Palestinian Prisoners In Israeli Jails Face A Point Of No Return

Through prolonged hunger strikes, they are constantly putting their lives on the line to reclaim their agency and assert their political existence

From shackling the prisoners to their beds and denying them medical treatment to adopting a system of comprehensive violence, Israel’s perpetual violations of the basic rights of Palestinian prisoners expose how the use of torture under “special measures” is officially sanctioned and justified by the claim of “necessity”. 

“The feeling of victory is beautiful, but I left my brothers behind,” 28-year-old Palestinian administrative detainee Ghadanfar Abu Atwan told Core Middle East after his release from Israel’s Raymond prison this month.

He was transferred from the Israel Prison Service clinic in Ramle to Istishari Hospital in the occupied West Bank after he was freed from Israeli custody. Being on a hunger strike since May 6, Ghadanfar’s health deteriorated.

“I was arrested when I was 19 years old. I had no charges against me and Israel kept extending the period of my detention without any trial. I decided to go on a hunger strike during which I was tortured and beaten in prison. It did not stop there. When I was taken to Ramle clinic due to my deteriorating health, I was abused and kept naked for 24 hours,” said Ghadanfar.

Ghadanfar Abu Atwan with his family after his release from prison.

He said that these hospitals are “death traps” for Palestinian prisoners. “When a Palestinian prisoner tries to defend himself, they kill him,” the Palestinian activist informed Core Middle East. 

Although Ghadanfar returned home on July 17, he is constantly fighting against the mass incarceration of Palestinians. Instead of focusing on his health, he is out on the streets seeking justice for those who are being imprisoned unjustly. One such prisoner is Eyad Hrebat (39) from Dura in the south of Hebron. He is in prison for the last 20 years. His family had no idea he was alive because the prison authorities had told them that he was not alive.

Ghadanfar Abu Atwan shows solidarity with Palestinian prisoner Eyad Hrebat after his release.

“Eyad’s condition is extremely critical. But he is serving life in Israeli prison, so if something happens to him, the Israeli authorities will not hand over his body or disclose any details about his death to his family,” Ghadanfar said, adding that bodies of Palestinians are often used as a “bargaining chip” by the carceral state that is Israel.  

Core Middle East spoke to Eyad’s sister-in-law, Doha Mohamed Youssef Mostafa from occupied Al-Khalil, who said he is currently at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, Israel. The worst part is his family knows nothing about his health at the moment. A few weeks back when his health worsened, his mother was just allowed to meet him once at the Ramla prison clinic. 

“Eyad is on ventilator support and his health hangs by a thread. But we are not aware of the specifics of his health at the moment. I contacted the lawyer but he said family visitation has been denied and no medical updates have been shared with the family,” Doha said. 

Eyad Hrebat was a 19-year-old engineering student at An-Najah National University when he was arrested on September 21, 2002. His sister-in-law recalls how bright Eyad was as a student. He got his B.A. in Political Science and International Relations while in prison, learned several languages, and also helped fellow prisoners with reading and writing. 

Doha said Eyad was accused of inciting violence against Israeli forces while he was defending his land. He was part of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Palestinian resistance. What has followed since then is a series of deliberate medical negligence.

Even though he needed extensive medical care, the Israeli administration made sure that he returned to prison in the middle of his treatments. So far, Eyad has undergone multiple surgeries after the Israeli forces injected him with some unknown substances that led to his memory loss and complete paralysis.

The Prisoner’s Club had said the medical negligence caused a neurological disorder that has affected Eyad’s ability to talk and move, making his body shiver constantly. The contaminated injections have caused a bacterial infection to spread throughout his body, through the blood to his lungs, and he lost almost 70 kgs of weight due to decades of systematic abuse. 

“Eyad was tortured in every possible way. To make it worse, he was put in solitary confinement. The Raymond prison authorities sprayed some toxic gas on him that burned his body, and his legs and arms have stopped functioning,” Doha said. 

Eyad’s lawyer informed that his client does not remember anything about what happened to him inside the Raymond Prison about a month ago. “Eyad suffered chronic prostatitis that led to the problem of urinary retention. He had a prostatic stent that ruptured and led to a laceration in the bladder and prostate after which he was transferred again to Soroka Hospital,” the lawyer said. 

