On 8 April, the Israeli occupation authorities released 35-year-old Palestinian Mansour Al-Shahatit after 17 years in prison. During his imprisonment, Al-Shahatit was held in solitary confinement for long periods. He now suffers from memory loss, leaving him unable to recognise his mother and many of his family members. It is heartbreaking, but that is the result of Israel's deliberate policy of holding prisoners in solitary and isolating them from their fellow human beings.
Solitary confinement in an Israeli prison means being held in a dark, narrow and dirty cell that is damp and has mould on its walls. The cell will have an old squat toilet from which insects and rats may emerge. The purpose of such isolation is to humiliate Palestinians and drain them physically and psychologically. It can be deadly. Prisoner Ibrahim Al-Ra'i died on 11 April 1988 after being held in solitary confinement by the Israelis for nine consecutive months.
Shahatit and Al-Ra'i are not alone in receiving such treatment. Hundreds of Palestinians have been held in solitary confinement by Israel, to the extent that the policy is now part of the systematic approach approved by the legislature and implemented by the executive. Palestinian women are not excluded from this inhumane policy, and their psychological and physical pain is multiplied given the position of honour that they represent in traditional Palestinian society. Today, there are at least 24 Palestinian prisoners who are suffering from psychological illnesses as a result of Israel's systematic isolation policy.
The Israeli authorities have established special isolation units in many of its prisons, most notably Nafha Prison opened in 1980, Nitzan-Ramle opened in 1989 and in Beersheba, opened in 1992. The latter has three isolation units. The Israelis justify their use of solitary confinement by claiming that the Palestinians who are isolated are dangerous and that they are kept in solitary in order to save lives. However, the real reason is that they are generally popular amongst Palestinian prisoners, are knowledgeable and experienced, and will have an influence on others.
Israel is the only country in the world to legalise its violation of prisoners' human rights; the Israeli Prisons Ordinance allows the isolation of prisoners on security grounds. Hence, solitary confinement is a legal tool used against Palestinians in the occupation state. An amendment was made to this law in 2006 and the criteria for detaining prisoners in isolation have expanded, as have the powers of those authorised to impose the punishment. This includes the Supreme Court of Justice, which relies, by the way, on "secret reports" from the Israeli intelligence services when dealing with Palestinians.
Moreover, a law passed in 2010 and known as the Shalit Law not only allows prisoners to be held in solitary confinement but also the imposition of harsher penalties. They include indefinite periods of isolation; banning family visits; and depriving prisoners of education, reading material and watching television.
Isolation is considered to be a form of psychological torture prohibited under Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It is also inhumane and degrading behaviour prohibited under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, the conditions in which prisoners are isolated do not meet the minimum health standards for prisons and detention centres required by Articles 91 and 92 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In addition, cutting prisoners off from the outside world violates the international standards agreed upon regarding the right of the prisoner to communicate with the outside world, especially contact with family.
Israel is holding more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in its prisons, including 41 women and 140 children, all of whom are subject to the policy of isolation and are thus cut off from the outside world, which constitutes a form of psychological torture. Mental illness is just one result. International pressure needs to be imposed on Israel to end its use of solitary confinement with a formal monitoring system put in place to ensure the safety and security of Palestinian prisoners.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.