RAMALLAH - Israel released over 200 Palestinians from Israeli jails in a "goodwill
gesture" Monday. This followed the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha and was
an attempt to boost the waning popularity of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Several prisoners spoke to the assembled local and international media about
their time in detention. They accused the Israelis of maltreating and physically
abusing detainees despite Israeli claims that torture and the abuse of prisoners
have been outlawed and no longer occur.
Most of the detainees were Fatah members, the movement associated with Abbas
and the ruling Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
Some belonged to smaller Palestinian resistance groups such as the Democratic
Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
While Israel's "goodwill gesture" was much touted by the Israeli
media, the majority of the prisoners were mostly small-time political detainees,
who were due for release fairly shortly, having already served most of their
Many were teenagers when imprisoned and none were convicted of injuring or
As negotiations were under way for the release of the 227 prisoners, hundreds
more Palestinians were arrested by Israeli security forces.
The move was widely seen as an effort to boost Abbas's floundering PA. The
PA is currently engaged in a political battle against the rival Hamas movement
which controls the Gaza Strip.
Hostility between the two main Palestinian political factions is rising as
the end of Abbas's term nears.
Abbas stated he would not step down, while Hamas said it would no longer recognize
his authority after Jan. 9, when his term ends.
The released detainees were greeted by tearful family members, friends and
hundreds of supporters who crowded into Ramallah's presidential headquarters
in the central West Bank.
Scenes of jubilation erupted against a sea of Fatah and Palestinian flags as
patriotic music boomed into the winter air.
Muhammed Abdul Razik, 22, from the town of Qabatia in the northern West Bank,
served two of his four-and-a-half-year sentence.
He was convicted in an Israeli court of weapons possession and being a member
of the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, an armed offshoot of Fatah.
"I was beaten very badly when I was arrested by Israeli Defense Forces
(IDF) soldiers. I was kept in the back of a jeep for over four hours in the
freezing cold," Razik told IPS.
"During detention my head was covered with a foul-smelling dirty sack
as I was shackled to a chair with my hands handcuffed behind my back in a stressful
"Periodically, between punches and slaps, the interrogator would suddenly
pull me forward causing extreme pain to my wrists and back," he said.
Razik added that beatings, insufficient medicine, poor food and lack of family
visits were routine while he was incarcerated.
The Israeli Landau Committee into torture in 1987 ruled that Israel's domestic
intelligence agency, the Shabak, or Shin Bet, could use "moderate physical
pressure and psychological pressure during the interrogation of detainees."
The committee did not elaborate on its definition of physical pressure in its
report, nor did it outline the circumstances in which it could be used. The
details were kept confidential and the full report was never published.
Following petitions by several human rights organizations against the ubiquitous
use of torture in the country, the Israeli High Court prohibited the use of
certain forms of torture during its 1999 ruling.
However, it authorized the use of "physical means" against detainees
including "pressure and a measure of discomfort."
Rights groups B'Tselem and Hamoked released a report last year entitled "Absolute
Prohibition: The Torture and Ill-Treatment of Palestinian Detainees" in
which they accused the court ruling of "legitimizing severe acts, contrary
to international law, which does not acknowledge any exceptions to the prohibition
on torture and ill-treatment."
The organization added that the beatings, painful binding, humiliation and
denial of basic needs appeared to be designed to "soften up the detainees"
prior to interrogation.
B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told IPS, "There has been an improvement,
but there are still many cases of ill-treatment occurring."
B'Tselem and Hamoked interviewed 73 former detainees for their report and found
roughly two-thirds had been subject to some kind of mistreatment.
Rabie Al-Latifah from Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq used stronger terms.
"Ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons
is both widespread and systematic," Rabie told IPS.
"The United Coalition Against Torture, of which Al-Haq is a member, has
observed and recorded evidence of acts, omissions, and complicity by agents
of the State at all levels, including the army, the intelligence service, the
police, the judiciary and other branches of government," he added.
The Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association says that more
than 800 Palestinians are currently in administrative detention.
Detainees are held for six months at a time without being brought to trial
on the basis of "secret evidence."
This six-month period can be renewed repeatedly with some administrative detainees
being jailed for up to six years without being convicted of any crime.
"Confidential material" denied to the detainee's lawyer determines
the period of detention.
Since 2001, the Israeli State Attorney's Office received over 500 complaints
of ill-treatment by Shin Bet interrogators, but not a single criminal investigation
was carried out.
These decisions were based on the findings of an investigation conducted by
an inspector who was himself a member of the Shin Bet.
Even in cases where interrogators were found guilty of abusing a detainee the
State Attorney's Office closed the case on the basis that the abuse was carried
out in the "necessity of defense."