human rights lawyer ROBERTO GARRETON, member of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, said detainees accused of affecting the security of the Israel Defence Force or of Israelis in general were a presumed security risk, when in fact they were only protesting, assembling, demonstrating, writing, thinking or praying. “Is that a crime?” What happened to the exercise of the rights and freedom of assembly, association, thought and opinion? he asked.

He said detention was considered arbitrary when it was impossible to invoke any legal basis whatsoever for the arrest, when the person was arrested for exercising a protected right to speech or assembly, or when the violation of the right to a fair trial was particularly egregious.

In all the detentions, the operative word was “security”, he said, asking whether Palestinian citizens living in the occupied areas enjoyed security, particularly, security against being arbitrarily detained. Every person must have the security of not being arbitrarily detained and, in the case of detention, enjoy the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all other instruments accepted by States to ensure the greater security of their citizens. “Reality would indicate just the opposite, “he said.

In terms of numbers, said FABRIZIA FALCIONE, Project Manager, Women Human Rights Unit, UN Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women), Jerusalem, Palestinian female political prisoners and detainees “almost disappeared”” in the face of thousands of Palestinian male political prisoners.

“UN Women,” she said, “deems it essential to give voice directly to the Palestinian female political prisoners with the aim of allowing parties to urgently address their situation, conditions of imprisonment and protection gaps”. She described the physical and psychological concerns for Palestinian female political prisoners. An inmate released a few months ago told her: “No matter how hard I try to describe the cell to you, I cannot. It is like an underground grave.”

The brunt of the infringement of cultural and religious norms from arrest through imprisonment was disproportionately borne by women, she said. There were reports of ill treatment of women prisoners by prison guards, both male and female, and punishments, and violations of women’s right to privacy were also alleged. Untried Palestinian women political prisoners were detained and placed among convicted criminal offenders. That allowed Israeli prison guards to threaten and humiliate the Palestinian women through verbal and physical abuse.

Disruption of family and social relations also had severe psychological repercussions, she said. Family visits were theoretically permitted twice a month, but were drastically restricted because prisoners were incarcerated outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory. So, trips to and from the prison took around 10 hours, due in part to movement restrictions and policies. No physical contact, including with children, was allowed during the typical one-hour visit through a thick-glass divider. Physical separation between mother and child under the guise of “security” had a severe impact. Palestinian female prisoners from Gaza were completely denied family visits.

Taking up the situation of Palestinian children, IYAD MISK, lawyer, Coordinator of the Legal Unit, Defence for Children International – Palestine Section, Jerusalem, said the children were routinely arrested at checkpoints, in the street and, most commonly, in their homes. There had been some 1,000 instances of juvenile imprisonment in 2010, most of them in Jerusalem and the areas along the separation wall. By the end of last year, more than 200 juveniles had remained in detention. Every year, some 700 West Bank Palestinian children, under age 18, were put on trial in Israeli military courts, interrogated and imprisoned by the Israeli Army. More than 7,500 had been imprisoned since 2000.

He said that when a child was identified, he or she was often hit, kicked and then blindfolded and placed in the back of a military vehicle. In most cases, the child confessed to spurious charges during the first two hours of interrogation. It was common for the child to be given a statement of confession written in Hebrew, a language that very few Palestinians understood. Defence for Children International was concerned at the number of young child prisoners, aged 12 to 15, tried under the Israeli military court system. During detention, which lasted from a few hours to several months, children were often subjected to various forms of torture and degrading and cruel treatment.

“It should be noted that torture and abuse are not the exception,” he said, “but are a deliberate technique used on hundreds of prisoners, especially children, of whom 90 per cent are subjected to brutal torture before being brought before official interrogators or transferred to official detention or interrogation centres.” He touched on several forms of torture and an analysis done by his organization on incidents of mistreatment. Also significant, he said, was that in 81 per cent of the cases documented by Defence for Children International – Palestinian children had made confessions under coercive interrogation, and in 32 per cent of those cases, the confession had been written in Hebrew. Moreover, the interrogation sessions had been conducted without a lawyer or family member present.

