Situation of Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Jails
Talk by Ghassan
Khader, London, 27 May 2004
Organised by Al-Awda PRRC London and SOAS Palestine Society
Chaired by Neil Gerrard MP, Chair of All-Party Committee on
Refugees and Member of the Joint Parliamentary Middle East
Councils Commission of Enquiry on Palestinian Refugees – Right
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to say thank you for your
interest in the case of Palestinian prisoners and for coming
to this talk, especially because I have come from Palestine
and there people are suffering under the harsh policies of
As you know, people in Palestine continue to suffer from the
occupation, the continued building of settlements, and the
racist wall, and the daily killings of my people, the arrests
and detention of thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli
jails. Israel continues to deny international and UN
resolutions and our national rights.
In this talk especially I will give an overview of the
condition of the suffering of Palestinian prisoners inside
Israeli jails. I will give current examples of some of the
prisoners including my brother Hussam.
Numbers of prisoners
I will start talking about prisoners – men, women, and
childrens’ – situation inside the prisons. I will also talk
about the families and their suffering.
When the Al-Aqsa Intifada started in September 2000, the
numbers of people arrested increased a lot – before the Al-Aqsa
intifada, there were 765 prisoners because many had been
released. Now the total number of prisoners is over 7,200. All
the figures I will use in my talk are from the Al-Asra
Association, an NGO, and the Palestinian Authority Ministry of
The total number of prisoners is 7,200 – of these, 2,300 have
been charged, 3,700 are still waiting trial, and 1,200 are
held under administrative detention which is renewed
Because of these increased numbers, the Israelis opened new
prisons – some which had been closed and some were newly built
– for example, Al-Nakab, which was closed and now has
1,600 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza, 600
of whom have not been charged and are held under
administrative detention which is usually extended every 6
months. The other prisoners in Al-Nakab have been
charged and some are still waiting to be charged.
Harsh conditions inside the prisons
If we want to talk about the condition inside Israeli prisons,
it is like talking about harsh and dramatic reality for the
National Movement of Prisoners. This Movement continues to
struggle for the Palestinian people and their freedom, rights
The Israeli Prison Administration creates the most difficult and
impossible conditions in the prisons. For example, prisoners’
representatives and leaders are often kept in isolation and
separate from other prisoners.
Prisoners are held under a tight regime and routine; for
example, every morning the guards come and count them, and then
prisoners are given breakfast. Again in the evening they are
counted. Prisoners who are not held in isolation are allowed out
of their cells for only up to 2 hours each day, and sometimes
this is also stopped for small reasons.
There are also often raids inside the prisons when soldiers
suddenly enter the cells and rooms and search and often beat the
prisoners, and throw gas.
Prisoners are kept 25 to 30 men in each room, and the space of
these rooms is 4 by 5 metres square, with the beds and toilet
inside the room. This makes difficult living conditions for the
prisoners in these overcrowded conditions; people cannot relax,
they are under big pressure all the time and this causes tension
and anger for some prisoners, and this is the aim of the
Israelis. Some prisoners are also put with criminals.
Usually the Israeli Prison Administration moves prisoners from
section to section inside the prisons, and also from one prison
to another, with no reason. The purpose of this is to put the
Palestinian prisoners under bad psychological conditions and
high levels of anxiety that is also part of the psychological
war against prisoners.
Prisoners also undertake individual or group strikes, including
hunger strikes, to protest against being held in isolation or
other bad conditions they are held in. This is the only way they
can take action to demand their rights.
