Published @ 18.00 GMT 13/1/96
SECOND PHASE OF RELEASE OF PRISONERS UNDER
THE TABA AGREEMENT
We are now in the Second Stage for the release of Palestinian prisoners, as determined by the Taba Agreement signed in Washington on 28th September 1995 between Israel and the PLO. 782 Palestinian prisoners were released on 10th January 1996 and a further 250 on the 11th January, with a total of 1,200 released by the end of this week, around 3,500 Palestinian prisoners still languish in Israeli prisons.
The 3,500 Palestinians who remain in prison are subjected to suppressive measures and ill-treatment at the hands of the Israeli prison administration. They are denied very basic rights as guaranteed by international human rights conventions. Their case demands urgent intervention by international bodies and human rights organisations in order that Israel’s commitments under the peace process and under international law is ensured.
The question of Palestinian prisoners is a fundamental issue for the Palestinian people in the peace process. However their case has not been paid adequate attention at the political level. Their rights and aspirations have been marginalised and undertakings to guarantee the release of prisoners by the PLO before signing any peace agreement have not been met.
Article 16 of the Taba Agreement contains measures which must be taken by the Palestinian National Authority and Israel in order to foster an atmosphere conducive to the implementation of the Agreement and confidence-building between the Parties. These measures include inter alia the release of Palestinian prisoners in three stages:
First: To be implemented as soon as the Agreement is signed;
Second: To be implemented prior to elections (this stage now under way);
Third: Will be implemented during the final status negotiations.
These provisions are augmented by Annex VII of the Taba Agreement which gives specific detail on measures for the release of prisoners.
The First Stage of Release According to the Taba Agreement
Palestinian and Israeli negotiators agreed that 1500 prisoners would be released during the First Stage. However only 882 were released and this was conducted on a discriminatory basis. Female, sick and prisoners under 18 years of age were to be given priority in this First Stage of releases, but this has not been done. In addition the release process excludes prisoners who carry Israeli citizenship
Of these 882 only 507 were political prisoners, the rest had criminal backgrounds. Of the political prisoners released only 89 were from Gaza Strip. The release process was conducted on a discriminatory basis according to those who supported or opposed the peace process. In addition release was conditioned on the basis that all prisoners must sign a document in which they denounce terrorism and pledge support for the peace process before they could be released.
Annex VII of the Taba Agreement states that female prisoners must be given priority during the First Phase. However Israeli authorities refused to release four of them in violation of its commitments under the Agreement. In protest all but one of the female Palestinian prisoners who were due to be released refused to leave the prison. Consequently 38 women prisoners are still in Talmond prison.
Israel claimed that the non-release of some female prisoners was due to a veto from both the President of Israel and the District Military Commander. This claim is unjustifiable because a President’s Pardon is not required to effect the release of Palestinian prisoners in the same way that it is required for Israeli prisoners. The Taba Agreement was signed on behalf of the State of Israel by the Prime Minister who is also Minister of Defence, and was subsequently ratified by the Knesset. The issue of prisoners is within the mandate of the Minister of Defence only, and not the District Military Commander.
Sick prisoners were given priority under the Taba Agreement, but only one such prisoner from Gaza has been released. Non of the 48 sick prisoners who languish in Ashkalon prison have been released.
Prisoners under 18 years of age were also given priority un the Taba Agreement but 40 of them remain in Kitzeot Prison.
Israel remains adamant that the issue of Palestinian prisoners with Israeli citizenship is an internal Israeli question and therefore unnegotiable. Many Palestinians from within the Green Line are still in prison in Israel on the basis that they are affiliated to Palestinian resistance movements.
The 3,500 Palestinians who remain inside Israeli prisons are subjected to severe conditions and treatment which falls well below internationally accepted standards as well as those of the Fourth Geneva Convention on Civilians and the Torture Convention, both of which Israel is a party to.
Conditions for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are deteriorating and in some respects have reached depths which are unprecedented.