He was getting treated at Soroka Hospital where his health had slightly improved but then again the prison authorities transferred him to Ramle prison clinic, which is basically a “slaughterhouse” for Palestinian prisoners and is known for its medical crimes.

Although Eyad’s medical reports were not shared with the family, Doha said the doctor at Soroka Hospital had specifically informed the family that he needed three to four more months in the hospital. He currently cannot stand on his feet, carry out any vital functions without assistance, and his life is bound to external devices.  

Eyad’s case is not unique and it only highlights how Palestinians become everyday targets of torture in the Israeli prison system, which has been legitimized through domestic law since its creation in 1948. 

As a signatory, Israel has c0nstantly violated the terms of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT,1987) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966) and the Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV,1949), which prohibit the use of torture during interrogation as well as in custody. 

From shackling the prisoners to their beds and denying them medical treatment to adopting a system of comprehensive violence, Israel’s perpetual violations of the basic rights of Palestinian prisoners expose how the use of torture under “special measures” is officially sanctioned and justified by the claim of “necessity”.

Methods of torture used by Shin Bet interrogators against Palestinian prisoners. Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images

“There are many things Israel is not supposed to do as per the international law but that has never stopped it from doing what it does,” says Dawn Shannon who is privy to 28-year-old Palestinian prisoner Bassam Jaber’s case. Dawn is from the Netherlands and is married to a Palestinian man and has two children. She says she has started a petition to demand the release of Bassam in order to help yet another unfairly imprisoned Palestinian. 

Speaking about the case, Dawn said: “Bassam was originally arrested for stone-throwing and later charged with planning a military attack. His imprisonment changed to administrative detention for 6 months, which can extend further.”

Following an appeal hearing in the Ofer military court on July 25, Bassam’s lawyer Abdullah Hoshieh said, “The session was good in my opinion, and the position of the prosecution was somewhat weak. But administrative detention is linked to the Israeli intelligence and it influences the decisions of the judges.”

The lawyer has also informed that the court’s decision was scheduled to be issued on July 29 but that did not take place. “The appeal was first delayed and finally rejected. The next step would be to approach the Supreme Court,” he said.  

Bassam went on a hunger strike on June 24 and spent 18 days without food and 11 days without water. “A few days back, he was tricked into signing a document in Hebrew with an assurance that he would be released from prison, in his lawyer’s absence. Bassam ended his hunger strike assuming he would be free and boarded a bus. However, instead of taking him home, it transferred him to Al-Naqab Prison,” Dawn said. 

Originally from Qalqilya, Bassam lives in Qatanna, northwest of Al-Quds (Occupied Jerusalem), and is married and has three children (4 years old, 3 years old, and an almost 8 months old baby). “Bassam’s wife has some serious complications in her spinal cord and his youngest child has diabetes. His wife is concerned about their children who have been unjustly separated from their father,” Dawn added.  

Source: B’Tselem

According to the data shared by the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Israeli prisons are holding 4,850 Palestinian political prisoners, including 540 administrative detainees without any charge or trial. There are 225 child prisoners and 41 female prisoners, the data shows. 

Israeli Prison Services figures show that as of August 31 last year, Israel held 4,207 Palestinians in custody for “security” offenses, including 153 children, many for throwing stones, and 355 in administrative detention without formal charges or trial and based on secret evidence. 

Core Middle East spoke to a few human rights activists in and outside Palestine who shared their experiences in trying to make sense of how the Israeli government would rather see an administrative detainee dead than release him. 

Pictures from administrative detention campaign’s event. (Courtesy: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association)

“As laid out in the Geneva Conventions, administrative detention is permissible for an occupying force when used to temporarily incarcerate an individual who poses an immediate and significant threat to the occupying force or nation. However, it is not meant to be used in an arbitrary manner to detain and imprison people indefinitely for protesting, advocating for their rights, or political views. 

“This is also why military occupations are meant to be temporary as there is a chance that the occupying force will use these war-time measures as a way to control, intimidate and silence the people who they are occupying,” said Jane Large, a human rights activist and high school teacher from Canada. 

A search must be accompanied by a warrant or meet basic restrictive conditions, which never apply in cases of Palestinians living in the West Bank. As per Israeli law, detainees need to be brought before a judge within 24 hours. This can even extend to 48-96 hours in exceptional circumstances. This does not apply to Palestinian detainees. The military law permits Israel to hold Palestinian detainees for up to eight days before they see a judge. 

