Repression is not the only tool used by prison officials in Israel; the prisons themselves are not fit for purpose. Nevertheless, there are countless ways that the Israelis abuse Palestinian prisoners, including psychological torture, deprivation of adequate food and failure to provide the proper medical treatment. The latter has led to the death of many prisoners, the most recent of whom was the martyr Dawood Al-Khatib. False pretences are also used to prevent families from visiting prisoners.
After 60 days of the 1976 hunger strike, the Israeli Prison Service acceded to the most important demand submitted by the resistance prisoners and allowed lentils to be taken into the canteen as a main meal. At the time, the canteen did not meet the most basic needs of the prisoners and they had relied on the bare minimum provided by the prison administration, which was very little. Treats such as sweets were a rare luxury.
The canteen sells prisoners food, cleaning products, stationery and implements for daily use. Although this is a right guaranteed to “prisoners of war” by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, Article 28, in the eyes of the Israeli Prison Service it is a privilege to which access is dependent on good behaviour. The prison warden can stop prisoners from buying necessities as a punishment, turning the canteen into a repressive tool.
The Israeli Prison Service also uses solitary confinement as a punishment. The cells are poorly ventilated and very small, making it almost impossible for the prisoners to be able to sleep. Furthermore, bright lights are kept on day and night, so sleep deprivation is added to solitary confinement as a serious punishment. It is a desperate attempt by the prison authorities to weaken prisoners’ steadfastness and patriotism.
Such practices amount to war crimes punishable by international humanitarian law. Human rights organisations concerned with prisoners’ affairs need to double their efforts at the local, regional and international levels in order to inform the world about these violations against Palestinian prisoners who are on the front line in the struggle but have still managed to turn prison cells into universities and thwarted the efforts of the Israeli occupation to dishearten them.
I had hoped that the meeting of the factional secretaries-general in Ramallah and Beirut would make the prisoners’ issue a priority, and put into place a programme to support them and not leave them to fend for themselves. There must be practical steps in place to support the prisoners’ cause and stand with them, exposing Israel’s racist cruelty in the process.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.