Torture of prisoners is routine with hundreds of prisoners
tortured every year. This torture includes violent shaking for
many minutes which makes prisoners unconscious and throw-up
and is a very dangerous method which often has lasting health
effects and has been the cause of death of a number of
prisoners. Prisoners are also chained with hand-cuffs to small
chairs by their hands and legs for many hours and even days;
lack of sleep; prisoners being deprived of food and drink;
prisoners are hooded with old sacks with bad smell for days at
a time; prisoners are kept in small cells completely isolated
from the outside world and loud music is played. All this
torture takes place against what the Israelis call ‘war on
terrorism’. For us this is our struggle for independence and
In terms of numbers, 96% of prisoners suffered from torture;
82% were exposed to the Shabeh position; 88% were forced to
stand for long periods of time; and 97% were deprived of
The UN Committee Against Torture has said that the use
of these methods of torture by Israel breaks the Conventions
and international laws which Israel signed in 1986 and in 1991
they again confirmed this. However, since the start of the
Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, over 80% of prisoners have been
My brother Hussam, for example, was under interrogation for 90
days. Many times during these 90 days he suffered from sleep
deprivation, violent shaking, being chained to a small chair
by his hands and feet for days. He has talked to his lawyer
about the torture he suffered. After his arrest in March 2003,
the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) issued an
appeal expressing their grave concern “for the physical and
psychological integrity of Mr Khader, given the excessive use
of force during his arrest, and the fact that he is being
detained incommunicado, with the heightened risk that he will
be subjected to ill-treatment or torture that this entails”.
Hussam was adopted as ‘Prisoner of the Month’ by Mandela
Institute for Human Rights in Palestine in August 2003.
Prisoner being held in Shabeh position
Medical conditions of the prisoners
The Israeli Prison Administration intentionally leaves
prisoners often without proper medical care and treatment.
Prisoners are not always checked by doctors and are often
given asprin as a treatment for many things.
The lack of proper medical treatment means that many prisoners
suffer bad health and have different diseases which spread in
the overcrowded conditions. A number of prisoners have died as
a result of not good medical treatment – the most recent
person who died was Bashir Aweis from Balata Refugee Camp who
died in Megiddo prison. He died after interrogation and was
about 30 years old, with two young children.
During the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the Israeli army arrested tens of
Palestinian women, and now there are about 90 women prisoners.
Of these, 3 were arrested before the intifada and the rest
since. 24 of them have been charged, and 65 are still waiting
for their trials. Recently many of the women prisoners have been
moved from A-Ramle Prison to Telmond Prison.
Women prisoners also suffer from humiliating conditions and
Some of the women have had children inside the prisons.
During the Al-Aqsa intifada, over 2,200 children were
arrested, and of these, about 362 children are in prison at
the moment – aged under 18.
Child prisoners have also suffered from torture – with up to
83% subjected to torture including thick sacks put on their
head and being held in the shabeh position.
And 12% of child prisoners when they are released continue to
suffer from physical and psychological problems.
The children are distributed between different prisons, 4 of
which are controlled by Mukhabart, and the others are run by
soldiers and the police.
Children as young as 12 years old can be charged under Israeli
Child prisoners are also sometimes kept with adult prisoners –
which is against the Fourth Geneva Convention and other
international laws and agreements.
The suffering of the prisoners’ families
The prisoners’ families suffering starts from when their sons
and daughters are arrested. This usually happens in a very
violent way with the door being blown up, and the family put
on the street with children screaming and crying.
When their son or daughter is first arrested, families do not
have any news about them, and often have to wait for at least
a month to hear from the International Red Cross.
Since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa intifada, for the first few
years there were no family visits. Recently this is now
allowed to some families from cities like Ramallah. But
families from Nablus – which are the highest number of
prisoners – visits are still not allowed. The families have
made an association and campaign for visits and for their sons
and daughter’s rights.
Families who can visit the prisoners have to travel for hours
to visit each month, and can visit for about 45 minutes behind
dark glass screens. And visits are often cancelled because of
curfews and closure.
Prisoners have also gone on strike because of the conditions
of family visits – for example, they cannot touch their
children and cannot even see their families clearly because of
the dark glass.
Hussam is a member of the PLC and the Chair of the
Committee for the Defence of Palestinian Refugee Rights.
He was arrested on 17 March 2003 and has been detained since
then in isolated conditions. Contrary to international law,
Hussam is being held illegal inside Israel, and not the
Occupied Territories. He was held for nearly one year in
solitary confinement after a long period of 90 days
interrogation. Full details of Hussam’s case are on the
As an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council,
Hussam Khader, like Marwan Barghouti, should have immunity
from arrest and detention, as outlined in the Agreements
between the PLO and the Israel government. However, the
Israeli government does not respect these agreements,
especially when it relates to Palestinian prisoners and the
Fourth Geneva Convention. Hussam is known for his
commitment to the right of return for Palestinian refugees, to
human rights, as well as his statements in the fight against
A refugee himself, Hussam Khader is an outspoken advocate for
refugee rights and founder of the Committee for the Defence
of the Palestinian Refugee Rights, which insists on the
right of return for Palestinian refugees to be included in any
peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.
