No to the Collective Punishment of Palestinian Prisoners

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Gilboa prison
Gilboa prisonCredit: Gil Eliahu

The Prison Service has found an easy, ineffective, unjust way to obscure its colossal failure to prevent the escape from Gilboa Prison by six Palestinian security prisoners. The plan is apparently to worsen the living conditions for all security prisoners, to transfer the hundreds of Islamic Jihad prisoners out of their current prisons and disperse them among other prisons, to block family visits until at least the end of the month for all security prisoners, along with other measures designed to make their lives miserable.

The approximately 4,500 security prisoners and detainees currently in Israeli prisons are discriminated against in the conditions they receive compared to other prisoners. Of this total, 2,500 are serving prison sentences, 1,474 are awaiting trial or still on trial, and 500 are detainees being held without trial, with no charges filed against them and no possibility to defend themselves, which is intolerable in itself. Not one of these thousands of inmates is given the right to go out on a furlough, even after decades behind bars, and phone calls to their families are generally forbidden too. Their cases are tried in the military legal system, which basically functions as an executive arm of the occupation authorities and imposes very harsh, often disproportionate, punishments.

Just consider the negligible percentage of Palestinian defendants who are exonerated. Add to that the view of human rights organizations in Israel and abroad – that by incarcerating thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, the state is violating the international law that prohibits prisoners and detainees from being taken out of occupied territory. Ofer Prison is the sole Israeli prison in the territories. Most of the security prisoners are serving time inside Israel.

The call to collectively punish all of these thousands of prisoners, and their families, and to make the conditions of their incarceration even harsher than they already are, is outrageous. It may be diverting public discussion from the debacle of the escape and satisfiyng a desire for vengeance against the fugitives, but it is not right and could also heighten tensions and increase the danger of violence erupting inside and outside the prisons. The Prison Service authorities should set this plan aside and not punish all of the prisoners for something they did not do. They did not escape. Only their six fellow prisoners did.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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