Israel Won't Ease Sanctions on Visits to Jailed Palestinians

Citing security concerns, Defense Minister Ya'alon refuses to increase the number of family visits to Palestinians in Israeli prisons for now.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Tomer Appelbaum

Yet another type of sanction has been imposed upon the Palestinians because of the recent breakdown in peace talks with Israel: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has decided not to allow more family visits to Palestinian prisoners because of the political situation.

In May 2013, attorney Daniel Shenhar of the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice on behalf of three relatives of prisoners, asking to augment the number of family visits to Palestinian prisoners.

Until March 2003, following the second intifada, family visits were completely forbidden. But even today, there are still rigid restrictions on visits by relatives to male prisoners between the ages of 16 and 35. Government officials say the reason for this policy is that in this age group, many of the prisoners have been involved in terrorist acts.

As things stand now, children of prisoners may visit twice a year, and siblings once a year. However, permits for visits are issued only after a security check, and many relatives of prisoners are not allowed to enter Israel at all.

Spouses, parents, grandparents and children under 16 or over 46 may visit at any time, but they are dependent on transportation from the Red Cross, which is only arranged about twice a month.

As a result of the Hamoked petition, government officials have realized that there is a problem with the arrangements regarding visits to prisoners, and began looking into ways to increase them. Their work was completed in late April and recommendations have been submitted to the defense minister.

In an update submitted to the High Court last week, however, officials of the State Prosecutor’s Office wrote: “The defense minister has decided that considering current political and security-related circumstances, there is no room at this time to change the standing arrangements. We must review the matter again in the next few months, taking into account all the relevant circumstances. We emphasize that the political echelon has the broadest discretion on this matter.”

The government's representative, attorney Avishai Kraus, added that the state is under no obligation to allow people to enter its territory, and that the current policy regarding visits strikes a balance between the needs of the prisoners and the needs involved in maintaining security.