On May 2, policemen from the Nachshon unit of the Prison Services severely beat six Palestinian detainees who were brought from the Russian Compound to the military courtroom at Ofer for the commencement of their trial.
The policemen beat the men in front of their families, lawyers and a few officers of the court (including the military prosecutor and the translator). The Prison Services told Haaretz that "fighters of the Nachshon Unit [of the Prison Services, who are in charge of the terrorists, the security detainees in the military prisons] overcame six terrorists who started to riot - and who tried to make (physical) contact with members of their families, and this is contrary to the Prison Services' standing orders and regulations."
Eyewitnesses confirmed that the detainees tried to speak with their families. But they denied the prisoners "became unruly" and that they tried, or could, make any physical contact with their families who were sitting on the back benches, separated from their sons by soldiers. The IDF spokesmen clarified that the detainees and their representatives can file a complaint with the police, the military police or the department for investigating policemen, and that "whenever such incidents do not take place before a [military] judge, justification for the use of force should be clarified through the usual channels...." In other words, the IDF spokesman could not confirm whether the detainees became unruly, and whether such great force was required to subdue them, or whether the policemen - as claimed by witnesses - beat them without justification.
In his response to Haaretz, the IDF spokesman was careful about defining the beaten men as "detainees." In contrast, the Prison Services spokesman defined them as terrorists no fewer than seven times in his response. The Prison Services spokesman most likely knows that, according to the law, every person is innocent until proven guilty in court. It is difficult to believe he would have defined detained Jews who are at the beginning of a legal proceeding as "criminals." But the freedom he took to convict the Palestinian detainees as "terrorists," before a ruling is handed down, well reflects the public atmosphere in Israel and the nature of the military court system, which operates as a tool of the Israeli occupation government. His response is, therefore, more honest than that of the IDF spokesman.
The "terrorists" were arrested in the framework of what Israel portrays as a war against terror. This war, Israeli spokespeople tell us, is what explains and justifies the accidental or incidental killing of innocent Palestinian citizens, including hundreds of children, by IDF soldiers. This war situation, however, does not turn the other side into "soldiers" in Israel's eyes, or its detainees into prisoners of war. Just the opposite: They are tried in the court of the force that is occupying their people, like criminal offenders, and are eligible for only a semblance of defense. Others are held in administrative detention, without trial, for unlimited periods of time.
In recent years, both these groups of detainees have suffered the serious infringement of their basic right to family visits, a right that in a law-abiding country should not hinge on the severity of the allegations against the imprisoned. For many of the detainees, the military courtroom is the only place where they can see their families. It is reasonable to assume that the six who were beaten last week were seeing their families for the first time since being arrested.
Not far from the place where they were beaten, in the Ofer detention facility, J. has been in administrative detention for almost two years. For about a year he was not visited by his wife or children, who live in Ramallah, about seven kilometers away. The IDF did not allow family visits for an extended period. Then, when pressure from petitions to the High Court of Justice resulted in the reinstating of family visits, hundreds of parents and wives were informed that they could not visit their loved ones "for security reasons." J.'s wife was among them. She could not visit him even when he was hospitalized in Jerusalem after suffering a heart attack; she could not visit him even after he was returned to his administrative detention tent.
In preventing visits, the Israeli military system is adding insufferably harsh punishment to the sentence or administrative detention order.
The IDF has arrested thousands of Palestinians in the past few years: a few of them were armed, some were members of armed cells that planned or carried out shooting attacks in the territories, some killed soldiers, some had planned or participated in terror attacks within Israel and murdered civilians, many were arrested to provide information, and others - due to stones or fire bombs that they threw, demonstrations in which they participated, activities against the separation fence or membership in one organization or another. All of them, without distinction, are considered "terrorists" in a war whose one-sided rules grant the occupying side the monopoly on the definition "fighters" and the right to kill, judge, prevent family visits and beat the "terrorists."
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