the most brutal of measures are being taken against
the Palestinian population, the world is being deceived
into believing that political reforms can happen in
the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank,
Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. As the Bush Administration
continues to call for regime change in the Palestinian
Authority, Israel is silently pursuing a violent strategy
of establishing internment camps that imprison Palestinians
from all walks of life. With over 12,000 acts of detainment
and over 5,000 Palestinian detainees now languishing
in Israeli jails, the façade of reform unfolds
in a political vacuum.
sadder is the fact that the Palestinian leadership
itself has become consumed with reform and has forgotten
that the finest of Palestinian political and community
leaders are absent from the political reform process
and will most likely, upon their release from Israeli
detainment, disrupt any illegitimate political agreements
that are implemented. Reforms offered by a one-party,
one-leader, one- decision-maker system are doomed
to failure. The U.S., of all nations, should be demanding
comprehensive political reform and thus that Israel
release all Palestinian political prisoners so they
can participate in this historic turning point in
the Palestinian struggle for independence.
every Palestinian arrested by Israel, entire families
are being broken up, children are building up hatred
and detainees are becoming more embittered. Why is
the world community silent while Israel illegally
detains Palestinians as political prisoners and uses
them as political bargaining chips? Where is the Jewish
tradition of support for human and civil rights when
Palestinians are being tortured in Israeli jails?
Is the world blind to the fact that the Middle East
will never realize peace if Palestinians continue
to be denied their basic inalienable rights? Does
President Bush or any average Israeli citizen believe
that the sons and daughters of those thousands of
Palestinians that are detained will one day forget
the turmoil caused when their loved ones are thrown
behind bars for months or even years on end?
Palestinians are illegally detained by Israel, a foreign
occupying force, is not new. In addition to the approximately
5,000 Palestinians who have been detained over the
past two years and are still being held by Israel
today, let us not forget that other Palestinians have
been rotting away in Israeli jails since 1967. One
example is Palestinian prisoner Ahmed Ibrahim Djbara,
Abu Sukker, who is 65 years old and the father of
six grown children. He has been in Israeli prisons
for the past 26 years and is the longest serving prisoner!
His crime was that of struggling to end the occupation.
The two most recent detainees are my friends. Haytham
Hammouri was taken from his work desk at the YMCA
in East Jerusalem last Thursday and Khaled Bakr was
taken from his in-laws' home last Saturday in Ramallah.
A few months ago another close friend and neighbor,
Wassam Rafeedie, was given six months of so-called
"administrative detention", which is in
actuality imprisonment without charge, with limited
legal recourse and representation, and for an arbitrary
time period. Wassam's term has now been renewed for
another six months. The wives and children of these
men, like the thousands before them, now live in constant
fear and agony.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
both prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment or punishment, without exception. These
international norms do not faze Israel. Furthermore,
Israel's treatment of Palestinian detainees does not
meet the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for
the Treatment of Prisoners, the Body of Principles
for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of
Detention or Imprisonment, and the Basic Principles
for the Treatment of Prisoners. These instruments
are binding on Israel to the extent that the norms
set out in them explicate the broader standards contained
in human rights treaties. Instead of applying laws
of the community of nations, Israel does not hide
its historic and systematic policy of torturing Palestinian
prisoners. Recently the issue of torture has even
become an agenda item that is openly discussed in
the Israeli Knesset.
November 2001, the UN Committee Against Torture reminded
Israel that there can be no justification for torture
under any circumstances. Torture is a grave breach
of the Fourth Geneva Convention (articles 31- 32,
146- 147). Moreover, the Fourth Geneva Convention
clearly prohibits the transfer of Palestinian detainees
from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Israel.
Article 76 states that 'Protected persons accused
of offences shall be detained in the occupied country,
and if convicted they shall serve their sentences
therein.' It is a known fact that Palestinians are
taken to prisons throughout Israel proper, far from
their families and in violation of international law.
Legislative Council member Marwan Barghouti, who was
detained by Israel in April, is currently being tried
in an Israeli criminal court- a court that has no
jurisdiction over Palestinians from the Occupied territories.
Mr. Barghouti and thousands of other Palestinian political
prisoners are prohibited from seeing their children
and on many occasions from seeking legal counsel.
Palestinian detainees who have suffered torture must
be entitled to full and timely reparation, including
compensation and rehabilitation. The thousands that
are currently behind bars only because they stand
for the end to occupation must be immediately released
and be allowed to rejoin their families and be reintegrated
into the social and political life of the emerging
State of Palestine.
who believes that "reform", and, more importantly,
political reconciliation between Palestinians and
Israelis, has any future if it does not include all
sectors of society, regardless of political color
or affiliation, are merely fooling only themselves
and are missing a historic opportunity to allow genuine
political reform take place in Palestinian political
life. It is bad enough that many Palestinian political
leaders have been extra-judicially assassinated by
Israel over the past two years. Now is the time to
open the prison doors, end the occupation and allow
Palestine to rebuild itself from the ruins of occupation,
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living
in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the
West Bank and can be reached at email@example.com.
He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of
Palestine and Palestinians (1994). To be added
to his mailing list, send an email with the word 'subscribe'
in the subject.
Several legal references from this article are from
UPDATE: Palestinian detainees, torture and ill-treatment
Israel's Supreme Court dismisses LAW's (Palestinian
Society for the Protection of Human Rights & the
Environment) appeal to visit detainees, 15 May
more information on Palestinian political prisoners
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