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How does Israel steal the money of Palestinian prisoners?

Protesters take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails on 17 April 2017 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]
Protesters take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails on 17 April 2017 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

After Yair Lapid's party discovered that the PA pays monthly salaries to the prisoners, he proposed a draft bill stipulating the reduction of nearly $2.8 million annually from the customs money collected by Israel for the PA as punishment. This legislation, like all Israeli legislation, aims to steal and is another violation added to Israel's violations of agreements signed by the two sides. However, the reality is even more complex, as Israel built a system that, on one side, allows it to steal from us, and on the other side, allows us to incite against prisoners. Therefore, this situation requires me to mention some of the details of this system in order to show the theft of billions that is occurring now, and has been going on for many years. Hence, there is no need for Lapid's law to legitimise theft under the pretext of money supporting "terrorism".

The agreement signed between the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Ministry and the Israeli company, with the approval of the Israeli government, stipulates that the ministry will deposit $112 every month in the commissary account of all Palestinian political and criminal prisoners. With this amount, the prisoner can cover their basic expenses in prison, including food, drinks and hygiene products. Since signing the agreement, the prison administration has gradually reduced its spending on hygiene and food products to the bare minimum. It transferred its responsibility of spending on the prisoners to the prisoners themselves, as it has allowed most things to be sold in the commissary, including fruits, vegetables, meat, detergent and cleaning products to clean the cells. Due to the fact that life has become costly for prisoners, the $112 is no longer enough to cover their costs. Therefore, the families of the prisoners deposit an additional $335, in addition to cigarettes, which cost about $420 a month, which must be purchased in kiosks located at the prisoner entrances, allocated to retired prison guards.

Theft in numbers

There are nearly 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, in addition to nearly 1,000 criminal prisoners. The majority of these criminal prisoners are detained under the pretext that they did not possess work permits. According to the agreement, the amount of money pumped into the Israeli company by the PA reaches about $896,000 a month, as 8,000 prisoners x $112= $896,000. We can add to that the $335 deposited by the families of the prisoners from their private funds, making the amount deposited via the Israeli Postal Bank $3.6 million a month, as 8,000 x $335= $2.68 million.

Read: What prisoners mean to the Palestinian Authority

If we add the cost of cigarettes bought at the doors of the prisons, which amounts to nearly $3.4 million a month to the $3.6 million, we would find that the amount entering the prison commissary account from the Palestinian prisoners alone reaches $7 million a month, i.e. approximately $84 billion a year. This money passes through a number of stations, and at each station, a part of it is stolen, and the prisoners receive much less than what was deposited in the Postal Bank.

The theft starts as soon as the money is deposited in the Israeli Postal Bank. Although the PA deposits a collective amount to cover all the prisoners, as stipulated by the agreement, in order to buy products in bulk, Israel divides the amount into individual deposits for each prisoner in order to scam the prisoners twice. First, with bank charges of $0.55-$0.85 in operation charges for each transaction, meaning the prisoner is already receiving $111 so far. So, while the PA pays in the form of one bank transaction, Israel turns it into 8,000 deposits, meaning it is making $6,700 a month.

In addition to this, we have the deposits from the families of the prisoners, as the prisoners only receive $334, so the total amount stolen from the deposits reaches $13,400 a month, or $160,800 a year. This is only the share of the Israeli Postal Bank.

Secondly, when the PA's collective deposit is made into individual deposits, it turns the purchases from commissaries into individual purchases. This changes the agreement signed by the PA from buying bulk products to individual purchases for immediate consumption. This enables Israel to steal from us twice, once when it refuses to sell us at bulk price – despite the fact that the payment and agreement is collective – and therefore we buy products at the same price as any Israel consumer whose living standards and income are much higher than that of those living in the West Bank and Gaza, where the vast majority of us live. The second time they steal from us is when Israel is exempt from returning the tax, as the VAT should be returned to the PA, but it enters Israel's treasury immediately. The VAT amounts to 18 per cent a month, i.e. approximately $1.2 million a month, or $15 million a year.

Thirdly, the prison administration makes a 30-40 per cent profit from the commissary, amounting to $29 million a year.

By doing this, the prison administration achieves the following goals:

  1. Saves the budgets for the cost of detaining Palestinian prisoners.
  2. Makes profit and spends it on the luxuries afforded to Israeli prisoners, who are provided books, newspapers, equipment, tools and sports. They are also offered educational and trade training courses, entertainment, drug rehabilitation, etc. This is despite the fact that the Palestinian prisoners generate much larger profits compared to Israeli prisoners and are a profitable project on all levels, including the economic and political level.

In other words, Israel does not only save itself the budgets for detaining Palestinian prisoners, but has also turned them into a profitable market that generates millions. Arresting thousands of Palestinians does not concern Israeli tax payers, decision-makers, or legislators. The cost of detention is cheap and the profits have actually driven up the number of arrests to numbers exceeding security needs. This does not encourage officers in the prison administration to propose positive recommendations to the release committees to discharge the prisoners. If they do, the prison administration would lose at least half of the profits I mentioned. The matter goes beyond this, as the imprisonment of thousands or hundreds of thousands since 1967 has hindered the natural increase of the Palestinian population, especially since the majority of prisoners are imprisoned throughout the years they are fertile.

Read: Barghouthi calls for civil disobedience in support of the prisoners' strike

This policy should not seem strange to those working in the field of counting the Arabs and monitoring the wombs of Arab women, as if they were ticking time bombs threatening their security and project. When we say that the occupation is not burdened, but rather is profiting from the situation of the prisoners on a financial and political level, we mean that on one hand, Israel has an agreement with the PA to provide the cost of its detention of Palestinian prisoners, and on the other, it incites the donor countries against the PA by claiming that it pumps money to the prisoners as support for terrorism. If it was really supporting terrorism and Israel was not benefitting from it, then it would be Israel's duty to sever the agreement between the commissary and the Israeli company.

We challenge Lapid to sever this agreement which steals $46 million from us prisoners every year, in addition to our youth, freedom and lives, and its hindrance of our development as an effective generation in society.

We challenge him, as severing this agreement is much easier than passing a new law, if he actually believes that this money is money for terrorism.

It is time to uncover the modern mechanisms of oppression and exploitation used by Israel against the Palestinian freedom fighters. We are being repressed by the tools we provide to the occupier with our own hands and its most important tools of torture against us is our senses and human needs. This matter requires further discussion and research, especially during this time when the national prisoner movement is fighting. With their open hunger strike, they are saying no to their torture by saying yes to hunger as long as freedom, dignity and nationalism is waiting for them at the end of the road.

Translated from Arab48, 25 May 2017.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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