In closing, he said that every year, between 150 and 200 child detainees were represented and defended in military courts. In 2010, 163 child detainees had been defended in military courts, and of those cases, only 14 had been released on bail. The rest had been held in prison until the end of their court proceedings. “This demonstrates the lack of due process with regard to legal representation. The defence of children is, in most cases, conducted while the child languishes in prison.” That, in turn, made the defence attorneys reluctant to prolong the proceedings by examining witnesses and presenting arguments, and predisposed them to accept the plea bargains that were offered in order to avoid lengthy proceedings that would leave the child in prison longer than the sentence offered in the plea.

Hailing from Tel Aviv, NIV MICHAELI, Intervention Coordinator, Prisoners and Detainees Project, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, said that most of the obstacles facing Palestinian inmates in their attempt to obtain their rights, in particular the right to health, were the result of systemic failures that harmed Israeli inmates as well. Those included long waits for appointments and operations; prison physicians with inadequate expertise; subordination of the health services to the security services; lack of transparency and oversight; and lack of social and mental health services, including psychotherapy.

The combination of poor quality treatment and ineffective oversight among prison medical Services led to unfortunate consequences, he said. Further, the psychological damage caused by the violence, torture and solitary confinement of inmates was not being sufficiently addressed by the mental health services. The problem was not only misdiagnoses, but also that prisoners received only psychiatric medications, and not psychotherapy. Palestinian prisoners did not have access to social workers, except in isolated, unusual cases. Female Palestinian inmates were subjected to all of those problems, compounded by inadequate gynecological services.

During the lively exchange of views that followed, a representative of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) adopted a more general approach to the problem at hand, declaring that the larger tragedy persisted because of the “lax” measures taken against Israel, whose crimes were “clear”. Double standards and the absence of justice defied international law and left the perpetrators “scot-free” to do what it wished. That was no basis for peace and security, and an end to the occupation. If there was a chance to “tell off” the perpetrator, there was always someone to defend him.

The latest vote in the United Nations Security Council was a good example of that, he said. The arrest by Israel of thousands of Palestinians and their submission to all kinds of violence was a gross violation of international law and to the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Those practices were prohibited by international law. The Israeli prisons were teeming with elderly, sick and children. For decades, Palestinians were detained without trial, under a procedure Israelis called “administrative arrests”.

It was time to deal seriously with those and other violations, he declared, urging that the file on the prisoners be opened at the international level, especially by the International Court of Justice.

Venezuela’s delegate called for the speedy release and integration into Palestinian society of the political prisoners, especially bearing in mind the terrible circumstances at the prisons and detention centres, which included torture, delay in due process, denial of visitation and other violations of fundamental human rights. He also encouraged Israel to put an end to its settlements policy in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, and reiterated his country’s strong condemnation of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law to which the Palestinian population of Gaza had been subjected.

He said his country was profoundly indignant about the continuous assaults committed by Israel against the Palestinian people, including the “criminal blockade” of Gaza and the attack against the “freedom flotilla”. Venezuela also rejected the Israeli policy of breaking up Palestinian territory via the illegal separation wall, and demanded that the occupying Power withdraw without delay from occupied Arab territories and halt all violations. The negotiations process must be reactivated, with the aim of achieving a lasting and fair peace in the Middle East and the establishment of a Palestinian State. He hoped the current international Meeting would contribute to that goal.

Since the question of Palestine had become a “permanent fixture” on the United Nations agenda, the Philippines, its representative said, worried that the issue was sometimes dealt with in a “ritualistic and mechanical” way, thereby “losing the freshness and urgency that it truly deserves”. Among other concrete measures of support, the Philippines last month co-sponsored draft Security Council resolution S/2011/24 entitled “Israeli settlements activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”, as a clear manifestation of the country’s solidarity with the Palestinian people.

She said his country strongly encouraged the resumption of direct talks between the Palestinians and the State of Israel. Only with the establishment of an independent and viable State of Palestine would the Palestinian people fully attain their rightful place in the community of nations.

The Jordanian Government was interested in all efforts to pursue a fair and lasting peace in the Middle East, its representative told the Meeting. It was crucial now to come to grips with the status quo and launch a peace process in a fixed time-frame to achieve specific commitments, she said. The Palestinian commitments should be accompanied by an Israeli commitment to end the occupation and immediately cease colonization activities, including what was generally referred to as “natural growth”. She hoped the recommendations stemming from the Meeting would advance the process in that direction.

