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If the detention of an Israeli soldier is a war crime, what about the thousands of Palestinian civilians?

Palestinians deliver 100m letter to Red Cross outlining Israel's violations against prisoners [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
Palestinians deliver 100m letter to Red Cross outlining Israel's violations against Palestinian prisoners [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Early this week, the Izzedine Al-Qassam Brigades released a short video footage showing an Israeli soldier it is holding as a prisoner of war, Hisham Al-Sayed, lying on bed and strapped to a ventilator.

The Brigades said that it released the video footage after it announced the sudden deterioration in Al-Sayed's health. For humanitarian reasons, the Palestinian faction proposed his release in return for the release of sick Palestinian prisoners enduring harsh detention conditions inside Israeli jails.

Al-Sayed is being held along with three others, including Avera Mengistu, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin. The last two were captured by the Palestinian resistance during the 51-day Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2014. Israel believes they were killed and that the Palestinians are withholding their bodies.

Israel claims that Al-Sayed is not a soldier, saying he is mentally ill and wandered into the besieged enclave. The Palestinian resistance insists he is a solder and showed his ID in the video to prove it.

Commenting on the video footage, then Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held Hamas accountable for the health of the Israelis detained in the Gaza Strip. He also described the detention of a "mentally ill Israeli civilian" as a "violation of all international conventions and laws".

READ: The world continues to turn a blind eye to Palestinian victims of torture

In a statement, issued by his office, Bennett said: "Hamas proved again tonight that it is a cynical and criminal terrorist organisation, which holds mentally ill civilians in violation of all international conventions and laws, as well as the bodies of fallen Israeli soldiers."

Meanwhile, current Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said: "Hamas's actions are proof that it is a despicable terrorist organisation that holds the citizens of Gaza hostage who pay the price for its actions. Israel considers Hamas directly responsible for the plight of its citizens [whom it is holding] in violation of international law."

Lapid reiterated the Israeli claim that they are "suffering from mental illness" and Hamas "has held captive for years in an act of inconceivable cruelty." He also claimed that Hamas "is trampling on all boundaries of morality and international law" because it is holding "the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, while."

Many other Israeli officials have commented on the video and described the Palestinian factions, mainly Hamas and its military wing, as "despicable" "terrorists" who do not respect international laws and conventions.

I want to ask the Israelis about 4,700 Palestinian prisoners enduring harsh detention conditions inside Israeli jails.

On 12 June 2022, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, reported that there were 4,700 political Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails, including 640 held without charge or trial, 170 children, 32 women, seven MPs. Twenty-five prisoners have been in detention since before the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, 499 are serving sentences of over 20 years, 37 are serving more than 25 years and 551 serving life terms.

Addameer, along with large number of local and international rights groups and international bodies, accuse Israel of practicing systematic torture against Palestinian prisoners inside its interrogation centres and jails.

"Despite the absolute prohibition on torture under international law, Israeli Occupation Forces routinely employ physical and psychological torture, along with degrading and inhumane treatment, against Palestinian detainees," Addameer said. "Torture and ill-treatment persist, beyond interrogation, as a staple condition throughout Palestinian prisoners' incarceration in Israeli prisons and detention centers."

While the Israeli prisoners of war held by the Palestinian resistance enjoy the best healthcare and humane treatment, 600 sick Palestinian detainees do not have access to proper medical care in the jails of the "democratic state" of Israel.

People, holding photos of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian flags, stage a demonstration demanding that the corpses of Palestinian prisoners who lost their lives in Israeli jails be returned to their families in Gaza City, Gaza on May 22, 2022. [Mustafa Hassona - Anadolu Agency]

People, holding photos of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinian flags, stage a demonstration demanding that the corpses of Palestinian prisoners who lost their lives in Israeli jails be returned to their families in Gaza City, Gaza on May 22, 2022. [Mustafa Hassona – Anadolu Agency]

According to a recent report issued by the Palestine Prisoners' Club (PPC), 200 of the 600 sick Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails suffer from chronic diseases and are not undergoing the necessary medical treatment. The PPC said that six prisoners have been diagnosed with cancer since June 2021, bringing the total number of prisoners suffering from cancer to 23.

Raafat Hamadouneh, who spend years inside Israeli jails, said that the Israeli occupation "exploits" the suffering and sickness of the Palestinian prisoners and pressures them to give false confessions. Hamdouneh said that 228 Palestinian prisoners have died inside Israeli jails since 1967, including 72 who died as a result of a lack of proper healthcare.

Bennett and Lapid called on "the international community, including the World Health Organisation, the International Committee of the Red Cross and organisations dealing with the mentally ill to condemn Hamas for its inhumane behaviour and demand that it acts in accordance with international law and release the civilians and bodies it is holding."

If they believe that these organisations should condemn the detention of four Israeli soldiers, what about the thousands of the Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails? Why does Israel prevent representatives of these organisations from entering its prisons and meeting Palestinian prisoners? If the detention of Israelis should be condemned, why should the detention of thousands of Palestinians not be?

The case of Ahmad Manasra is proof of this double standard and hypocrisy. Detained at the age of 13, Manasra was sentenced and held in Israeli jails since. Now 21, he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has suicidal thoughts. In spite of this, Israeli courts have, time and again, refused to release him and allow him to return to his family and access the necessary medical treatment.

This is in spite of the fact that Israeli law at the time of Manasra's detention stated that children under the age of 14 could not be held criminally responsible and that he was sentenced in spite of not taking part in the attack for which he was detained.

It is not only the hypocrisy of the Israeli regime that undermines Palestinian rights, but also the hypocrisy of world leaders who protect Israel – the aggressor – and sanction Palestinians – the victims. Israeli criminals will continue to be protected, while Palestinians are ignored and humiliated until the world acknowledges that Israel is a criminal state.

READ: The world continues to turn a blind eye to Palestinian victims of torture

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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