By the means of intense and constant psychological pressure, bad treatment and mock trials, the Israeli military occupation authorities try to break the will of Palestinian detainees and discourage the resistance movement as a whole. Although the “War on Terror” considerably extended its range, until recently very little documentation existed on this “slow death” machine operating outside the realm of international human rights law. Two NGOs, Friends of Humanity International and Yesh Din, start to fill the gap.
- An Israeli prison for Palestinian prisoners
Friends of Humanity International (Human Rights Organization)
Isolation of Prisoners / Systematic Tactic of Slow Death
Report prepared by a team of law experts Under the supervision of Mr. Fuad Al Khoffash
Vienna, 06 January 2008 Doc. Nr.: P/ME/112/08/E
Israel sees itself as a state above law and a well established and distinguished school that seeks to disseminate its peculiar expertise all over the world. We have documented testimonies given by some prisoners released from the well known prison of Guantanamo and other American jails in Iraq. The testimonies gathered confirm the presence of Israeli interrogators in these jails. The prisoners could recognize them from the tattoos made on their skins that represent some Israeli patterns. Inside these prisons the Israeli interrogators employ their distinctive expertise gained over long years through the interrogations with and torturing of the Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli jails and detention facilities.
It is not unusual that the Israeli occupational forces and the security systems exercise the most repulsive torture tactics against the Palestinian and Arab prisoners detained in the Israeli jails in violation of the principles of the international humanitarian law and the many ethics and values that are part of human life. It is certain that the Israeli occupation derives its power from force rather than law and from injustice rather equity. It persists in its brutality by applying many methods and tactics that aim at undermining the will of the Palestinian individual with the hope to succeed, by isolating the Palestinian prisoner, to transform him to a sick, depressed and withdrawn person who is sentenced to slow death.
Isolation as a form of degradation by mock trial
Isolation is a retribution imposed by the occupational jail administration to further humiliate the prisoner and undermine his will and psyche. In seclusion, the prisoner is isolated from the outside world and becomes incapable of communicating with any person except his jailer. It resembles the penalty of administrative detention where the prisoner spends many years in jail without knowing when he will be freed.
The prisoners go through mock trials once every six months in case of individual isolation (one prisoner per dungeon) and once every year in case of dual isolation (two prisoners sharing one dungeon). Such trials abide by the commands given by the Israeli Intelligence "Shabak" and the Jails Authority "Shabas" and are away from justice principles.
The isolated prisoners are identified as:
Moataz Hijazi, from the city of Jerusalem, has been in solitary confinement for seven years.
Hasan Salamah from Khan Yunus spent four years in solitary confinement.
Jamal Abu AL Hayja, from Jenin Camp, spent three years in solitary confinement.
Mahmoud Essa, from Anata near Jerusalem, spent five years in solitary confinement.
Ahmad AL Moghraby from Bethlehem, three years.
Mohammad Jaber Abdo from Kofer Ne’ema, three years.
Abdullah Al Barghouthy from Beet Reema, three years.
Mohammad Jamal Al Natsha from Hebron
Osama Al Einaboosi from Tobas
Saleh Dar Mousa, from Beet Leqi
Ibrahim Hamed from Selwad, have been in solitary confinement since the beginning of the interrogations up to this moment.
Jihad Yaghmour from Jerusalem.
Raed Al Sheikh from Jabalia refugee Camp
Detailed account of the prisoners’ life inside the solitary confinement
These are 1.8 m x 2.7 m rooms including the bathroom and toilette. They are too small to provide any walk area or accommodate the prisoner’s personal possessions. The situation becomes more complex and tragic when two prisoners are forced to share the room.
These rooms are characterized by poor ventilation and high humidity as each solitary dungeon has only one small window placed near the ceiling while the door offers one tiny 8cm x 8cm opening. As such, these dungeons become a suitable environment for diseases particularly those of the respiratory system. The case of the prisoner Jihad Yagmour, who suffers from severe pneumonia, provides as a good example of such agony.
To fathom the severity of this agony, one has to imagine the prisoner’s life in this tight room where he has to cook, shower and excrete. All these activities fill the room with the vapour of food and water and the smells resulting from excretion.
The prisoner is allowed only one hour to go out to the yard (what is called Fora) without consideration to the prisoner’s need to have exposure to the sunlight and vitamin D which is derived from the sun, and his need to have enough time to workout, walk and jog. One hour is not enough for a prisoner to get all these necessities. Moreover, the Fora time is not fixed and depends on the mood of the jail administration as the isolated prisoner may be given permission to go out at 6 a.m. even in cold and rainy weathers. If the prisoner claims one hour delay, he loses his right to go out to the yard all that day.