Lebanon’s delegate asserted that the Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli institutions that incarcerated them were a symbol of the oppression to which a whole people were subjected. Arbitrary detention measures were a pretext to ensure Israeli security. It was terrible that certain States truly believed those assertions. The Lebanese had suffered similar circumstances during Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. She hoped that the Palestinian prisoners would someday be released, and her country supported every effort in its pursuit. Palestinian detentions should receive the attention it deserved.

All parties concerned, emphasized China’s representative, should settle the conflict through political and diplomatic means with the goal of establishing an independent State of Palestine in peaceful coexistence with Israel. China urged the Israeli side to take a responsible approach to the peace talks; lift the Gaza blockade; take solid steps to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people by, among others, respecting rule of law and strictly following due process; releasing Palestinians in detention and settling the question of political prisoners through dialogue, including issues of prison conditions, facilities and family visitation.

A question by a representative from The Palestinian Return Centre, London concerning the appeals process for the political prisoners and the categories to which Mr. Garreton had referred in his remarks was clarified by the expert. Mr. Garreton called for more cases of arbitrary detention of Palestinians to be referred to the Working Group. An expert scheduled for an upcoming plenary, Shawqi Al Issa, offered comments during the afternoon discussion.

The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine will meet again tomorrow, 8 March, at 10 a.m. in plenary to consider the legal aspects of the arrests and detentions.

Applicability of International Law to Palestinians in Occupied Territory Reaffirmed in International Meeting in Vienna

As Discourse Shifts to Legal Aspects of Arrests and Detentions, Israel
Urged to Uphold International Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Geneva Conventions

Reissued from UN Information Officer

VIENNA, 8 March (UN Information Service) – The central role of the Palestinian political prisoners in the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominated discussion in today’s United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, as expert panellists shifted the discourse to the legal aspects of the arrests and detentions.

From Jerusalem, Tamar Pelleg-Sryck, Advocate in the Legal Department of HaMoked – Center for the Defence of the Individual, said that administrative detention was among the numerous measures used by the Israeli occupier to keep in check the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territory. It was a convenient tool, owing to the flexibility and ease with which it was invoked: it simply required the signature of a military commander citing “security reasons” on the request of the “General Security Service” and was supported by secret materials.

Such an order, she told the gathering of representatives of Governments and parliaments, intergovernmental organizations, lawyers, civil society, and United Nations agencies during the two-day Conference, could be issued for six months and indefinitely renewed, allowing for long-term imprisonment without charge or trial. To finalize the order, all that was needed was a short “judicial review” by a military judge authorized to confirm, shorten or cancel it.

Generally speaking, she said, the detainee learned very little, if anything about the reason for his detention. He could learn that he was a security danger, in most cases because of his “terrorist supportive” activities, and in some cases, the “terrorist” label was mentioned. In very few cases, he was alleged to have intended or planned to perform or have been involved in a “terrorist” or “military” activity. He did not know the facts of his case and, thus, was unable to defend himself. The administrative detainee was the victim of secret proceedings, and the public’s right to know and all the democratic rights attendant to that right were trampled upon.

Israel’s official version for the use of administrative detention was that it was “derived from security constraints and carried out for preemptive purposes in the framework of the ongoing war against terrorism”, said the speaker. The real aim, she declared, was to expand and reinforce Israeli rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in violation of international legal standards.

Picking up that thread, Sahar Francis, the Director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, also based in Jerusalem, similarly described administrative detention as a tool commonly used by repressive regimes to circumvent the legal process and to hinder access by political dissidents to protection.

Owing to the lack of due process and the risk of abuse in detaining a person without charge or trial, strict restrictions had been placed on administrative detention under international law. While international humanitarian law allowed the occupying Power to use administrative detention, she explained, it was only under explicit and exceptional circumstances. Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention gave the occupying Power the authority to take “safety measures” concerning protected persons, or inhabitants of the occupied territories, including internment for “imperative reasons of security” and not as a means of punishment. The Israeli authorities in most cases, however, had used administrative detention indiscriminately and as a means of punishment.

