Visit to Palestinian detainees

FRFI 171 February / March 2003

I went to Palestine at the beginning of December 2002. Whilst I was there I visited six Palestinian detainees held in a special prison in Jericho. The six detainees are alleged by the Israelis to have been involved in the assassination by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) of the extreme right wing Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavam Ze'evi in October 2001. The assassination of Ze’evi was a direct response by the PFLP to the Israeli assassination of their leader Abu Ali Mustafa in August the same year. The six men were handed over to the British and US military by Arafat in return for an end to the Israeli siege of his headquarters in Ramallah in April 2002.

Four were convicted at Arafat’s behest after hastily-arranged kangaroo court trials and sentenced to between one and 18 years in prison. The trial took place behind closed doors in Arafat’s compound whilst it was besieged by Israeli tanks. None of the detainees were allowed to give evidence. There is no right of appeal. The remaining two are Fuad Shubeiki and Ahmad Sa’adat, Secretary General of the PFLP and the most senior member of the Palestinian resistance yet to be detained. Israeli government spokesmen have commented that if any of the six are released they will be assassinated. Hence Arafat obligingly keeps them in gaol, an act condemned by the detainees and legitimised by the presence of British and American guards at the prison.

During my visit I was able to speak to Sa’adat. His brother was assassinated by the Israelis in August 2002. His wife has now also been detained (see letters). Their families’ homes have been demolished by the Israelis, leaving them homeless. I was struck by Ahmad’s quiet outrage at what had happened, not to them personally, but what was happening to the Palestinian people as a whole. An inspiring, quietly spoken figure, he patiently explained that what was happening to him was not special. Despite the conditions of their detention he and the others had no complaints about their treatment by the Palestinian Authority guards at the prison. On one matter all were agreed. It is not the conditions of their detention that concerns them – some have no access to the telephone, all their correspondence is opened and they have little or no access to books or newspapers. It is the fact that they are detained at all and that the international community – in particular Britain and the USA – is acting only to legitimise their wrongful detention in the same way that it acts to legitimise the actions of the Israeli occupation forces and settlers.

Ahmad asked a lot of questions, to which I had no answer. ‘Under what law am I staying here?’ he asked, ‘They don’t tell me anything. We are in the same position now as when we were surrounded in Ramallah. The UK and the US say they are only monitors but really they are guards enforcing the deal the Palestinian Authority made with the Israelis. The Palestinian Authority is co-operating with the Israelis and the guards are helping the Israelis…But the most important thing is that the Palestinian people need to be saved. Not just these six prisoners. The main job of the UK and the US is to save people under occupation, to oblige the Israelis to respect international law and human rights. The real struggle is between our people and the occupation.’

The six detainees are Ilyad Gholmi (already served his one-year sentence), Majdi Rimawi (8 years), Basil Al Asmar (12 years), Hamdi Quran (18 years), Amad Sa’adat and Fuad Shubeiki (both remain detained although their release was ordered by the Palestinian Authority high court in June 2002).
Daniel Guedalla


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