Bitter anger at a detainees’ death

February 28, 2013

Sarah Levy reports on Israel's abuse of Palestinian prisoners and the fury it has caused.

MORE THAN 10,000 Palestinians took part in a funeral procession on February 25 in the West Bank village of Saeer for 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat, who died while in Israeli detention.

Jaradat's death on February 23 in Megiddo Prison came less than a week after he was arrested for throwing stones at Israeli cars in the West Bank. Although Israeli officials say he died of cardiac arrest, an autopsy shows clear signs that his death was the result of horrific torture, according to Palestinian Authority officials.

Jaradat had six broken bones in his neck, spine, arms and legs, and severe bruising on his face, the autopsy revealed. Kameel Sabbagh, Jaradat's lawyer, said that his client had been "beaten and hanged for many hours on end in Israeli custody."

Thousands of Palestinians protested throughout the West Bank and Gaza over the weekend, with mass protests taking place in Hebron, al-Arrub refugee camp, Beit Ummar, Halhul, Bethlehem, Qalqiliya and Tulkarem. Thousands also marched from Birzeit University to Ofer Prison.

Mass funeral protest for Arafat Jaradat
Mass funeral protest for Arafat Jaradat (Stop the Wall Campaign)

Israeli forces fired rubber bullets at protesters, injuring dozens, yet protests continued right up until Jaradat's funeral. Protesters held signs that read, "Will the world remain silent until the toll reaches 1,000,000?"--in reference to Jaradat being the "79th prisoner to die in Israeli jails since 2000 due to torture, medical neglect, excessive use of force during interrogation or execution by arresting officers," according to the Alray Media Agency.

The protests also had an echo within Israel's prisons. Some 4,500 Palestinian prisoners--nearly the total population of Palestinians held by Israel--took part in a one-day hunger strike as a "sign of mourning for Jaradat," according to Prisoner Affairs spokesman Hassan Abed Rabo.

On February 25, the Palestinians Women's Union issued a statement calling on the international community to "hold Israel accountable for the killing of Jadarat and to protect Palestinians from rights violations in Israeli jails."

Lawyers in Gaza went on strike on February 26 to protest Jaradat's death, holding a sit-in at the union's office, according to union official Salameh Bseiso. Lawyers representing Palestinians also announced they would boycott Israeli courts on February 25. "We won't stay calm regarding this crime, and we will make intensive calls with Arab lawyers to reveal Israeli crimes," Bseiso said.

JARADAT'S DEATH comes amid a rising tide of Palestinian resistance in support of four Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike and against Israel's atrocious treatment of prisoners, including its sweeping use of administrative detention to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial.

The plight of prisoner Samer Issawi, now past his 215th day on hunger strike, as well as three other prisoners currently refusing food has galvanized protests across Palestine. This comes almost a year after a mass hunger strike involving nearly 2,000 Palestinian prisoners swept through Israeli jails last April.

Since early February, the Popular Committees in many villages have organized protests and marches of thousands following Friday prayers. At these events, protesters have combined chants against Israel's occupation with demands to release hunger strikers. In the week leading up to Jaradat's death, daily protests took place outside of Ofer Prison--an Israeli incarceration facility in the West Bank--in support of Issawi. During the February 15 protest outside of Ofer, more than 100 people were injured and 13 were hospitalized after the Israeli army fired live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters into the crowd.

"The situation in the prisons, the economic plight and the stalled peace process are pushing people to the brink," said Qadura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prison Society Qadura Fares, warning that the situation could lead to a "third Intifada."

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, made a similar point on February 25:

The Israelis have left no door open for Palestinians...[Israel is] using settlements and Israeli army violence to provoke Palestinians and suppress them. We counted tens of cases of people hit with live ammunition in the last week. The atmosphere is similar to the first Intifada...It's popular, nonviolent and massive and will spread all over the Palestinian territories.

In addition to the marches, more than a dozen Palestinian activists who are not imprisoned have taken up hunger strikes of their own to continue to draw attention--both local and international--to their cause. Since February 11, activists have set up protest tents inside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Ramallah and are visited daily by dozens of supporters.

"When they see me and my friends here on strike, it's more visual for people," said Khader Adnan, a former prisoner who was released from administrative detention in April 2012 after a 66-day hunger strike. "It's a message to the international world and the international community that their silence is killing us."

The ICRC sit-ins have in turn "inspired a wave of daily demonstrations across the West Bank" with daily morning marches of hundreds from the ICRC to Al-Manara Square in Ramallah, according to Allison Deger of A protest tent has even been established inside Nazareth, Israel.

