The escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Israel's high-security Gilboa Prison has shed some light on the great suffering of prisoners and detainees held by the occupation state. Almost every Palestinian family is familiar with Israeli arrest procedures and the conditions of detainees; with 25 per cent of the Palestinian population having been detained by the occupation authorities over the past few decades, there is a prisoner or ex-prisoner in almost every Palestinian home. So many, in fact, that the Zionist entity has detention camps under army supervision as well as the more usual prisons.
Some Israeli prisons date from the British Colonial Mandate era, which ended in 1948. Others have been built by Israel, including Gilboa. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have passed through these prisons run by the Israel Prison Service.
Israeli prisons have several sections, including isolation blocks where one or two detainees are kept apart from the others, depending on the relative severity of their offences, as decided by the Israel judiciary. It may even be a case of them being known resistance leaders. Detainees usually go out to the prison yard, alone or in groups, for at least an hour a day.
The prisoners who escaped from Gilboa spent long periods in the isolation block, which has dozens of cells set across from each other separated by a two-metre wide corridor. The yard area is about 15 by 8 metres, and is surrounded by a 3-metre high wall, covered with iron bars. It would be difficult even for a bird to get through.
In the other sections, the cells accommodate up to 25 prisoners each, which is usually not enough for anyone to move about easily. Each prisoner has a personal space of about 1.5 square metres. Detainees can go out to the prison yard together for two or three hours a day at best.
Open air detention areas have been established to accommodate the increasing numbers of detainees, with more than 1,000 prisoners in tents that accommodate 20-plus detainees each.
Repression by the prison authorities is rife, creating unbearable conditions for the Palestinian prisoners. Live ammunition and rubber bullets are fired at detainees, making the living conditions even worse. This provides an insight into the intentions of the authorities as they seek to humiliate and dehumanise the prisoners. Arbitrary punishments include physical assault, hanging on telephone poles at noon when the sun is at its highest, solitary confinement and strip searches.
Prisoners are also dehumanised by the practice of giving them numbers and only using them rather than their names. They are not allowed to use their names when communicating with the [prison authorities.
Collective punishments take the form of head counts in the middle of the night; hanging prisoners outside at night in what can be freezing conditions; the use of tear gas; the confiscation of papers, notebooks and pens; banning newspapers; banning family visits; cutting off the water supply; and supplying poor food. Overcrowding is also a serious issue and many prisoners have neither toilets nor water in their cells.
The fact that six prisoners managed to escape from Gilboa Prison despite the conditions; despite the punishments; and despite the heavy security, is testament to their determination and ingenuity. No matter what happens next, they are to be saluted.
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