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Tuesday 24th June 1997

This is a Report on the conditions faced by Arab and Palestinian prisoners

detained in Israeli prisons.

Upon its re-deployment in May 1994, Israel transferred Palestinian and Arab prisoners, held in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), to prisons inside Israel, in violation of the IV Geneva Convention. Israel has not fulfilled its commitment in the Oslo Agreements to release these prisoners, but continues to keep them in isolated and inhumane conditions where they are subjected to torture in violation of United Nations minimum standards and international legal norms. These prisoners languish in the knowledge that they became Israel’s hostages upon their removal to Israeli sovereign territory.

This is the first in a series of reports to be published by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, on the issue of Palestinian and Arab prisoners who are imprisoned in Israeli prisons. This first report summarises the salient issues relating to these prisoners, and is the first in a series which will accompany the Centre’s campaign for their release and for an amelioration in the conditions in which they are imprisoned. The reports aim to:

Despite the difficulty in gaining access to Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has established a mechanism for obtaining information from family members of prisoners, other human rights organisations working on this issue, and from ex-prisoners in order that we can publicise and disseminate information on the prisoners issue, and to bring about an amelioration in their situation.

The following points summarise the most salient issues relating to the release of Palestinian and Arab prisoners who are imprisoned in Israeli prisons:

Background to the Prisoners Issue

The Transfer of Palestinian Prisoners to Prisons inside Israel

Following the coming into force of the Oslo Agreements, the Israeli occupation forces withdrew from areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including from what had previously been Israeli military headquarters and prisons. In anticipation of re-deployment, Israel transferred Palestinians imprisoned and detained at these locations to prisons inside its sovereign territory.

Such transfers are prohibited by the IV Geneva Convention, Article 49 of which states that:

The transfer of these prisoners is not only a violation of international law, but has aggravated the conditions of imprisonment for the prisoners, placing an additional psychological burden on them, aware that they became Israel’s hostages upon their removal to Israeli sovereign territory. In addition the transfer has made it more difficult for their families to visit them. Family visits to prisons in Israel are arduous due to the severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement imposed by Israel. The prisons are geographically a long way from the homes of families so that each visit is gruelling for the often elderly or the very young, who make up the majority of family visitors.

Palestinian and Arab prisoners currently imprisoned in Israeli prisons number around 3,000, of whom 541 are from Gaza. They are imprisoned at the following locations:


No. Of Detainees









Al Jalama






Ramla (Nitzan)


Ramla Prisoners Hospital


Russian Compound, Jerusalem









Among these prisoners, 234 are administrative detainees (detained in Majedo Prison near Haifa); 150 prisoners are 18 years old or under; and around 180 prisoners are nationals of Arab countries or are from the Palestinian diaspora.

The above figures do not include a number of prisoners whose details, whereabouts and exact numbers are impossible to define because: they are kept in isolation by the Israeli prison authorities; or they are held in interrogation units; or they are one of the many arrested by the Israeli occupation authorities at the borders with Israel, for example as they cross into Israel to work. Palestinians continue to be arrested at border crossing points between Israel and the OPTs and around 250 a week are brought before Israel’s Military Courts.

Obligation to Release Prisoners Contained in the Oslo Agreements

Article XX of the Cairo Agreement defines the release of prisoners as a “confidence building measure” designed to establish “a solid basis of mutual trust and good faith” and requires Israel to release around 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, within 5 weeks from the signing of the Agreements (see Appendix I of this report).

Article XVI of the Taba Agreement, is infused with the same spirit, and accordingly requires Israel to release more Palestinian and Arab prisoners. Annex VII of the Agreement provides a schedule for their release in three phases (see Appendix II).

Although during negotiations, the Israeli Government refused to agree to release all Palestinian prisoners, it is under an international legal obligation to adhere to what it did agree. However, neither the text nor the spirit of the confidence-building provisions have been respected by Israel, which has contributed to the deterioration of relations between the Parties. Meanwhile the conditions in which Palestinian and Arab prisoners are detained continue to deteriorate.

Conditions in Which Palestinian and Arab Prisoners are Imprisoned in Israel

1. Family Visits

International law provides that prisoners have the right to receive family visits on a regular basis. However the Israeli Government argues different pretexts for restricting or prohibiting visits by family members, which are not admissible on international legal and humanitarian grounds. Palestinian prisoners are effectively isolated from the outside world, including from their families. This undermines their spirit and morale, and goes no way towards confidence-building between the Parties.