Indeed, she said, Palestinians had been subjected to administrative detention since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 and before then, under the British Mandate. According to testimonies given to Addameer, detainees had been held under administrative detention orders from periods ranging from six months to six years. The frequency of the use of administrative detention had fluctuated throughout Israel’s occupation and had risen steadily since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000. It had been used as a means of collective punishment of Palestinians who opposed the occupation.

Holding that the practice of administrative detention in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory contravened fundamental human rights and was used in a highly arbitrary manner without even basic safeguards, Addameer demanded that all administrative detainees held on account of their political views or activities carried out in resistance to the occupation be released promptly and unconditionally. Addameer further demanded that the occupying Power adhere to international law and that restrictions on the use of administrative detention be imposed. It insisted that the judicial review of administrative detention orders must meet the minimum international standards for due process. The authorities must provide detainees with prompt and detailed information as to the reason for their detention, and with a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves.

Speaking about the applicability of international law to questions of arrests and detentions Said Benarbia, Legal Advisor, In-charge of Middle East and North Africa Programme, International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, noted that there were some differences between international human rights law and international humanitarian law. But concurrently, both were applicable to the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities, however, rejected the applicability of both sets of laws to the situation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

With regard to the situation in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli authorities argued that since the disengagement of 2005, Israel could no longer be considered an occupying Power. But everyone knew that a territory was considered occupied when it was actually placed under the authority of a hostile army, and everyone knew the Palestinian Territory, its airspace, water, borders and daily life was under the control of such an army. Similarly, the Israeli authorities rejected the de jure application of the Geneva Conventions and as concerned the Occupied Palestinian Territory said it could not be considered a High Contracting Party to the Geneva Conventions.

On the other hand, international human rights law authorities argued that protection granted in situations of conflict must be found in international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and that Israel’s position contravened international law and the position of the former Yugoslavia Tribunal, which stated that respect for human dignity was the raison d’etre for those laws. The main concern here was not only that the Israeli authorities presented such arguments, but that the Israeli Supreme Court regarded specific issues of torture and administrative detention in a way that tended to dilute or undermine the protection provided for Palestinian civilians under international law.

Shawqi Al Issa, Director, Ensan Center for Democracy and Human Rights, said that satisfying comments had been made by many speakers during the Meeting indicating a preoccupation with the living conditions of the prisoners and support for their cause. As for the legal aspect, however, available options were a sensitive issue, and thus, the legal scope of the conflict was often neglected.

He said that Israel had a long-standing position of refusal to apply Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as the opinions of the International Court of Justice. Despite a unanimous stance that the Fourth Geneva Convention should be applied in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel had refused to implement the text. In fact, it had used all possible pretexts to refrain from its implementations because the Convention contained articles banning it from doing what it was doing – namely, torturing Palestinians, detaining them, and so forth.

Insufficient attention had been accorded to the application of international law, he said. Rather, the attention had been focused on diplomatic activity and negotiations. But recently, the Palestinian Authority had become more aware of the significance of resorting to international law. Despite that, the United States and other States insisted that international law should not be applied in this context, or only selectively. That was made clear with the recent veto in the Security Council on the subject of settlements, which were explicitly outlawed in the Geneva Convention. He was not saying that all prisoners should be released, but that there were questions about what laws were in effect to preserve detainees’ rights. What was clear was that the violations stemmed from Israel’s refusal to implement the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Territory.

He added a note about the situation of prisoners in Jerusalem, whom he said were treated “differently from the rest”, although Security Council resolutions were “very clear” in that regard indicating that East Jerusalem was part of Occupied Territory Palestinian and that laws applying to the remainder of the Territory also applied to Jerusalem. As for the International Court of Justice, it had rendered two advisory opinions related to the dispute, yet those had been set aside, owing to a view that they did not fall under the direct competence of the court. Clearly, that court had already been “infected with this double standard syndrome”. A dedicated tribunal should be set up to broach the matter of the Palestinian prisoners and the applicability of international law to their plight, and work should be undertaken to ensure implementation of the extremely significant recommendations of the Goldstone Report.

