Israel imposes excessive restrictions on family visits to Palestinian prisoners from the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.
“The Israeli government should abide by international humanitarian law and do more to facilitate contact between prisoners and their families,” the organisation said in a statement.
Some 334 prisoners are being held by Israel charged with “security crimes” related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to official information provided to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. They include two women and a child. An additional detainee is held without charge.
“The Israeli government is unlawfully incarcerating prisoners from Gaza inside Israel and then making it very hard for their families to visit them,” said Sari Bashi, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director. “The government’s security concerns over having these families enter Israel for visits with their loved ones are of its own making.”
Family members must obtain permits from the military to enter Israel to visit prisoners; this includes passing an Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) security screening.
“The authorities have imposed general limitations on Gaza families’ entry into Israel that unnecessarily hinder visits to incarcerated loved ones,” the organisation said. By contrast, family members of the more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners and detainees from the West Bank are subject to only some of these restrictions, and they can visit relatives more frequently.
The Israel Prison Service allows prison visits every two weeks for all prisoners and more frequent visits for pre-trial detainees. However, Palestinian families from Gaza can only obtain entry permits for a prison visit from the military every two months at most.
In addition, while the Prison Service allows all immediate family members and grandparents to visit security prisoners, the Israeli military will only permit entry into Israel from Gaza for spouses, parents and children under 16. Siblings, grandparents, and sons and daughters 16 or older are denied entry. Families from the West Bank are not subject to these restrictions.
“Family visits have little meaning if sons and daughters can’t meet their parents,” Bashi said.