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Collective Punishment of Palestinian Prisoners and their Families

Palestinian PrisonersWilliam Blum once called the holocaust the worst thing ever to happen to Jews. The second worse thing, he said, "is the state of Israel."

It's also been nightmarish for Palestinians. Official Israeli policy persecutes them for praying to the wrong God. According to Israeli officials, it's tantamount to terrorism.

As a result, Palestinians have suffered grievously for decades. Thousands of political prisoners and their families suffer most. When loved ones are unjustly separated behind prison bars, those left behind bear enormous emotional and day-to-day burdens.

Israel compounds them by collectively punishing prisoners and families alike. Doing so violates international law. Fourth Geneva prohibits it. Under Article 33, it states:

"No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism, are prohibited."

Addameer condemns "collective punishment of Palestinian political prisoners." It also expresses grave concern for how prison conditions have deteriorated since Netanyahu last summer changed policy and increased harshness.

Since then, Palestinian prisoners lost access to education, newspapers, other publications and books. In addition, contacts with family members and lawyers were restricted.

Gazan families lost all contact with loved ones. Punitive isolation and duration were increased. Other abuses became more common. International and Israeli law bans these practices.

Israel spurns all international law, its own, and rulings by its High Court. That's how rogue states operate. Palestinians can attest to its harshness.

On April 17, Palestinian Prisoners Day, hundreds of Palestinians began open-ended hunger strikes. Others join them daily. Hundreds may become thousands. At issue are unjust incarcerations, detention without charge, torture and ill-treatment, deplorable prison conditions, punitive isolation, and denial of all basic rights.

Hunger strikes brought recrimination. On April 19, Maan News reported the Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry saying Israel "tightened procedures." Prisoners were punished in isolation without electricity. Threats were made. Family visits were prohibited.

PA officials said 1,600 prisoners began open-ended hunger strikes. In response to Israel's crackdown, Amnesty International's Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Ann Harrison, said:

"We remain very concerned about reports that detainees have been denied access to independent doctors, and that some have been punished because of their decision to go on hunger strike -- including by being placed in isolation, fined, or otherwise ill-treated by Israel Prison Services officers."

On Palestinian Prisoners Day, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) said the suffering of detainees "doubles as a result of violations of their rights."

Forcible transfers and prisoner deportations exacerbate it. "These violations are part of a systematic policy adopted by Israeli occupation authorities against Palestinian prisoners."

They endure cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and conditions. International law and Israel's own are spurned. Palestinians suffer enormously. Gazan prisoners had no family visits for over five years. Their health and emotional state deteriorated from sustained abusive treatment.

Israel also collectively punishes families. PCHR explained. Nisreen Murtaja lives in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood. In 1993, her husband, Samir, was arrested. In 1994, he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Nisreen hasn't seen him since 2004.

"The last time I saw Samir, 8 years ago, I did not know it was going to be our last visit. I have kept applying to get the permission to see him again but the Israelis have insisted on refusing it."

"The health conditions of Samir’s parents prevented them from visiting him as the visits are very difficult and exhausting. There is no facilitation for sick people. Samir’s mother died with the suffering of not having seen her son throughout the 18 years of his detention. His father also passed away after 13 years from his last visit to Samir in jail."

Before Israel prohibited family visits, its repressive visitation policy created enormous difficulties for spouses, children, and parents. Now they're entirely denied. Nisreen explained prior policy, saying:

"The visits represent a huge amount of suffering for us. We have the impression that treatment we received from the Israeli soldiers is intended to persuade us not to visit our relatives again."

“After crossing Erez and waiting for hours in the bus, we are subjected to a humiliating body search in the prison. Some people refuse the visitations due to the treatment we receive."

"Often, once there, people are refused entry or discover that their relative has been transferred to another prison without being previously informed of the transfer."

In 1967, Israel declared Gaza and the West Bank closed military areas. In 1993,"general closure" was imposed. It remains in place. It institutionalized permit-only policy begun in 1991.

No permit, no entry. Even with one, it can be denied, especially in and out of Gaza. Special permission must be gotten. Getting it to visit Gazan prisoners now is entirely denied.

Visitation bans are exacerbated by cutting off communication in virtually all forms. "I have no way to communicate with Samir," said Nisreen.

"The only way of communication available to us is through the letters conveyed through the ICRC, but this is useless. These letters take between 2 to 3 months to arrive, so their content is outdated when we receive them. Sometimes they do not arrive at all. We have finally decided not to send letters anymore."

"(W)hen Samir’s parents died, we did not know how to inform him. Which is the harm done to Israelis by a call to our relatives in jail?"

Abed Al-Naser Farwana, Prisoners Affairs Researcher, said Israel enforces harshness to "demorali(ze) and (punish) Palestinian prisoners and their families. This has a profound effect in the cohesion of the family and the society in general."

"It is not only the anxiety experienced by the relatives but when the prisoner returns to their families they have to start a painful process of rebuilding their relationships."

Unable to see or communicate with her son killed Samir's mother. "She was all the time talking about him. She somehow hoped (he) was going to be released as part of the Shalit prisoners swap of October last year."

"She was devastated when she did not find him in the list of prisoners to be released. We believe this sadness contributed to her death 2 months after in January this year."

Israel currently incarcerates nearly 500 Gazans. Since June 2007, they've been entirely cut off from families. Doing so violates Fourth Geneva's collective punishment prohibition.

It also spurns Principle 19 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. It states:

A "detained or imprisoned person shall have the right to be visited by and to correspond with, in particular, members of his family and shall be given adequate opportunity to communicate with the outside world."

Israeli officials know the law. So do its highest judicial authorities. Nonetheless, 45 occupation years included systematic violations. Under Netanyahu, they're harsher than ever.

When will it end, Palestinians want to know. So do millions of supporters. For now, the worst of all worlds persists, short of full-scale war. Some expect another on Gaza.

Doing so would constitute the most extreme form of collective punishment. Like its Washington paymaster/partner, war is official Israeli policy against soft targets easily subdued.

Eventually expect another perhaps much harsher than Cast Lead. Sooner or later it's coming.

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