Unable to travel from Ramallah for “security reasons”, two speakers addressed the meeting via Skype. The first, Shawan Jabarin, General-Director, Al-Haq, said the practice of detentions precluded family visits and infringed on the detainee’s right to maintain contact with his or her family or defence counsel. Detainees had a right to human dignity and to the practical considerations surrounding their detention. Palestinian detainees often were held in Israeli prisons, located outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Lack of knowledge about the reasons for the arrest and detention, the prevention of visits, lack of a fair trial and other violations were commonplace and amounted to war crimes under the International Criminal Court and a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

He said that the transfer of prisoners could also constitute the forcible transfer of civilians. Like previous speakers, he lamented the Israeli practice of administrative detentions, in which charges were often based on evidence that could not be accessed by defence counsel. Palestinians often were not informed of the alleged crimes for which they were detained, and their incarceration could be extended indefinitely. The Israeli High Court of Justice was a “rubber stamp to legitimize the illegitimate”.

Nasser Alryyes, Advocate and Legal Researcher, Al-Haq, Ramallah, referenced recent Security Council actions, including the veto by the United States in February of a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, and the unanimous adoption last week of a pro-sanctions resolution concerning Libya and the referral of that situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Those events, he said, only served to “double our disappointment” that the Council continued to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians, who wished to be treated on equal footing with the peoples of the rest of the world.

Turning to the situation of Palestinian detainees, he said the Israeli occupying State was dealing with Palestinian detainees as criminals that had violated security and the rule of law, rather than recognizing their legal status as freedom fighters. From the outset, the Israeli occupying State had denied the Palestinians the right to a fair trial and imposed on the detainees’ psychological and physical torture. The conditions of detainment were deplorable; medical care was denied, as was the right to education and family contact. Palestinians were even obliged to cover the expenses of their detention. Many of those practices could qualify as “gross violations and war crimes” based on article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and article 85 of the First Geneva Protocol.

Thus, he emphasized, the States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention had a responsibility to confront such Israeli practices, and the United Nations should exercise its Charter-based legal responsibility to pressure the Israeli side to fulfil its obligations vis-à-vis the detainees. States parties could resort to article 146 in the case of Israeli failure to do so within a specific timeframe. The States parties should also give serious though to boycott measures to increase pressure on the Israeli side to comply with international law.

For its part, the international community should oblige Israel to transfer back all detainees from its territory to the Occupied Territory and take a clear-cut decision to exert pressure for the release of the sick, of women and of detainees held for long periods, he said. It should also take clear and candid decisions to stress the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist the occupation, as well as stress their right to self-determination.

He said the plight of Palestinian prisoners should assume an international dimension. An international fact-finding committee should be composed to investigate the situation of Palestinian detainees. Finally, it was necessary for the international community to intervene in resolving the question of the detainees and prisoners by supporting a move by the Palestinians to obtain a legal opinion concerning the legal status and rights of the prisoners and the obligations of the occupying Power in that regard.

In the discussion that followed, Iraq’s representative reviewed recent statistics gleaned from various human rights organizations concerning numbers of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, totalling an estimated 6,200 persons, including 30 women and more than 300 children. More than 100 had spent more than 20 years in prison, and 150 overall suffered chronic disease. All of them had been detained without trail and were stigmatized as “fighters against Israel”. Their detentions and denial of trial and due process were violations.

In January 2009, he recalled, the High Court of Justice of Israel had upheld the decision with regard to refusing to allow people in Gaza from visiting prisons in Israeli territory, which affected more than 700 prisoners from Gaza. Furthermore, juveniles were tried in Israeli military tribunals, while legal experts and human rights defenders said that court was not fit for trying children. Israel had the bodies of many Palestinians who had died in Israeli prisons; their families had been refused the right to bury their dead. Iraq was sorrowful at those Israeli practices, which oppressed and denigrated Palestinian civilians and violated human rights and international humanitarian law.

Egypt’s representative added her voice to the views expressed by many of the speakers, but wished the meeting had been held in Cairo, as planned, as the experts in the region might have been more in tune with current events.

Morocco’s representative said, that for his country, the issue of Palestinian prisoners and their release, was a matter of international responsibility, the international community must adopt critical recommendations with regard to impunity, support for improved conditions in Israeli jails, as well as a thorough review of the more than 7,000 such prisoners in more than 20 prisons enduring inhumane conditions in flagrant violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. He called for a political decision by the international community on the issue, in light of the flagrant violation of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Morocco had spared no effort in engaging in diplomatic activity to ensure that dialogue prevailed and that a political decision be taken to settle the long-standing conflict leading to a two-State solution.