In this respect the following facts are pertinent:
– Individual visits are forbidden, and visits can only be made under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross;
– Visitors must acquire special visiting permits, from the Israeli authorities. Israel gives itself the right to deny these permits without explanation, and without the right of appeal.
i. Prisoners have been Transported out of occupied territory
Following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza Strip and Jericho in May 1994, Israel transferred Palestinian prisoners who were held within these territories to prisons inside Israel. This measure was repeated upon redeployment in the West Bank.
This is a violation of A.46 of Fourth Geneva Convention on Protection of Civilians, prohibits an occupying state from transferring individuals, including detainees, from the occupied territory into its own land.
ii. Appalling living conditions for Palestinian prisoners
From the beginning of 1995 conditions for Palestinian prisoners have become notably more severe and their rights denied. In the Negev Prison which is located in the desert, prisoners have little comfort or protection from the extremely cold winter temperatures. Generally prisoners are exposed to beatings, solitary confinement and are deprived of communication with other sections of the prisons. The health situation is also appalling. There is a lack of medical facilities and Palestinian prisoners’ requests to be checked by Palestinian doctors are refused. There is a lack of food and what little there is usually of poor quality.
iii. Family Visits Are Denied
One of the most inhumane elements of Israeli policy toward prisoners is that they are denied family visits. Both Israeli law and Israeli Military Orders provide for family visits twice a month. However the Israeli authorities have put in place extremely difficult obstructions, especially following transfer of prisoners out of the autonomous areas. These regulations include:
The practice of Israel in relation to the granting of permits which allow freedom of movement, for example to leave the Gaza Strip has been relatively liberal in relation women and children; whereas the practice in relation to young men has been almost totally restrictive. However in relation to prison visit permits Israel seems to apply a blanket policy of almost absolute restriction.
Moreover Israel has repeatedly imposed total closure on West Bank and Gaza Strip as a form of collective punishment, whereby Palestinians are prevented from leaving the territories. Accordingly families are denied the freedom of movement to travel to prisons in Israel sometimes for several months time as was witnessed in 1995.
Israel’s denial of family visits for prisoners is a violation of accepted international human rights standards; especially the standards set for minimum treatment guaranteed by the Geneva Convention which give prisoners the right to maintain family contact and to receive visits.
The Palestinian CfoHuman Rights has documented details of visits to prisons and it is clear that from January 22nd 1995 until 1st December 1995 Nafha and Ketzeot Prisons were visited only once, and this was in September; Ashkelon Prison twice in June and September; to Beersheva no visits were paid.
This constitutes an almost total denial of family visits to Palestinian prisoners. It is a common occurrence for a child not to see its father for up to 7 months.
International human rights and humanitarian law guarantee the right of prisoners to have proper health care, to adequate food, to maintain contacts outside prison and to receive family visits.
These are the minimum accepted international standards, but the Israeli authorities do not even abide by these and thus violate its obligations under international law.
The peace process promised to be the harbinger of new and renewed freedoms for the Palestinian people, which for many years they have been denied. The new climate of peace in the region requires nurturing and the taking of measures which will build trust between the Parties to the peace process. Israeli policy in relation to Palestinian prisoners severely undermines the development of a stable climate for the peace process, and does so in regard to an issue which is particularly sensitive for the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights calls for:
i. The unconditional and immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners in the spirit of the peace process;
ii. the immediate release of all Palestinian female prisoners without exception, in fulfilment of Israel’s commitments under the Taba Agreement;
iii. the release of prisoners who carry Israeli citizenship or Palestinian prisoners from within the Green Line;
iv. the release of prisoners must not be discriminatory;
v. improvement of prison conditions until the release of all Palestinian prisoners is secured, and this must include the adequate availability of medicine, increased amounts of better quality food, the cessation of illegal punishments;
vi. Israeli Government compliance with its obligations in international agreements and conventions on human rights.