In Solitary Confinement for 10 Years, Palestinian Prisoner Sees Family Only Once

In February, Judge Yonatan Avraham denied Mahmoud Issa's request for a visit from his 75-year-old mother, deeming such a visit a 'great potential risk to state security.'

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

A Palestinian prisoner serving a life sentence has been held in solitary confinement for the past 10 years, receiving only one half-hour family visit.

In February Judge Yonatan Avraham denied Mahmoud Issa's request for a visit from his 75-year-old mother, deeming such a visit a "great potential risk to state security."

The judge's ruling was based on the Shin Bet security service's opinion and secret material he was shown. However, attorneys, activists and Issa's relatives question the reliability of the secret information used to justify his ongoing solitary confinement and that of others. They believe the use of solitary confinement is vindictive and comes from a desire to punish prisoners.

"They say a meeting with Mom will endanger Israel's security," Issa's sister, Um Ubada, said Wednesday. "I want to understand, how can a meeting with Mom, who is also hard of hearing, be dangerous? They meet on either side of a glass partition, with no physical contact. Their conversation over an internal phone line is monitored by the prison guard," she said.

Issa has spent more time in solitary confinement and has not seen his family for a longer period than any other Palestinian jailed for security-related offenses.

One of the main demands of the hundreds of Palestinian inmates, some of whom have been on a hunger strike for more than two weeks, is the release of prisoners from solitary confinement.

Issa, 44, of the West Bank village of Anata, has been jailed since 1993. He was sentenced to three life sentences for his part in abducting and murdering Border Policeman Nissim Toledano and attempting to murder two other soldiers.

Human rights breach

Once in six months the Israel Prison Service asks the court to extend Issa's solitary confinement, on the Shin Bet's orders.

Abeer Baker of the Public Defender's Office told the Nazareth's District Court in November that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had ruled that prolonged solitary confinement is a breach of the American Convention On Human Rights.

On November 30 Judge David Cheshin ruled the material he was shown justified keeping the prisoner in isolation. "The respondent's danger to state security ... is ongoing," he wrote, adding that he was convinced the ban on family visits and telephone calls "was not intended as punishment but to carry out the confinement."

However, two members of the Israel Bar Association who examined the solitary confinement cells in 2010 stated in a report obtained by Haaretz's Tomer Zarchin: "It is hard to ignore the feeling the confinement ... has a penalty function more than an imprisonment function."

Issa has recently been moved from Gilboa Prison to Ramon Prison in the south.

The Shin Bet said that since Issa's mother visited the prison "no further request to permit a visit of hers was received. If such a request is made it will be examined accordingly."

The Israel Prison Service said 94 Israeli prisoners and 38 Palestinian prisoners, 20 of whom are security prisoners denied family visits, are currently held in solitary cells, most of which have been upgraded.

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