According to the activists, part of the reason for targeting the Red Cross in Ramallah is that it has so far failed to fulfill its duty of providing services to Palestinian prisoners and facilitating family visits as stated in the aid organization's mandate. In response, the ICRC has now shut its headquarters and relocated its operations to Jericho, further devastating the families of prisoners who are now struggling to obtain the required permits to visit their loved ones.

SINCE 1967, more than 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This translates to 40 percent of the total male population living within the Occupied Territories having spent time in Israeli prisons at some point.

As of December 2012, more than 4,500 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails, according to an Israel Prison Service report. The report states that 1,031 are being held until the conclusion of legal proceedings, 178 are in administrative detention, and 170 are under 18 years of age. At one time or another, most Palestinian families have had at least one family member imprisoned by Israel, making the fate of prisoners a visceral issue for virtually all Palestinians.

Additionally, there is a widespread pattern of arrest without charge, release and re-arrest that has stolen years from the lives of a growing number of young Palestinians. This has had an emotional impact on many in the community who have been left with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness after being themselves, or seeing family members, repeatedly detained, often in unjustified night raids by Israeli soldiers.

Samira Halabi has experienced all four of her sons being taken away from her in the middle of the night. In an interview with the, she recounted her plea to soldiers when they came for the last of her sons, Nael, in a night raid on her home last March. "I went to hug my son, and I said, no, you're not taking this one, you have three already, leave this one!" she said.

The week before Nael was taken, soldiers had raided the Halabi home and taken another of Samira's sons, Nasser. This was Nasser's second time in detention since he was originally arrested in 2009. Released two years later, Nasser enrolled in Bethlehem University in an effort to reestablish a normal life, only to be rearrested seven months later.

Samira explained that Nasser is an example of how Israel's policy of arrest without charge, release and then re-arrest has "ripped the late teens and early twenties" from all of her sons, and all too many young Palestinians. "Our problem is a real problem," said Halabi. "We don't know what to do or where to go...[How has the loss of four sons affected our family?] Depression. You think about them all the time."

Samira Halabi has been one of the regular visitors to the ICRC tent protest, and the only one of her sons not currently in prison, Nafar, is taking part in the solidarity hunger strike inside the ICRC.

Halabi's sons are only four of the more than 7,500 Palestinian boys between the age of 12 and 18 who have spent time in the Israeli prison system during the past 11 years. According to a report by Al Jazeera, "[M]any former detainees display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and almost all find it difficult to slip back into the position they occupied in their families and communities prior to arrest." Since the arrests often happen at night, many young Palestinians "live with the fear that they could be re-arrested and taken back into prison at any time."

ALTHOUGH ISRAEL has justified its use of administrative detention and arrest without trial on the basis of its need to protect "secret information," the protest movement that has helped draw attention to cases like those of Issawi and Jaradat has led to heightened international concern over Israel's treatment of detainees. This has created cracks in Israel's "security narrative."

Groups such as Amnesty International view Israel's current incarceration of 178 Palestinians under administrative detention as a possible war crime, arguing that Israel has violated international law by using the emergency law to harass the population under occupation, stifle dissent and restrict Palestinians' right of movement.

In response to the recent protest of thousands after an Israeli court refused to grant the release of Issawi, the European Union issued an urgent call for Israel to "[fully respect] international human rights obligations towards all Palestinian detainees and prisoners." UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to grant all prisoners a fair trial or allow for their prompt release. Physicians for Human Rights has issued a statement accusing Israel of violating prisoners rights, calling Israel's treatment of hunger-striking Palestinians "a systemic moral, ethical and professional failure."

Apparently rattled by the growing prisoners' protest movement and the attention it is getting, Israel is doing all it can to further tighten its grip on prisoners. On February 25, Israel transferred 50 prisoners to various facilities as punishment and to remove and separate activists, placing one of Jaradat's relatives in solitary confinement, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

In addition, Israel has called on the PA to curb protests ahead of Obama's visit to the region next month--and threatened to withhold $100 million of tax revenues if protests continue. The PA, however, issued a statement warning Obama that Gaza could be "on fire" at the time of his visit if he fails to pressure Israel to address its abuse of Palestinian prisoners, especially those on hunger strike.

But Obama has already shown his devotion to Israel, even in the face of Israel's siege of Gaza, its bombing campaigns and its ongoing construction of illegal settlements. Thus it will require significant pressure from below to win justice for these prisoners.

While Palestinians within Israel and the Occupied Territories continue their relentless resistance, recognition of the Goliath they are up against is the basis of their call for an international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that can build a sustained challenge to Israel.

The immense courage of prisoners like Issawi and the thousands of ordinary Palestinians who continue to take to the streets despite severe repression give inspiration to the growing international movement to challenge Israel's blatant disregard for human rights.

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