The fulfilment of a prisoners right to receive family visits is an obligation on Israel, both in its capacity as the Occupying Power and as the detaining authority. Article 116 of the IV Geneva Convention states that:

Thus Israel is under an obligation to facilitate regular family visits to its prisons and detention centres for all detainees.

In addition, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, states in Rule 37 that:

Principle 19 of the Body of Principles for Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, states that:

The Israeli Government violates its international legal obligations to facilitate regular family visits to prisoners. In fact the receipt by a Palestinian prisoner of a visit from their family is the exception rather than the rule. Israel imposes a wide range of restrictions on family visits, so that in many cases visits are completely denied. Domestic Israeli law clearly states all prisoners have the right to receive visits. Moreover it gives prisoners the right to meet their spouse and to continue carnal relations. Thus it is apparent that Israel discriminates between Palestinians and Israelis imprisoned in its sovereign territory.

Eligibility for family visits is as follows:

a. males who are father and son can visit without age restriction, other male relatives must be 50 years and over;

b. mother, daughter and wife without age restrictions;

c. brother and sister up to 16 years old only.

In 1995 the ICRC arranged visits for 130,000 family members of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. On 19th April 1996, the Israeli Government tightened the restrictions on family visits, which resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of visitors to only 55,000 during 1996.

The new restrictions were as follows:

In addition, throughout 1996, Israel summarily cancelled or postponed the family visits, so that visitors would have to reapply. Consequently the programme did not proceed with any regularity in 1996.

On 28th May 1996, the ICRC suspended its family visit programme in protest at the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities. Following negotiations between the ICRC and the Israeli authorities an agreement was reached on visit conditions which comprised:

i. The ICRC issue a ticket containing the names of Palestinians who are eligible to visit; each prisoner may receive a maximum of four visitors per visit.

ii. The list of all expected visitors is transmitted to the Israeli authorities.

iii. This list must be sent four days before the scheduled visit.

Under this system, Palestinians are not informed by Israel whether they will have permission to visit their relatives in prison prior to arriving at Erez checkpoint on the morning of the visit. In January 1997, of the 952 Palestinians, who were eligible to visit their relatives in Israeli prisons from Gaza Strip, 11 family members were turned back at Erez Checkpoint. In addition the new arrangements require the ticket issued by the ICRC to contain information on women and children two years old and over who wish to visit. Previously, women and children were not subjected to security restrictions.

One of the provisions of the family visit programme is that each prisoner is permitted two family visits per month. Taking into account the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, the number of visitors in 1996 should have been around 300,000 and not 55,000. In February 1997, 196 Palestinians from Gaza were permitted to visit members of their family in Israeli prisons. However, the Israeli authorities did not allow second visits to prisoners who had been transferred from Ashqelon prison to Nafha Prison.

There are 541 Palestinian prisoners from Gaza imprisoned in Israeli prisons. However, in March 1997 only 550 family members from Gaza were allowed to visit prisoners. The visit programme was suspended on 21st March, due to the severe closure imposed by the Israeli Government on the Gaza Strip, from which the prisoners visit programme was not excepted. On 15th April 1997 the Israeli authorities informed the ICRC that only 300 Palestinians, 200 from the West Bank and 100 from the Gaza Strip would be permitted to make visits to their relatives in prison. This draconian restriction was imposed even over Eid El Adha, which takes place around 17th April 1997, and is one of the most important Muslim religious celebrations. The ICRC rejected this offer, condemning Israel’s move as a violation of the agreement that had previously been reached between them.

As a consequence of the restrictive conditions of eligibility the Israeli authorities impose on family members wishing to visit prisoners, 65 prisoners are deprived of any family visits; for example because their parents have died, the detainee is unmarried and their sisters and brothers are over 16 years of age. In addition there are around 506 family members who are not allowed to visit prisoners on what Israel claims are security grounds.

During the visits themselves family members, who are mostly women and the elderly, face humiliation and they are often badly treated. The day of the visit is long and gruelling, beginning in the early hours of the morning and ending in the late hours of the night. Visitors are subjected to security checks, including body searches at Erez Checkpoint; these often last for 3 hours. They must walk approximately 2 kms across the checkpoint to buses which travel under Israeli armed guard to the different prisons. The journey from Erez can take up to four hours. When they reach the prisons, visitors are once again subjected to a security search before they can visit their family members for a maximum of 45 minutes through a metal grill.

Not only do these restrictive visit arrangements violate the minimum rights for prisoners to receive regular visits from family members, but in addition, Israel continually violates these sub-standards.