Nicaragua’s representative firmly condemned and underlined the country’s rejection of the attitude of the Israeli State concerning the situation of Palestinian prisoners in the Occupied Territory. The refusal to redress the inhuman conditions and abandon torture contravened international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids Israel to arrest and take a person outside the Palestinian Territory. Nicaragua supported the creation of a Palestinian State to avoid such human rights violations.

A representative of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said the tragedy was being prolonged mainly because of the application of double standards and the absence of justice. The world was very involved in the fate of a single Israeli prisoner arrested when attempting to perpetrate an attack against Palestinians, when in fact there were thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. Preventive sanctions should be applied in order to suppress those crimes from ever again being committed.

United Nations International Meeting on Question of Palestine, in Outcome Text, Stresses Need to ‘Internationalize’ Issue of Palestinian Political Prisoners

Exploring Link between Prisoners and Status of Political Process,
Meeting Told Emphasis on Security Disadvantages Palestinians

– Reissued from UN Information Officer –

VIENNA, 8 March (UN Information Service) – The notion that delivering security would ultimately yield a Palestinian State actually excluded Palestinians from the political process, the International Meeting on the Question of Palestine heard today as it concluded its conference with an examination of the link between the political prisoners and the broader Israeli-Palestinian political process and adoption of an outcome document.

Wrapping up two days of deliberations in Vienna on the urgency of addressing the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, the Meeting’s organizers shared the assessment of the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe of the need to “internationalize” the issue of the prisoners and to treat them as prisoners of war, when applicable.

They emphasized that the security argument by Israel, the occupying Power, was no justification for routine violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and they expressed concern at Israel’s continued practice of torture and other forms of mistreatment against Palestinian detainees, noting the devastating effect of detention on the prisoners and their families. In that, they stressed the urgent need for reintegration of former prisoners into society.

In another of the several provisions, the Organizers called on Israel to release without precondition Palestinian prisoners arrested in relation to their activities opposing the occupation, including women and children, and called for a proper international inspection of their current conditions of detention. They pointed out that the Committee on the Inalienable Right of the Palestinian People had on several occasions called for the release of captured Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit.

Prior to the text’s issuance this evening, a final panel was held to consider the question of the political prisoners in the context of the wider peace process. Panellist Aisling Byrne, Project Coordinator, Conflicts Forum, Beirut, asserted that militarization had displaced politics, which necessarily demanded security collaboration to clamp down on opposition. Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory who differed were de-humanized, labelled terrorists and “emptied” of political significance – a process that continued even in detention.

Disguised as State-building and good governance, what was occurring in the West Bank was the “assiduous construction of a police State”, she said. Statehood no longer signified independence or a just solution to the conflict, but rather “alleviated occupation”, which was essentially a management strategy of containment. That basis of State-building was Israel’s self-definition of its own security needs, and by extension, its definition of the requirements for Palestinian security collaboration – a principle to which the United States, European Union and Quartet more broadly had acquiesced.

Because of that “securitisation” of the political process, the number of Palestinian prisoners was growing, she said, adding that the current political process was focused on creating a State where statehood no longer meant an end to occupation but veiled the opposite – a move towards benign occupation. The Oslo Agreements from the beginning implied the primacy of Israel’s security needs over self-determination. Inevitably, such a premise implied detention and imprisonment of political opponents.

Against the backdrop of failed diplomacy, Europe and the other Quartet partners essentially acquiesced to a United States-led counter-insurgency doctrine. So-called moderates, including the elite who were partners in the implementation of the State of neo-occupation, were supported, she asserted, while “extremists”, or those opposed to that political project and who continued to resist occupation, were marginalized, targeted and labelled terrorists. That included Palestinian political prisoners, she asserted.

She said that Palestinian political prisoners had chosen struggle and resistance to the occupation as an expression of being – a way of asserting their dignity, their self-respect and their rights.

Ann Clwyd, President, Committee on the Middle East Questions, Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Member of the British Parliament, said that thanks to the work of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians on the individual cases of members of the Palestinian Legislature, the Union had become fully aware of the plight of Palestinian prisoners. The cases being examined had similar features: the concerned individuals had been seized by the Israel Defense Forces in their homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and taken to Israeli detention facilities, subjected to unfair trials, which apart from Marwan Barghouti, had been held before military tribunals; they all suffered the same treatment in prison.

