Solidarity with Palestinian prisoners

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Solidarity with palestinian prisoners

On 24 April 12-year-old Dima Al Wawi was released from prison. She had been arrested on her way to school and accused of carrying a knife. She was imprisoned in Israel’s notorious HaSharon women’s prison, an overcrowded and filthy gaol, where food is insufficient and often infested with insects, women are routinely denied sanitary items during menstruation and threats, beatings, humiliation and sexual violence, and internal body searches are standard. HaSharon is one of five Israeli prisons run by G4S, which also provides guards at Israeli military bases, and services and equipment to Israeli checkpoints. Dima ‘confessed’ to wanting to ‘stab a Jew with a knife’ and was subsequently convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter and illegal possession of a knife. Her parents were fined NIS8,000 (£1,488). Israeli children under 14 are not given prison sentences, however a separate military law enables Palestinian children as young as 12 to be gaoled. Nazia Mukti reports.

Locking up children

Dima was the youngest ever girl, and one of an increasing number of children to be imprisoned by Israel this year. By February, 438 children were in prison for ‘security-related offences’ – a rapid increase from 170 in September 2015.

In April 2016, 567 Palestinians were arrested, bringing total arrests since October 2015 to 5,334. Following arrest, Palestinians are usually taken to a detention or interrogation centre – there are four of each across the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel – and then to one of 17 prisons, only one of which is in the Occupied Territories. There is a 99.7% conviction rate of Palestinians at Israeli military courts and trials often require no evidence.

To visit imprisoned relatives, Palestinians require family visitation permits to enter Israel, which they are routinely denied on ‘unspecified security reasons’. A common threat used by Israeli officials during interrogation is that of deportation to Gaza, which in turn is then often a condition of release. Threats to destroy family homes and deport prisoners’ whole families are also common and in March the Knesset (Israeli parliament) sought approval to deport to Gaza the family of any Palestinian accused of attacking Israeli settlers, soldiers or police.

Seventeen-year-old Mohammed Amarneh was arrested on 2 March; he was beaten on arrest, and then hit repeatedly by an interrogator and IDF soldier. He was sentenced to three months’ administrative detention and is one of nearly 750 Palestinians held under administrative detention, without charge or trial. These detention orders can be renewed indefinitely, on the basis of undisclosed ‘evidence’ that neither the detainee nor their legal representatives are allowed to view.

On 10 May, Ahmed Manasra, now 14 and aged 13 at the time of the alleged offence, was convicted of two counts of attempted murder, despite the lack of any evidence. A video surfaced of a racially abusive mob beating him up and interrogators intimidating him with no legal representatives or family members present. He has been sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison.

Attacks on students and academics

Engineering student Alaa Assaf was arrested following a raid on her family home and was one of at least 14 people arrested in early morning raids on the homes of students at Palestinian universities. Islam Qadah, a student at Bir Zeit university, was released from administrative detention after serving three months in March and is now unable to complete her degree, as a condition of her release was a ban from the university town.

Renowned astrophysicist Imad Barghouthi, professor of theoretical space-plasma physics at Al-Quds university and former NASA employee, was sentenced to three months administrative detention on 2 May. This was his second detention; the first followed travel to a conference in the UAE, and an international outcry from the scientific community led to his early release. Several prisoners under administrative detention have protested by going on hunger strike, including Fuad Assi, Adib Mafarjah and Sami Janazrah.

Solitary confinement and torture

Seventeen prisoners are held in solitary confinement for ‘threat to state security’ despite no evidence to support this claim, including 34-year-old Noureddine Amer from Qalqilya, in isolation since 2013 and serving a 55-year sentence. Imprisoned since 2002, he was beaten in July 2015 by five military guards. Three of his brothers are also in prison: Nidal, Abdul Salam and Aysar, sentenced to life imprisonment, 20 years and administrative detention respectively.

The Israeli prison service also uses ‘special units’ to subject prisoners to cruel and inhumane treatment. Sudden cell inspections take place without notice and prisoners are often interrupted during prayer or whilst breaking fast during Ramadan. Prisoners are dragged, beaten, verbally abused and have their possessions confiscated.

In April, armed units broke into section 14 of Nafha prison, following an altercation between guards and prisoners, which began because two prisoners, Akram Siyam and Muharreb Da’is, were refused the right to use the bathroom. Prisoners were beaten, tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed. Muharreb Da’is was returned to the unit but a second attack followed shortly. When prisoners refused to hand Muharreb back to the guards, a larger force set upon the prisoners with dogs and batons.

Cancer sufferer Yousry Al Masri was beaten with a baton on his neck and spine. Prisoners then had all electrical appliances removed, family visits denied and were kept in isolation from each other.

Criminalising solidarity

On 8 May, Sheikh Raed Salah began a nine-month prison term for ‘incitement’. Salah, leader of the northern wing of the Islamic Movement, has served sentences for similar charges in the past and was one of the activists aboard the Mavi Marmara flotilla. He was arrested in Britain following an extradition order and a ten-month legal battle. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ban on the Islamic Movement last year, sparking uproar.

Salah is one of many arrested for ‘incitement’ and a further 160 have been detained in connection with social media activity, particularly Facebook, fitting in with a worldwide movement to clamp down on any criticism of Israel and Zionism. Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer reported 13 similar cases in 2014. Many of the arrests took place in Jerusalem and the majority of posts simply express solidarity with fellow Palestinians and sympathy for those murdered by Israel, including photos of prisoners.

Majd Atwan, a 22-year-old beautician from Bethlehem, was sentenced to 45 days in prison and fined NIS3,000 (£551) after also being charged with ‘incitement’. In response to the charges, she said: ‘Your occupation to our land does not need “incitement” for our people to revolt. I am part of an occupied people. So don’t expect me to greet you with flowers instead of anger.’ Her words sum up the need to strengthen the fightback against Zionism and against the attempt to shut down any criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Free Palestine! Victory to the Intifada!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 251 June/July 2016