Released @ 10.00 hours GMT 11th March 1997
Israeli authorities prevent Palestinian lawyers from the Gaza Strip from reaching Palestinians detained and imprisoned in Israel, effectively leaving them without access to legal counsel.
Palestinian lawyers are required to possess special permits in order to visit Palestinians detained and imprisoned in Israel, which are valid for one year and must be obtained from the Israeli Civil Administration’s Officer in Charge of Legal Affairs. Israel continues to require Palestinian lawyers to obtain the special permits for access to Israeli prisons, even since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority and despite the fact that the Israeli Civil Administration has no jurisdiction in the autonomous areas. In April 1996 of the special permits issued by Israel expired, and applications during the last few months by the Palestinian Bar Association, lawyers and human rights organisations were either rejected or not responded to. Effectively, almost five hundred Palestinian lawyers from the Gaza Strip are denied access to Palestinian detainees and prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
Israel requires the special permits in addition to the travel permits that all Gazans including lawyers are required to have in order to enter Israel. Lawyers are not exempt from the strict closures which block cross-border movement into Israel. Israel carries out extensive security investigations into all applicants for permits, and uses the “security” pretext to restrict freedom of movement. Even if a Palestinian lawyer is granted a travel permit, he is denied access to Israeli prisons without the possession of a special permit.
Palestinian law provides a system of professional recognition and registration for lawyers. All Palestinian lawyers are required to possess professional identification cards issued by the Palestinian Bar Association, and to register with the Chief Registrar of the Palestinian High Court of Justice. However this system is not recognised by the Israeli authorities.
Consequently, Palestinians from the Gaza Strip held in Israeli prisons are denied the right to legal counsel prior to, during and following trials before the Israeli Military Courts. These Courts notoriously defy international minimum standards for fair trial and they have continued to function since re-deployment. The Court for Gaza is situated in the Gaza Strip, in the Erez military area, which is still under Israeli jurisdiction. In order to have access to this area and to the Military Court, Palestinian lawyers must obtain both a travel permit and a special permit from the Israeli authorities.
Each month hundreds of Palestinians are arrested by Israeli security forces; often they are Palestinian labourers seeking work, or students trying to reach their universities in the West Bank, who are caught without the required travel permit. They are arrested at Israeli border-crossings, Israeli military checkpoints inside the Gaza Strip, and in areas under Israeli control inside Gaza; and they cannot afford Israeli lawyers.
Implications of denying access for Palestinian lawyers’ from the Gaza Strip to Palestinians detained in Israel:
i. Pre-trial detention can be extended by the ruling of a single judge, and without legal counsel.
ii. The ICRC, is officially required to be informed of the whereabouts of detainees, but there is no requirement that they be so informed until 14 days after arrest. However Palestinians are often brought before the Military Court within 4-7 days so that Palestinians have been sentenced before they have had access to any advice, assistance or legal counsel.
iii. Palestinian detainees are deprived of the right to inform their families of their arrest; and Israel does not have an information system by which families can enquire about their whereabouts. By the time they are located Palestinians have often tried and sentenced.
iv. Israel severely restricts Palestinian family visits to prisons. Family visits are often denied and when permitted, visits are regularly cancelled, so that prisoners don’t receive family visits for several months at a time.
v. Defendants are often fined, only upon payment of which they can be released. However, as prisoners do not have contact with their family or a lawyer, they can remain in prison for months before the fine is paid and they can be released.
vi. Trials are conducted before Israeli Military Courts which violate international minimum standards for fair trial. Sentences passed down by these Courts are often excessive and disproportionate.
vii. In many cases the Military Prosecutor does not submit proper evidence against the defendant; sentence is passed in the absence of defence submissions, or of defence challenges to prosecution submissions. Defendants are under the age of 16 in some cases, and their rights as minors are not respected before the Israeli Military Courts.
viii. The sub-standard trial procedures go unchallenged as defence counsel are not admitted to the Courts. It is highly likely that many Palestinians would not be imprisoned, and at least the harsh sentences imposed would be reduced if defence counsel were permitted to make submissions.
ix. Israel has recently legitimised the use of interrogation techniques which amount to torture against Palestinian detainees. It is perhaps the only state to do so, in violation of international law. Since the peace process there has been a significant deterioration in prison conditions.
x. Around 3,500 Palestinians are in the Israeli prisons, almost 800 of whom are Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
xi. Even Israeli military orders which provide for the right to legal counsel, defy minimum standards in international law for due process and fair trial, as provided in Article 14 of the 1949 UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a Party. Moreover Israeli practices effectively violate its own military orders.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights appeals to governments, lawyers associations, human rights organisations and international organisations to make strong interventions expressing concern at:
i. the prevention of access for Palestinians detained and imprisoned in Israel to legal counsel;
ii. the prevention of access for detainees’ families;
iii. the use of torture and ill-treatment against Palestinian detainees, and sub-standard prison conditions and trial procedures.
1. Mr Binyamin Netanyahu 2. Mr Tzahi Hanegbi
Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister of Justice
Office of the Prime Minister Ministry of Justice
3 Kaplan Street 29 Salah al-Din Street
Jerusalem 91919 Jerusalem
Fax: (+) 972 2 566 4838 Fax: (+) 972 2 6285 438
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister Salutation: Dear Minister
3. Mr. Yitzhak Mordechai 4. Mr Avigdor Kahalani
Minister of Defence Minister of Internal Security
Ministry of Defence Ministry of Internal Security
Kaplan St PO Box 18182
Hakirya 3 Sheikh Jarrah
Tel Aviv 67659 Kiryat Hamamshala
Israel Jerusalem 91181
Fax: (+) 972 3 691 6940 Israel
Salutation: Dear Minister Fax: (+) 972 2 582 6769
Salutation: Dear Minister