The food offered to the prisoners in the solitary confinement is of extremely bad quality. Therefore, the prisoner often buys all the items he needs to cook his meals from the jail kiosk (Cafeteria) which overburdens the budget of the prisoner and his family. Prisoners who can not afford to buy their food have no choice but accept the food served by the jail administration. This situation causes them several diseases such as anemia, malnutrition and poor vision.
Barring family visitation
Most of the isolated prisoners are denied the right to see their families which aggravates the psychic agony of both the prisoner and his family. In this case, the prisoner suffers from the shortage of his basic needs and the inability to get them through his family. The prisoner Jamal Abu Al Hayja sets a good example of this ordeal as he is not allowed to see his wife Asma’a Abu Al Hayja, a former prisoner whose life is withering with cancer. Also, he is not permitted to see his small son and two daughters or to meet any of his three sons who are imprisoned in the occupation jails.
Problems of buying from the prison kiosk
Jails administration tend to close some of the prisoners’ accounts with the jail kiosk for long periods of time, in some cases reaching one year, during which deposits in the isolated prisoners’ accounts are suspended under the pretext that the money come from a terrorist organizations. This procedure includes the sums provided by the Ministry of Prisoners (Palestinian Authority) under the same pretext. Accounts have been opened only recently specifically in February 2007.
An isolated prisoner, especially those confined in the isolation section of Asqalan prison and other isolation sections, was previously permitted to make a list of his needs from the kiosk as he could obtain them from other isolation sections from the general account of the prisoners. This procedure provided support to the isolated prisoners with limited financial resources. To tighten the siege on the isolated prisoners, the jails administration barred the entry of any items purchased from the kiosk from the other sections to the isolation section.
The prisoners’ situation has become so miserable following the recent decision made by the jails authority to limit the amounts deposited in each prisoner’s account to 1300 shekel. As a result, the isolated prisoners are suffering from the shortage of money.
The prisoners’ budget fails to cope with the unreasonably high prices at the prison kiosk; for example, the price of olive oil is 40 shekel (more than $10) per liter. Such prices prompt protests on part of the prisoners who resort to turn down the meals and boycott the kiosk.
The jails administration bars the supply of food items such as vegetables and olive oil and others by the prisoners’ families during visitation time, which leaves the prisoners with the only option of buying their needs from the kiosk at very high prices.
Contrary to the established procedure in the past and to further tighten the grip on the isolated prisoners, the jails administration barred the entry of vegetables purchased from the prisoners’ general account into the open sections. The administration refrains from presenting a justification for this obstruction, noting that the vegetables are bought at the expense of the prisoners not the jail administration.
Barring the exchange of necessary supplies between prisoners in the isolation section
The jails administration has recently barred moving stuff from one dungeon to another, which aggravates the suffering of the prisoners especially those who are transferred directly from the regular sections or interrogation rooms to the solitary confinement before they manage to mover their possessions even though they have insufficient accounts. In the past, they used to get support from the already isolated prisoners who provided the new comers to the isolation section with their needs of winter or summer clothing, blankets, shoes, cooking utensils, food …etc.
Now, the situation is different and prisoners are denied the privilege of getting aid from their peers. Abdullah Al Barghouthy was sent to the solitary confinement right away after the interrogation; in the same way Ibrahim Hamed was moved directly to the isolation section without being able to carry his possessions with him to the new dungeon.
The jail administration refused to allow the isolated prisoner Mazen Malssa (released later) (he was 6 years in isolation) to send few things to Hamed and Jamal Abu Al Hayja.
The jailers’ inhumanity exceeded all limits when they reacted to Malssa’s attempt to pass a prayer rug to Hamed by accusing him of defying the regulations. He was charged with contraband and was sent to the punishment areas (called Snouk) for nine days in addition to a penalty of 200 shekel.
Moreover, the jail administration has so far refused to move the possessions of Ibrahim Hamed from the regular sections in the prison. It’s worth mentioning that Ibrahim’s wife, who was a former prisoner, was deported with her children to Jordan upon her release from the prison while her imprisoned husband Hamed is still not permitted to see his family during visitation time. When her brother died recently, the jailers did not allow Hamed to call his family or his wife to offer condolences.
Immediate isolation following interrogation
Transferring a prisoner from the interrogation room immediately to the solitary confinement without having the chance to drop by the regular open sections is an old new policy. During the prisoners’ strike in 2000, it was agreed between the prisoners and the jails administration to suspend this policy. However, with the breakout of the Al Aqsa uprising (Intifada) the administration resumed this policy with a number of prisoners starting with Mazen Malssa who was sent to the isolation section promptly after the interrogation and has spent the 5 years of his imprisonment in the solitary confinement. He has been freed only recently.
