Israeli Arab Lawmakers Irate Over Limits on Prison Visits

New Prison Service rules restricts the access of attorneys, parliamentarians and other visitors who represent or can help Palestinian security prisoners in any way.

Palestinian security prisoner
Illustration: A Palestinian security prisoner at Megiddo prison in Israel. Itzik Ben-Malki

Arab Knesset members are up in arms over the Prison Service’s new policy of limiting their visits to Palestinian security prisoners to once a month.

The policy, introduced by Prison Service Commissioner Ofra Klinger when she entered office last November, restricts the access of attorneys, MKs and other visitors who represent or can help the prisoners in any way.

The MKs were not informed of the change and found out about it only last month when their visit requests met with rejection or delays. MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said his request to visit senior Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti was rejected last month, on the grounds that he had already visited a prisoner that month.

Jabareen, who has submitted a parliamentary question to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on the issue, says the move infringes on the lawmkers’ rights and on their political activity. He said the Arab MKs will do all they can to have the measure revoked “so that we can do our public duty.”

“Visiting prisoners is an important, integral part of the job of parliamentarians in general and Arab ones in particular and such a draconian measure on MKs’ activity is unacceptable,” Jabareen said.

At Jabareen’s request, the Knesset’s legal advisor, Eyal Yinon, looked into the matter and was told by the Prison Service that MKs’ visits had been limited, with the approval of the service’s legal advisor. Other MKs from the Joint List complained recently that their requests to visit prisoners had encountered delays and red tape.

“How can such a decision be made without notifying the MKs and the Knesset’s legal advisor?” asked Jabareen.

Attorneys representing Palestinian prisoners have been complaining that Klinger’s measures infringe on prisoners’ rights and deny them adequate legal counsel, by obstructing the work of their lawyers in prisons.

As of last month, new Prison Service orders make it more difficult for prisoners to meet their lawyers, as is their legal right. Attorneys who travel to prisons in the outlying areas of the country are forced to adjourn meetings with their clients and wait for hours until they are allowed to resume.

Attorney Abir Bachar, who handles cases pertaining to Palestinian prisoners and their rights, says that since entering office Klinger has obstructed visits by anyone who could supervise the conditions of the Palestinin prisoners and expose the treatment to which they are subjected.

“It started with making it more difficult for visits by legal experts with whom prisoners wanted to consult and continued with obstruction of attorney visits and attempts to wear them down with unreasonably long waiting times in the prison,” Bachar said. “Now she’s reducing visits by MKs, who have often exposed the prisoners’ distress and compelled the Prison Service to change its decisions.”

She accused the commissioner of dealing with public criticism by restricting the visits of those who exposed the prisoners’ conditions, instead of reducing and preventing the wrongs themselves.

The Prison Service said in response, “the service attributes importance to MKs’ visits as part of their parliamentary work. The prisoners also receive several visits by families, lawyers, Red Cross officials and others. The rules are meant to enable the various visits in a balanced way and the prisons are also required to preserve security and maintain prison routine.”

The service said the new policy was introduced at the end of 2015, when Klinger entered office.