The parallel criminal justice systems maintained by Israeli authorities show how Jewish settlers enjoy robust rights protection and Palestinians do not while living in the same territory. While one faces a 100% conviction rate in military courts, the other does not get prosecuted in military courts. Palestinians need permits for demonstrations and can even be jailed for 10 years for participating in a gathering of more than 10 people. But when it comes to setters, the number needs to be more than 50 for the issuance of permits. 

Israeli authorities blatantly violate international humanitarian law by jailing most Palestinian prisoners from the OPT inside Israel even though the transfer of residents from the occupied territory is forbidden. This becomes a major issue when it comes to family visits. 

Because Israel does not have any domestic legislation prohibiting the use of torture, the boundaries of the degradation under the guise of state security are illimitable. 

“I believe that the basic human rights of prisoners must be upheld regardless of what crime they commit. I do not adhere to beliefs such as an “eye for an eye”, even if they are built into judicial systems, as I believe this kind of retribution only fuels cycles of revenge, retaliation, and hatred,” Jane said. 

Just like Ghandafar, some don’t even fear getting arrested multiple times as long as they could mobilize local and international support by advocating for the Palestinian cause. 

“Be it assaults, detentions, arrests, insults, or threats on social media, I have been subjected to all sorts of harassment by settler-colonists and occupying soldiers,” Badee Dwaik, founder and president of Human Rights Defenders Group in Palestine, informed Core Middle East. 

Badee was arrested more than 19 times. He said he was 19 years and a half years old when he was arrested for the first time and spent three years in Israeli prisons. After his release, he founded the Human Rights Defenders Group with the objective of mobilizing masses in non-violent popular resistance against the occupation. It has been actively spreading awareness about prisoners of conscience on hunger strikes through social media, advocacy campaigns, sit-ins, and by addressing several international bodies, seeking their intervention. 

According to the Palestinian Prisoners Club’s statement, 11 Palestinian prisoners were on a hunger strike against their administrative detention in Israeli jails in July. 

“One of our goals was to establish a photography project to document the crimes and violations of the occupation forces against my people and support Palestinian families who live in closed areas and are besieged by settlements and military barriers on the psychological, social, and economic levels,” Badee added. 

He also shared that a program has been introduced to empower families that live in close military areas. “We give free courses in English, Hebrew, photography and video production to such families, and organize picnics and fun activities for children,” the human rights activist said.

Meanwhile, Core Middle East also spoke to Yasmin A Frühbrodt, an Iraqi human rights defender who has been constantly advocating for the rights of Palestinian prisoners on social media through petitions and campaigns. 

 “We were always taught that the entirety of the Middle East is not free from imperialism and colonialism until Palestine was free. All of Palestine. We were always told that a two-state solution was never an option. I remember that we never heard or read the word ‘Israel’; it was always Occupied Palestine. We never heard or read the word ‘Jews’; it was always Zionists. We knew the difference between Judaism and Zionism,” Yasmin said. 

Badee and other human rights activists echoed similar sentiments while explaining the extent of “medical apartheid” unleashed by Israeli authorities. The occupation authorities were first reluctant to provide vaccinations to Palestinian prisoners, even though the citizens of the occupying country were among the first to get vaccinated. 

Moreover, under Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel, as the occupying power, has the duty of ensuring, to the fullest extent of the means available to it, “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics” in the occupied Palestinian territory (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza), with the cooperation of local authorities. Under Article 55 Israel has the duty of ensuring “medical supplies of the population … if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”

Whatever Palestinian prisoners go through in Israeli jails is reflective of a long history of a sick, and corrupt society, and prisoners like Bassam and Eyad have reached a point of no return. Through prolonged hunger strikes, they are constantly putting their lives on the line to reclaim their agency and assert their political existence. 

It is imperative to support and nurture this resistance but this should not be their only way out of prison. The mounting pressure by grassroots, human rights organizations, and official bodies in and outside Palestine to hold Israel accountable, and the swelling support for prisoners’ rights reflect a seismic shift in global governance to make sure that the prisoners never have to resort to such acts of resistance by causing irreversible harm to their bodies.


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