She said that the cases all revealed grave breaches of international humanitarian law, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention, international human rights law, especially regarding international fair trial standards and the right to liberty as well as failure to respect international standards on the detention of prisoners. In all cases, the Inter-Parliamentary Union had called for the release of the Palestinian Legislative Council members. Ms. Clwyd provided details of cases under examination by the Committee.

Bana Shoughry-Badarne, Director, Legal Department, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Jerusalem, focused her remarks on the long-term Israeli policy that had allowed the use of torture by investigators and those active in intelligence work. Torture underpinned and supported the occupation, she asserted, and was intended to prevent Palestinians from achieving self-determination. In 1999, certain methods of torture had been banned, such as flogging, handcuffing of prisoners, covering their heads with wet bags, compelling them to sit in uncomfortable positions for long periods, and sleep deprivation.

She said that all methods of violence had been employed, despite a total ban on torture enshrined in human rights treaties and covenants to which Israel had acceded. Violation of those standards was a serious matter, and even a war crime; it was unacceptable that torture was still used in cases of “necessity”.

Moreover, not only had the security authorities in Israel used such banned methods, but they had developed new and additional physical and mental tortures and adhered to a policy of impunity. More than 200 visits to prisons by her committee, including to minors, had borne witness to that torture and ill-treatment. Additionally, the denial of Palestinians’ right to legal counsel was not the exception, but the rule. She provided details of specific cases.

Saleh Hijazi, Researcher, Human Rights Watch, Ramallah, explained that he was Palestinian, living in the West Bank. He had never been arrested or detained, but he had long been aware of cases of arbitrary detention by Israeli forces. When he was eight years-old, his father had been arrested; when the Israeli military could not find an activist neighbour in the building where his family had lived, they took his father instead. When Mr. Hijazi was older, in school, he had heard stories of older students being chased and caught by Israeli forces, almost daily. The effect made the students think that detention was something that happened not if you broke the law, but something that happened because you were Palestinian.

In his intervention, he highlighted the need for protection of Palestinian non-violent activists. The international community could make a direct and effective impact by supporting those Palestinian individuals and communities, who – often joined by internationals and even Israeli activists – were defending their rights. The international community could focus on targeted arrests and detention in communities involved in protests against home demolitions, land confiscation, and settlements. He provided examples where such interventions would be helpful, saying that the evidence collected by Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, and by international groups like Human Rights Watch, showed that in communities that were taking an active role in protecting and promoting their human rights, the Israeli military had repeatedly, arbitrarily detained leading advocates for non-violent protests, as well as women and children. It was very important that the international community pay special attention to arbitrary arrests and detentions in those communities.

Human rights organizations would continue to document those violations impartially, and try to raise their profile in the media and with Governments, he said. There was much that the international community could do as well. In addition to monitoring the situation, and raising the matter in proper forums, it could visit non-violent activists and threatened communities when in the Occupied Territory, to show them, as well as the Israeli authorities, that there was international support for those struggling to protect human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

During the ensuing discussion, Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs, Palestinian Authority, Issa Qaraq, said 65 per cent of detainees in Israeli jails were prisoners from the Palestine Liberation Organization, including 1,200 military personnel who used to work with the Palestinian Authority, arrested by Israel during various attacks that had taken place in the Occupied Territory while they were performing their duties.

Responding to a comment by one of the panellists, he asked how it was possible that the Palestinian Authority was a “branch or an arm of the occupation.” If that was the case, why did we come here? he asked. If the Authority was cooperating with the Americans, why did we go to the Security Council in order to elicit a resolution against settlements and suffered the pressures exerted upon us? Some 600 Palestinians had been arrested since the start of the year, throughout towns and villages in Palestine. He did not wish the Authority to be termed a police State or an arm of the occupier, who had “stolen the lives of our people and mistreated them in the prisons”. The statement was perverse and out of place, and should be reconsidered.

Indonesia’s representative called for a restoration of the prisoners’ civil rights and material compensation for their losses during their years of detention.

