Palestinians living in the occupied territories cannot get to work or school, or see their friends and family without feeling the disruptive effect of Israel’s military rule. It restricts the ability to farm their land, attend a protest, improve their homes, raise families, travel for medical purposes, or access essential services such as electricity and clean water.
A Palestinian prisoner’s experience is even more dire: they must not only withstand all the above, but also arbitrary detention from Israeli and Palestinian forces, cruel and unlawful treatment, the repression of fundamental human rights, and the ongoing unlawful detention of children.
For both, life is made all the more insufferable by Israel’s ever-expanding settlement operation.
Military Law and Administrative Detention
Palestinians in the occupied territories are subject to military law, which excludes the most fundamental human rights – such as the right to legal counsel during interrogation – while Israeli settlers enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law.
Administrative detention allows Israeli authorities to arbitrarily detain prisoners without providing reasons for arrest, delay their trials for six months and then renew their detentions indefinitely without charge. At the end of 2018, over 5,500 Palestinian prisoners remained in Israeli prisons, including nearly 500 administrative detainees.
Cruel and Unlawful Treatment
Documented detention conditions for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons include cruel and unlawful punishment, such as the deprivation of family visits and disallowing detained mothers to hold their children.
On April 17, 2017, Palestinian prisoners launched a mass hunger strike to protest their conditions and historic ill treatment at the hands of Israeli authorities. A relative of one prisoner testified, “The Israeli authorities play with our emotions, they torture and punish us.”
Attacks Against Freedom of Expression
It is not only the Israeli authorities who subject the Palestinian people to such violations. The Palestinian Authority habitually detains Palestinians in an attempt to repress freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and social justice organizing. One Ramallah-based NGO reported that Palestinian authorities attacked media freedom 77 times during 2018, often through arbitrary arrests and physical assault.
This abuse of power is reinforced by Israeli Military Order 101, enabling Israeli authorities to regularly imprison or fine Palestinians for peaceful expression of political dissent. This dual-sided censorship is intended to crush all forms of political engagement and strip Palestinians of their fundamental right to peaceful assembly.
Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders
One example is the case of Issa Amro. Founder of the Youth Against Settlements and the “Open Shuhada Street” campaign, Issa has spoken at the United Nations about his peaceful efforts to stand against Israel’s military rule, demanding an end to Israel’s settlements in the city of Hebron and other places in the occupied West Bank.
Despite international recognition, he is routinely punished and faces criminal charges. Issa stated: “I have been arrested more times than I can count for non-violent human rights work.” On March 28, 2019, Issa was again detained, this time for criticizing the Palestinian government in a Facebook post.
Palestinians need to be able to stand up for their rights without the threat of imprisonment, and the world needs to know what is happening to them. It can’t happen without activists like Issa. The charges against him and other human rights defenders like him must be dropped.
The Arrest of Children
Despite ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child nearly 30 years ago, Israeli forces routinely detain children and subject them to degrading treatment. Since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have endured the fear, intimidation, physical violence and humiliation that occurs during arrest.
Israel prosecutes up to 700 Palestinian children via the military court system annually. According to Defense for Children International – Palestine, 96% of the children prosecuted between 2013-2018 did not have family present during interrogations. They arrive at interrogations blindfolded and sleep-deprived, and their confessions are often made after verbal and physical abuse – the likes of which often amount to torture.
Because these children live under Israeli military law, the common act of stone-throwing is a criminal offense – for which Israel arrested over 200 children as of October 2018.
Self-Home Demolitions or Jail Time
Palestinians who build or improve their homes without difficult-to-obtain permits face jail time as well. For the Hashimeh brothers, who built an addition on their childhood home in Wadi Qadoum, there were only two options: demolish the home they built for themselves, or watch Israel demolish their home, and face jail time and punitive fines for failing to demolish it themselves.
These restrictive Israeli policies on home construction in East Jerusalem are part of a wider two-tiered discriminatory Israeli plan aimed at solidifying a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, and are directly responsible for countless arbitrary arrests.
This systemic dispossession of land, power, and human rights is enough to lead communities to despair, and Palestinian children whose homes have been demolished to make way for Israeli settlers experience depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and sleep disruption.
Ongoing Occupation and Settlement Expansion
The compounded effects of displacement and dispossession of land, coupled with the constant threat of arbitrary detention, forces Palestinians to live an unendurable situation.
Over 600,000 Israelis settlers have occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank alone, resulting in the more than 50,000 demolished Palestinian homes and the restricted movement of nearly 5 million people. In 2017, Israel committed to accelerating its expansion of settlements, causing a recent United Nations Forum to discuss the threat of de facto annexation.
The Israeli settlement operation is recognized as illegal under international law, yet only those standing against it suffer imprisonment.
The international community must not only speak up for the rights of the occupied, but stand against those who profit from occupation. In doing business with illegal Israeli settlements, the Canadian government and Canadian companies contribute to – and profit from – their maintenance, development and expansion, which amount to war crimes under international criminal law. This acquiescence normalizes and legitimizes to the public what is recognized under international law as an illegal situation.
Amnesty International calls upon the international community to sign petitions to stop enabling illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The petitions can be found here: Occupation at 50 and Destination: Occupation.