Abdullah Al Barghouthy, who was sentenced to sixty seven life-time imprisonments, sets another example of this policy. He was moved from the interrogation section directly to the solitary confinement and is currently imprisoned at Beer Al Sabe’a prison (Holikidar) and is being subjected to repeated acts of provocation and oppression. Hamed has recently been placed in the solitary confinement following the interrogation. The problem lies in the fact that the isolated prisoner is sent to the solitary dungeon without having the chance to carry his needs and possessions with him.
Sharing the dungeon with criminal prisoners
The presence of other Israeli and Arab criminal prisoners with the Palestinian prisoners in the isolation section poses another source of agony for the prisoners. Criminal prisoners behave in an improper way showing inconsideration to others’ feelings as they play the recorder at high volume during the day and night. They scream continuously, swear and use indecent language, not to mention the ordeal of having around mentally disturbed prisoners who keep screaming, knocking at the doors while insulting, swearing at and beating other prisoners.
In such tough environment, the isolated prisoner, crouching behind locked doors, suffers from inability to sleep, insomnia, exhaustion as well as psychic stress. He resorts to God and keeps his prayers and supplications deriving strength from his faith in God’s support and the justice of the cause for which he is imprisoned.
When confronted with the demand to place all the isolated prisoners in one section apart from the criminal and mentally disturbed prisoners, the jail administration responds with procrastination and rejection. It also refuses to provide the necessary medical care to the prisoners with psychic disturbances or send them to the hospital. And the agony goes on.
Deterioration of the prisoners’ health condition
In such outrageous situation, some of the prisoners’ physical, psychic and mental health collapsed. Abdul Naser Al Helisi, a prisoner from Jerusalem with a life imprisonment verdict, and his brother who is jailed in another open section, provide a striking example of this case. Abdul Naser suffers from critical psychic problems as a result of the 21 years imprisonment of which 8 years were in solitary confinement. The tough situation experienced in this section besides the continuous beating and torture collaborated to undermine his psychic condition.
Owaida Kallab, a prisoner from Gaza convicted to life imprisonment, has been in jail for 20 years. The many years of isolated confinement has caused him such severe psychic disorders that he refuses to see his family during visitation time in addition to many other physical diseases. He is also so physically weak that he does not have the strength to make himself a cup of tea. Previously, the Palestinian prisoners in the other sections used to cook his meals but the ruthless jail administration barred passing food or any stuff between the prisoners in different sections despite Owaida’s extremely bad condition and the prisoners’ repeated demands to treat him with mercy.
The spread of diseases among the prisoners is a common phenomenon. The isolated prisoner Hasan Salamah, from Khan Yunis who is sentenced to 48 life-time imprisonments, has been in prison since 1997. The interrogators have used the injury he has had in his belly since the time of his arrest to torture and pressure him. He also suffers from hemorrhoids and is not permitted to see his aged mother who came several times to visit him in prison but was sent back home each time without seeing him.
Salamah is being directly targeted by the jail administration that keeps moving him from one dungeon to another within the isolation sections. Sometimes he does not stay in a dungeon more than one week which makes him feel insecure and stressed.
Mohammad Jaber Abdo, a prisoner from Kofer Ne’ema - Ramallah, suffers from problems in the urinary system, whereas Jihad Yaghmour, a prisoner from Jerusalem sentenced to life imprisonment, has severe pneumonia and has recently experienced fits of suffocation during night time. When these fits occur, the other prisoners start knocking at the doors and screaming to force the nurse to come up to help the imprisoned patient.
The negligence of the jail doctor and prescribing pain reliever to all sick cases including the critical diseases has been an established procedure at the Israeli jails for tens of years.
Night raids and search campaigns
The purpose of the night raids and search campaigns carried out by the Israeli security squads is to frighten and panic the Palestinian prisoners, while the naked search reflects the highest degrees of provocation and degradation to which the prisoners are subjected. A special squad usually storms the rooms of the isolated prisoners, strips them off their clothes and subjects them to physical search. It also searches the rooms causing great mess up. This situation was experienced by the isolated prisoners at Asqalan prison during March 2007.
Violence against prisoners
Torture, beating and other forms of violence are daily realities for the isolated prisoners. Relevant stories are so many and tell about lots of prisoners who were separated from the others, brutalized and humiliated. Moataz Hijazi, a prisoner from Jerusalem placed in solitary confinement for 7 years, had been assaulted and beaten violently until he lost his consciousness and was admitted into the intensive care unit.
In the same way Ahmad Shukri, a formerly isolated prisoner from Ramallah, has been repeatedly beaten so violently that his body bears clear trances of aggressive torture besides many bruises. Jamal Jaber, a formerly isolated prisoner from Hebron, was brutally beaten inside the solitary confinement.
