Starved of Justice: Palestinians Detained Without Trial by Israel

June 5, 2012

Starved of Justice: Palestinians Detained Without Trial by Israel

Some of the administrative detainees on prolonged hunger strikes were, according to their lawyers, offered release on condition that they agree to be deported outside the OPT or transferred within them, but all refused. Hana Shalabi, an administrative detainee from the village of Burqin in the West Bank, was transferred to Gaza for at least three years on 1 April 2012, three days after a deal was reached that ended her 43-day hunger strike in what appears likely to have been a forcible transfer. She was isolated from her independent lawyers and family, and is reported to have subsequently claimed she had not been given full information about the conditions of the deal. Other administrative detainees have been forcibly deported from the OPT in the past – a grave breach of international humanitarian law. All should be allowed to return to their homes without delay.

On 14 May 2012, a deal was struck between prisoner representatives and the Israeli authorities, including the IPS and the Israel Security Agency (ISA),  brokered by intensive Egyptian mediation, leading to the suspension of the mass hunger strike. Under the deal, Israel reportedly agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners held in isolation for up to 10 years; lift a five-year ban on family visits for prisoners from the Gaza Strip; and discuss prisoners’ demands regarding improvements to prison conditions.  There were conflicting reports on whether the deal included a commitment by the Israeli authorities to restrict their use of administrative detention.  While most prisoners held in isolation had been returned to general prison wings, no family visits had been allowed from the Gaza Strip at the time of writing in late May.  Additionally, reports that the Israeli military had by the time of writing renewed at least 30 administrative detention orders and issued at least three new ones  since the deal was signed suggest that the Israeli authorities may have simply returned to “business as usual” as far as administrative detention is concerned.

Israel’s record following previous agreements over releases of Palestinian prisoners and detainees or the improvement of prison conditions does not provide grounds for optimism that the deal will lead to a reduction in the use of administrative detention. For example, Hana Shalabi was released on 18 October 2011 after spending 25 months in detention without trial, in a deal between Israel and Hamas that saw the staged release of 1,027 Palestinians prisoners and detainees in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive for over five years by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.  At the time, Hamas officials claimed that Egypt, which helped broker the deal, had guaranteed that Israel would not re-arrest prisoners who were released. Hana Shalabi was arrested again four months later and once again placed in administrative detention.

Nor did the deal result in all individual detainees ending their hunger strikes, and at least two men – Akram Rikhawi and Mahmoud al-Sarsak – remained on hunger strike at the time of writing. The latter had been on hunger strike for more than 70 days in protest at his continuing prolonged detention without charge or trial, and both were in critical condition.

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