Hussam was the first to be forced out of his country because
of his role as a leader during the first Intifada when he was
exiled on January 13th, 1988. At 2 in the morning
all the neighbouring houses and the whole area were surrounded
by the Israeli army. At 2.45am they blew up the front door
without warning and immediately opened fire. There were four
children living in the house, aged eleven, eight and five
years old, as well as nine months old. The soldiers ordered
all of the family out of the house, and arrested Hussam.
In May 2004, his trial was delayed for the 6th
time, as the main prosecution witness withdrew evidence, he
said, was obtained under torture. Hussam’s next Court hearing
has been set for 29 June 2004. Hussam has been subjected to
physical and psychological torture, including sleep
deprivation, interrogation for over 90 days, and being held in
solitary confinement for 1 year. During this period, he has
not had regular access to his lawyer, nor to family visits,
and, against international law, is being held inside Israel
and not the Occupied Territories. Hussam has been moved to 7
different prisons inside Israel, and until a hunger strike for
9 days in March 2004 to protest against his conditions of
detention, he had been held in solitary confinement for a
In March 2004, the Palestinian Legislative Council, the
Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Affairs, and Fateh’s
leadership all issued statements condemning the detention of
the Palestinian parliament members, Hussam Khader and Marwan
Also in October 2003, the Governing Council of the
Inter-Parliamentary Union adopted a resolution expressing
its deep concern about Hussam Khader’s arrest, his conditions
of detention and the lack of evidence supplied to his lawyers
Many Human Rights organisations have for many years documented
the human rights abuses and torture of Palestinian prisoners.
In its Annual Report last year, 2003, Amnesty International
expressed its concern about Palestinian prisoners in Israeli
jails, especially the more that 3,800 Palestinian prisoners
who were tried before military courts in trials – like Hussam
is. According to Amnesty International, these
did not meet international standards, and that ill-treatment
of Palestinian detainees was widespread.
In a recent statement released from prison, Hussam Khader
called upon Palestinians and the world at large to pressure
Israel to meet their responsibilities and treat Palestinian
prisoners with the dignity and respect they deserve.
We Palestinians will continue to fight and to struggle for our
rights and our dignity. Despite all the things that have
happened and continue to happen – for example, the
demolitions, the killings, the invasions and the occupation -
we do not feel tired.
Finally, thank you for coming and thank you for your interest.
Ghassan Khader is a founding member of the Popular Committee
in Solidarity with
PLC member Hussam Khader and Palestinian Prisoners
He is also Co-ordinator of the Committee Representing
Relatives of Palestinian Prisoners and Public Relations
Co-ordinator of the Committee for the Defence of Palestinian
Refugee Rights, Palestine.
WHAT YOU CAN
Sign the petition on Hussam’s website –
Write to your MP or MEP and ask them to
write to the Foreign Secretary and ask if the British
Government, under its obligations as a signatory of the 4th
Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment (all of which Israel is also signatory to) can
raise the following issues with the Israeli Government:
The conditions of detention of Hussam Khader – his detention
inside Israel and not the Occupied Territories
To demand an investigation into the allegations of torture that
he has suffered;
His defence team’s access to information on the evidence again
To ensure that Hussam and other political prisoners have full
access to lawyers, heath services and family visits. Hussam
Khader suffers from severe spinal problems and has not received
adequate health treatment for this;
His right – and the rights of other political prisoners - to
judicial guarantees ensuring a fair trial – especially given
that Hussam is being tried under the military courts system in
Write to the
following people about Hussam’s case, and the conditions of all
Palestinian political prisoners:
Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister:
Yosef Lapid, Minister of Justice:
Ambassador Yaakov Levy:
Write to the media –
Spread the word – speak to your local media and political
representatives about the over 7,000 Palestinian political
prisoners and the illegality of Hussam’s imprisonment.