Obstructing the prisoners’ education
Isolated prisoners are not permitted to pursue their college education as in the case of Mahmoud Essa, a prisoner from Anata, has been in solitary confinement for five years. Essa is one of the prisoners leaders imprisoned at the Israeli detention facilities.
Isolation of leaders
The prisoners’ leaders are the target of the isolation penalty particularly following the recent political phase which witnessed the capture of the Israeli soldier Jelaad Shalit. Many Hamas leaders have been isolated in the Israeli jails since then. Among these leaders are Mohammad Jamal Al Natsha, an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who is placed in solitary confinement at Al Naqab Jail, and Jihad Yaghmour and Mousa Dodeen from Hebron.
The latter is sentenced to life imprisonment and has been isolated several times. He went on open hunger strike for 25 days during which he refrained from drinking water. As his health condition deteriorated, he was hospitalized and accepted to end the strike only after he had got a promise to end the solitary confinement. His jailers kept their promise at that time but have recently brought him back into isolation although he started to suffer from several diseases.
Zaher Jabbareen, an imprisoned movement leader who has been isolated for two years, was placed in the solitary dungeon which was prepared for Eyal Ameer, killer of Isaac Rabin. Cameras were placed every where in the dungeon even in the bathroom with the aim to restrict the prisoner’s freedom and stress him.
Restrictions on water supply
The jail administration set timing for the supply of water or food form the fridge available in the section. Accordingly, the prisoners are not permitted to ask for water or food after 7 p.m. which makes the isolated prisoner suffer severely especially during the summer when water is badly needed.
The "Snouk penalty"
It is one of the severe penalties imposed on prisoners. Snouk is a very small room (180cm x 150 cm) which does not offer enough space for sleeping or praying. It provides only a mattress and two containers, one for drinking and the second for urination. Egestion is permitted only once a day, that’s why prisoners tend to eat too little so that they do not need to excrete.
In the "Snouk" the prisoner is not allowed to have a clock or watch with the intention to keep him unaware of the time and date and, therefore, he fails to observe the prayers timing. He is not allowed to listen to the radio or T.V. or read newspapers and does not know what is going on in the world outside the prison. Additionally, he is neither permitted to buy his food or any other stuff from the kiosk nor to use a pillow during sleep.
Mohammad Brash, who is a blind prisoner, is a good example of such oppressive procedure. His left leg is amputated and he suffers from many diseases. He was placed in the "Snouk" where he was treated brutally. His feet and arms were chained to the bed when he had a fit of suffocation. Failing to stand up because of the chains he started screaming for help.
Barring lawyers’ visits
The jails administration restrains the visits of lawyers to the prisoners. A Lawyer is forced to wait for a long time for permission to see the prisoner and is usually obstructed to do so under the false pretext that the prisoner is away from the section or prison.
Isolation of women prisoners
Palestinian women in prison also suffer from the isolation penalty. Given the peculiarly delicate and sensitive nature, the agony of women is maximized. Women in the Palestinian society symbolize maternity and honour.
Encountering the isolation policy
Over the past years, the prisoners have taken several actions, specifically recently, to confront the isolation policy. Such actions ranged from turning down the meals to open hunger strikes with the primary aim to force their way out of the solitary confinement and join their peers in the open section. It was also their aim to pressure towards improving the living conditions inside the isolation sections to the minimum level appropriate for human life.
Prisoners provide more examples of actions to encounter isolation. The isolated prisoners participated in the open strike staged by other prisoners in the occupation jails in 2004, besides many prisoners went on individual open strike such as Mousa Dodeen, Ahmad Al Barghouthy, Mazen Malssa and Moataz Hijazi. Methods of confronting the isolation policy include rejecting the meals offered to the prisoners, which took place at Asqalan prison in February 2007. At present the prisoners threaten to stage an open hunger strike if the isolation issue is not basically resolved.
The pretexts and aims of the occupation authorities
The occupation authorities give several justifications for the isolation of prisoners; these include the claim that the prisoners:
Are dangerous as they carried out military operations described as aggressive.
Possess a master stature, extensive knowledge and profound experience which influence other prisoners
The real aim of isolation is to undermine the prisoners’ spirits and will and to turn them into soulless bodies. It also helps to spread diseases among the prisoners and weaken their physical strength and bodies so that they become helpless and powerless when they go out of the isolation due to poor vision or rheumatism. A prisoner who is confined inside a tiny room for seven years and does not enjoy the advantage of seeing beyond a distance of two meters will surely develop poor vision.
Death sentence is more promising of mercy than dying while staring at grey tapered and rough cement walls. The tapering surface of the walls transforms over the years into a ghostly figure drawing close to take away one’s life.
To die would be less cruel than staying all alone in the solitary dungeon over the long nights, the cold and hot months, the slow and callous years while unable to see people, the sun or the moon.
Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights)
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