Plight of Palestinians in Israeli Prisons

03/03/2013 08:05

by Khalid Amayreh
Journalist — Occupied Palestine

Samer Eisawi has been on an intermittent hunger strike for 212 days. (Reuters)


As the agony of hunger-striking Palestinian inmates continues unabated, the Israeli government has surprised observers with a secretly-adopted new set of laws. The laws allow for the re-arrest and indefinite incarceration of Palestinian political and resistance prisoners released in a deal brokered by Egypt nearly a year and a half ago.

The Israeli justice system is widely thought to be a mere rubber stamp in the hands of the powerful security establishment, especially the domestic intelligence agency known as Shin Bet.

The Failure of the Israeli Justice System

Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists have called the Israeli feat "scandalous and immoral." The Palestinian Authority (PA) minister for Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karakei'a described the disclosed Israeli laws as "an immoral act befitting thieves and gangsters."

"This is a criminal and unethical act given a judicial facade. In any other country, the Israeli behavior would be viewed as an utter mockery of justice." The Palestinian minister called on the international community as well as human rights organizations to condemn Israel behaviors in the strongest terms. "It shows that non-Jews can't really find justice under the Zionist Jewish rule. It seems they view us as children of a lesser God or perhaps worse," Karakei'a added.

Ismael Haniyya, Prime Minister of the Hamas-run government in Gaza appealed to the Egyptian government to pressure Israel to end its "vengeful" conduct against Palestinian inmates.

Egypt is considered the main guarantor of the agreement reached through Egyptian mediation between Hamas and Israel in October 2011. According to that agreement, Hamas released from its custody an Israeli soldier who had been taken prisoner several years earlier. In exchange, Israel agreed to free hundreds of Palestinian inmates in Israeli jails, many with a little chance of ever getting free given the draconian judicial treatment meted out to Palestinians accused of involvement in resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Israel, observers believe, felt humiliated and that it acted under duress by releasing a significant number of Palestinian "heavy weights." Hence, the Jewish state's sullen hostility and hatred.

Israeli officials have been indifferent to inmates' suffering. One Israeli minister was quoted recently as saying "do you want me to feel sorry for terrorists and murderers?" However, Hamas's spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri retorted to the Zionist minister's remarks: "You are the real terrorists and murderers, and we are your victims. You stole our country, you murdered our children, you destroyed our homes, and you banished our people to the four winds, and now you have the shamelessness to call us terrorists and murderers."

“Nazi-Like” Apathy

One of the prominent Palestinian inmates now facing "near death" is Samer Eisawi, a Jerusalem resident. According to his family, Samer has been on an intermittent hunger strike for 212 days. Eisawi, 35, was released from Israeli custody in 2011 as part of the Shalit deal and then rearrested six month ago. Medical sources and his lawyers say his health conditions are deteriorating by the hour and that he could succumb to illness any moment.

A relative said "a lawyer visited him in prison and said he is in a very difficult situation and he is getting worse." Eisawi's sister Sherin accused the Israeli establishment of "Nazi-like apathy and callousness."

"I see that the Israelis are behaving with us very much the same way the Nazis behaved toward Jews during the Second World War. The Israeli murder us a hundred times a day. They immensely enjoy watching us suffer. They are more than sadist, they are more than callous, they are decidedly criminal."

Putting up a semblance of defiance, Sherin said she wouldn't appeal to the Israeli government to relent. "I don't appeal to them. I know they have no hearts. In fire you don't find water. But I do appeal to freedom-loving men and women around the world to pressure this evil entity to release my dying brother."

“Non-Jews can't really find justice under the Zionist Jewish rule. It seems they view us as children of a lesser God or perhaps worse.” — PA Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs

She further accused Israel of "playing the sadistic card with us."
"They wait until the last moments, when he is only a few hours away from death before they decide to transfer him to hospital. This is a hateful but unmistakable message they communicate to all hunger-strikers and their families… The content of this message is that all hunger-strikers would have die or approach death before even dreaming of freedom."

Interestingly, Eisawi, who was rearrested six months ago, committed no serious offence ever since his release in 2011.

The Israeli intelligence accuses him of "visiting a friend" in the West Bank, which the Israeli security apparatus considered a breach of the Shalit deal clauses. It is highly unlikely though that the brief visit to his friend in the West Bank was the real reason explaining Israel's vengeful treatment of Eisawi.

"This is just a legalistic excuse. The real reason is Israeli sadism and hatefulness. Israel doesn't have to have a reason for being hateful, ugly and brutal," remarked Sherin Eisawi when asked to explain Israeli insensitivity toward her brother's ordeal.

The Sword of Administrative Detention

The Israeli justice system is widely thought to be a mere rubber stamp in the hands of the powerful security establishment.

One of the most haunting weapons dreaded by Palestinians in Israel jails is the so-called "administrative detention." According to lawyer Muhammed Rabai'e from al-Khalil, administrative detention is a euphemism for open-ended incarceration without charge or trial. "They put you in jail in harsh conditions for up to 12 years without letting you know the reason."

Mustafa Shawar, 56, a lecturer at al-Khalil University spent nearly ten years of his life in the Negev detention camp as an administrative detainee. "I begged the military judge to let me know why I was behind bars. I told him I needed to know the charges so that next time I would refrain from doing the same violations.

"And you know what he told me? He said he wouldn't give me that privilege."
There are dozens of Palestinian political leaders now languishing in Israeli jails and dungeons without charge or trial. In fact, most of these people are innocent of any wrongdoings, people like Nayef Rajoub, 55, who has been in Israeli prisons since 2006 for no reason other than taking part in an election whose outcome the Jewish state didn't like. Yet, much of the world's media keeps parroting the mythical mantra that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East.

Needless to say, the peculiarly frustrating experience forces inmates to fight this profound injustice by staging on-again, off-again hunger strikes in the hope that Israel would observe international law governing the treatment of people under occupation and prisoners of war.


Khalid Amayreh is a Palestinian journalist based in Dura, near Hebron. Amayreh has been a correspondent for Sharja TV (1994–2001), Islamic Republic News Agency (1995–2006), Middle East International, London (1995–2003), Al Ahram Weekly (1997–present), and Al Jazeera English (2003–2006). In 1981, Amayreh earned a BA in journalism at the University of Oklahoma and an MA in journalism from the University of Southern Illinois in 1983.

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