He called as well on members of the international community to continue to lend their support to the Palestinian people to enable them to regain their seat among the community of nations – a place that had been denied them for more than half a century.

A representative of the London-based Palestinian Return Centre said there was so much talk of peace and the peace process, but to no avail. The swords of occupation had gone deeper into Palestinian hearts. Everything in this issue was interlinked and related to the occupation, the colonization and expropriation of Palestinian land. He thanked Ms. Byrne for her contribution.

Next, the representative of the Arab League reminded participants that settlement by Israel in Occupied Palestinian Territory was “completely prohibited” under international law, and all measures to consolidate and preserve such settlements should be halted, especially in occupied East Jerusalem. Additionally, all efforts aimed at obliging Palestinians to depart from their cities, and the policy of cancelling residents’ permits must also cease. The policy of impunity led to even more violations, which only increased the anger and hindered the peace process. That lack of accountability for Israeli officials and security and army personnel was of grave concern.

Ms. Byrne, responding to some of the commends, said she looked at the issue of prisoners in the context of the peace process. She had presented a critical analysis of what she saw as a direction coming out of the peace process, and she looked at the role of the international community, as well as that of the United States and Europe, the United Nations and the Quartet. All of her information came from reputable groups, such as from the Carnegie Fund, International Crisis Group, and the United States Congressional Research Service. Creation of Palestinian detention centres in the West Bank was an inevitable consequence of the takeover from the Israelis of much of the security and policing by the Palestinian security forces. So it was inevitable that there would be Palestinian prisoners inside Palestinian jails.

Also participating in the afternoon discussion were delegates from El Salvador and Chile, as well as Qadura Fares, Head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, Ramallah; and Roberto Garreton, Human Rights Lawyer, United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, Santiago.

Following the discussion, Saviour Borg (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People presented the Concluding Statement of the Organizers.

Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, thanked the organizers for tackling an issue so close to the hearts and minds of all Palestinians, noting that it was the first time in 35 years of the Palestinian Rights Committee’s history that a conference was exclusively organized around the issue of prisoners. In every cell, in every corner of every Israeli jail, a prisoner wanted to have his or her story told, to regain their freedom and to “internationalize” their story so as to contribute to building Palestinian society and a Palestinian State. The Palestinian story was multifaceted – it was not only the story of prisoners and the right of return, or of removing the settlements or the wall, or of putting an end to the Gaza blockade; it was the story of a struggle to attain the inalienable right to self-determination and an independent State for its people to live in freedom and dignity like all other people.

“And every one of us,” he added, “is involved in the struggle as normal human beings.” Thus, Palestinians should not be judged “on the scale of angels, but on the scale of people living under this miserable occupation”.

“Trust us,” he said, “we are the people who gave to the struggle tens of thousands of martyrs, hundreds of thousand of people that went to jails.” And, they were the people of the First Intifadah – before it became “fashionable” in the Middle East topple dictatorship in a matter of weeks. “We are the Palestinian people… and we beg you to trust us.” He beseeched the Meeting to study the lessons of what was happening in the Middle East, saying “we are the inventors of the collective will of all social forces in our society”, the leaders of the First Intifadah – the entire Palestinian people.

In closing remarks, Abdou Salam Diallo, in his capacity as Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, said there were few things as emotionally charged and politically sensitive as the prisoners, but the issue had to be broached in the context of the work needed to achieve a sustainable peace and ensure that Israel was going to cease committing those grave violations of human rights.

As to what could be done, he noted that the Meeting had heard calls for concerted diplomatic action supported by civil society campaigns. In starting up negotiations with Israel, Palestinian leaders had indicated that the prisoners issue would be an important part of the global package agreement, considered as a seventh final status issue.

He said that in order to enable all Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails to finally be released, efforts must be pursued to end the conflict and support the two-State solution, with international law the available benchmark; it was clearly defined and could guide action on the question of the Palestinian prisoners and settlements. Resolving the conflict must be underpinned by sound international legitimacy. He noted the tension surrounding the veto last month in the Security Council of a resolution calling for the end to settlement activities; so international law provided the only path to peace.

Concluding, he said the Committee on Palestinian Rights could be counted on to continue to work towards a negotiated settlement. He called on all present to participate in upcoming meetings and conferences on the matter.

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