As Israel cracks down on protests, Palestinians call for international support to thousands of political prisoners and researchers release a new report detailing corporate complicity in the Israeli prison system.
Women participate in a sit-in, held weekly by families of Palestinians detained by Israel in the courtyard of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s Gaza Strip headquarters.
NEW YORK — As supporters of Palestinians held by Israel demonstrated across Palestine and beyond to mark the 41st Palestinian Prisoners’ Day on Friday, the number of Palestinian detainees topped 6,500, a five-year high.
The day of solidarity was also held amid news of 500-percent surges in both reports of torture by Shin Bet interrogators and new “administrative detention” orders, which allow Israeli military commanders in the West Bank to indefinitely jail Palestinians without charge or trial.
To commemorate the annual event, a British organization issued a briefing with profiles of former detainees, as well as international corporations complicit in abuses by Israeli jailers.
“The interviews were carried out during 2013 in the West Bank and Gaza,” Tom Anderson, co-author and Corporate Watch researcher, told MintPress News about the report, “Imprisoned voices: Corporate complicity in the Israeli prison system.”
Corporate Watch, an independent research group based in the United Kingdom, studies the impact of corporate behavior in various spheres, including Palestine.
“During that time we heard countless stories of imprisonment of children, detention without trial, torture and psychological pressure during interrogation and denial of medical treatment within the prison system,” Anderson said.
“We also heard many calls to intensify BDS pressure,” he added, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose activists have launched campaigns to isolate several of the companies named in the document.
“Use the information to take action”
Children hold signs at a weekly sit-in by families of Palestinians detained by Israel in the courtyard of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s Gaza Strip headquarters.
The briefing’s 11 profiles cover a range of prison experiences, from Gaza residents beaten and denied medical care, deprived of sleep and forced to give birth in prison, and forcibly relocated from their homes in the West Bank, to current West Bank inhabitants placed in isolation and sentenced without charge or trial to “administrative detention.”
The reasons for their incarceration vary from participation in armed struggle to popular protests and other political activities and affiliations, including the Facebook posts that landed two West Bank women behind bars — Ghada for 28 days in 2012 and Sireen Khudairy for 63 days in 2013.
As Anderson and co-author Therezia Cooper write, “The Israeli military has declared hundreds of organisations illegal, including every Palestinian political party, every student body, sports clubs, charity organisations and women’s centres.”
Under these military proclamations and orders, Israeli commanders can plausibly imprison nearly every politically active Palestinian, such as the 20 journalists and 17 elected members of the Palestinian parliament it currently detains.
Some common experiences span multiple accounts. The obstruction or outright prohibition of visits by family members and even attorneys is ubiquitous, as are beatings and other harsh techniques during detentions and interrogations.
The report’s final section lists 19 companies known to hold contracts with the Israel Prison Service, with extended profiles of two — British security firm G4S and U.S. computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard — that have drawn protests.
These efforts have already produced results. After a campaign against G4S began on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day in 2012, the company has lost a series of public, university and institutional contracts and shareholders, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Methodist Church, have divested their holdings in its stock.
When protesters seriously disrupted the G4S’ annual general meeting last year, the firm announced it would end its contracts with Israeli prisons and detention centers as they expire. The BDS National Committee, which coordinates the campaign globally, said it would continue until the company “completely withdraws.”
Last year the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest its shares in Hewlett-Packard and two other companies holding contracts with Israeli forces. Numerous student bodies have voted to pressure their campus administrations to do likewise.
Corporate Watch intends its dossier to spur further efforts against companies providing goods and services to Israeli prisons, Anderson said.
“We hope that solidarity activists will use the information to take action against the companies profiting from the imprisonment of Palestinians by Israel.”
“Critical to the Palestinian struggle”
After a weekly sit-in by families and other supporters of Palestinian prisoners in the courtyard of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Gaza office, Palestinians rallied outside for Ayman Itbeish, an administrative detainee on his 123rd day of an open hunger strike to protest his imprisonment by Israel without charge or trial.
G4S featured prominently in Prisoners’ Day demonstrations in the United Kingdom, where activists in Glasgow, London and Manchester protested the company.
A day earlier, BDS supporters in South Africa announced that over 20 companies in the country had cut their ties with G4S.
“That the announcement of cancelled G4S contracts comes on the eve of the international Palestinian political prisoner day should not be understated,” African National Congress veteran Ahmed Kathrada, a former political prisoner and parliamentarian, said in a statement. “We hope to see the release of all political prisoners such as Marwan Barghouti from Israeli prisons secured by G4S.”
Other events around the world included marches in Buenos Aires and Toulouse, France, protests outside the European Parliament in Brussels and the Israeli Embassy in Toronto, an art exhibition and discussion of both Prisoners’ Day and Black and Brown struggles in Oakland, California, and a congress highlighting the Palestinian refugees’ right of return in Caracas, Venezuela.
“People around the world organized this year for Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, linking to local struggles against mass imprisonment, political repression and racism, and highlighting the cases of Palestinians like Khalida Jarrar, the imprisoned leftist and feminist parliamentarian, Lina Khattab, jailed Palestinian student activist, or the Hares Boys, five Palestinian youths who have been unjustly imprisoned for over two years,” Charlotte Kates told MintPress.
Kates coordinates Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, which tracked the events on its website.
“The escalating attacks on Palestinian leaders and organizers are sparking a growing focus on the political imprisonment of Palestinians in the international solidarity movement that is beginning to recognize and represent the central role Palestinian prisoners have always played in the Palestinian national liberation movement,” she said. “The freedom of prisoners is critical to the Palestinian struggle in all of its aspects.”
“A cloud of tear gas”
A Palestinian demonstrator uses a sling to throw back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli soldiers during clashes following a protest marking Palestinian “Prisoners’ Day” in the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah, Friday, April 17, 2015.
“It was a symbolic day for hundreds who gathered in Bil’in,” Frida, a member of the International Solidarity Movement, told MintPress. “The initial mood was quite festive as we marched chanting with flags and banners to mark the Palestinian Prisoners’ Day and Bassem [Abu Rahmah]’s life, a local who was shot and killed by the Israeli army six years ago. But then the soldiers got involved in the demo and the whole afternoon became a cloud of tear gas.”
A rally inside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound passed without incident.
Last Thursday, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at protesters outside Ofer Prison near Ramallah.
As Israel cracked down, Palestinian leaders, as well as Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups, urged further steps to support Palestinian political prisoners.
Citing Israel’s rising use of “administrative detention,” the torture of “virtually every Palestinian arrested,” and the forcible transfer of Palestinian detainees in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association called in a statement for International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda “to immediately open an investigation into the case of the prisoners, and bring those who have tortured, murdered, forcibly transferred and ordered the arbitrary detention of Palestinians to be held to account.”
Four other groups — Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel – asked “the international community to demand that Israel incorporate the international recommendations of the UN and EU bodies in order to address the deteriorating human rights conditions of Palestinian prisoners and to end its violations of international law.”
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, echoed the call, requesting “all members of the international community to act on the basis of justice and human rights and bring Israel to compliance for its willful breach of the rights and lives of Palestinian political prisoners.”
“It is high time for Israel’s captivity of the Palestinian people to end at all levels,” she said.
In Gaza, Abu Obeida, the masked, pseudonymous spokesman of Hamas’ armed al-Qassam Brigades, addressed a message to prisoners.
“Our main duty is to achieve your freedom and liberate our homeland,” he said.