2. Lawyers Visits

Since 8th April 1996 Israel has not allowed Palestinian lawyers from the Gaza Strip to visit Palestinians detained in Israel. This has grave ramifications for Palestinian prisoners to whom Israeli lawyers are in most cases unaffordable and whom are effectively denied access to legal counsel as a consequence; including before the Israeli Military Courts, which notoriously defy international minimum standards for fair trial and due process. They are thus effectively isolated in prisons, where they are subject to inhumane conditions and torture.

The following are implications of Israel’s prevention of Palestinian lawyers from reaching Palestinians imprisoned or detained in Israel:

3. Legalisation and Legitimisation of Torture Against Palestinian Detainees

Palestinians imprisoned in Israel’s prisons and detention centres are subjected to torture. Israel has recently legitimised the use of interrogation techniques which amount to torture against Palestinian detainees. Israel is perhaps the only State to take such steps, and it has done so under a legal facade, and in violation of international human rights standards ratified by Israel, which forbid torture even “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of a nation”. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Palestinian lawyers are prevented from gaining access to Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.

Israel’s use of physical pressure is illegal and completely incongruent with international opinion of what is morally acceptable. The consensus of the international community is reflected in the unequivocal and absolute prohibition on torture contained in the 1948 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), to which Israel became a Party in 1991, and in Article 7 of the 1949 United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is also a Party.

The Legalisation Of Torture In Israel

The legalisation of torture in Israel has evolved as follows:

In 1994, the United Nations Committee Against Torture responded with condemnation, stating that the Landau Commission’s recommendation that the GSS could use moderate physical pressure was “completely unacceptable”. In spite of this, the Israeli Government went on to authorise the GSS to use a greater degree of physical pressure, including “shaking”. Palestinian detainee Abed al-Samad Harizat died as a result of “shaking” on 25th April 1995.

In November 1996 the Committee condemned the Israeli Supreme Court’s endorsement of the use of “physical pressure” by the GSS. The Committee reiterated that “there can be no circumstances which justify the use of torture”.

Israel asserts political and security pretexts, and that the need to obtain information relating to security, justifies the use of physical pressure against Palestinian detainees. It is clear that international law, and the instruments freely ratified by Israel, provide for no exceptions to the prohibition against torture.

The Institutionalisation of Torture

Rather than adopting preventative safeguards against torture, Israel has perverted the obligation contained in Article 2:1 of the CAT which requires it to:

Israel has adopted legislative, judicial and administrative measures which have as both their purpose and effect, the sanctioning of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, while placing a veil of legality over the use of illegal practices against Palestinian detainees.

Each constitutional organ is mobilised in the determination of the application of torture: the Israeli Government took the decision to establish the Landau Commission, comprising senior members of the judiciary, headed by the then President of the Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau; ministerial committees of the Knesset increased the level of physical pressure that the GSS could apply; in January and November 1996 the Israeli Supreme Court authorised the GSS to use techniques amounting to torture in the interrogation of two Palestinian detainees, Mohammed Hamdan and Khadir Mubarak (see Appendix III:A for details of their cases).

Discriminatory Legislation

Israel has in force contradictory legislation which strongly indicates discrimination; the prohibition against all forms of discrimination is absolute and is embodied in the highest form of international law. Carrying out torture based on discrimination of any kind is specifically prohibited by the CAT (Article 1(1)).

The 1977 Israeli Penal Code prohibits only that:

This Code does not include a prohibition against torture as required by international law, and Israeli law does not allow for the provisions of the CAT to be invoked in Israeli courts.

However even Israel’s sub-standard formulation of the prohibition against the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is not applied to Palestinians. A separate system is in place, which apparently applies only to Palestinian detainees, and which facilitates the use of physical pressure, including “shaking”, and other techniques amounting to torture. According to this system, the determination to apply physical pressure is made on a case-by-case basis, and “binding directives” are taken.

This system was used in the two cases in November 1996, concerning the two Palestinian detainees, Hamdan and Mubarak, mentioned above. In taking the decision to authorise the GSS to apply physical force during the interrogation of these Palestinians, the Israeli Supreme Court appeared to pay no regard to the 1977 Penal Code. This discriminatory application and evaluation is a violation of the CAT and the absolute prohibitions against torture and discrimination.


The Israeli system provides an environment in which torture can take place with impunity. The system in which Palestinian detainees find themselves upon arrest ensures their isolation from the outside world, from procedural safeguards and supervision which may militate against mis-treatment.

In addition to the formal incommunicado detention of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, thousands are effectively detained in incommunicado detention.

Upon arrest, Palestinians can be held incommunicado for up to 14 days, and only then can the ICRC gain access. Israel prevents Palestinian lawyers from reaching Palestinians detained in Israel and Israeli lawyers are unaffordable to most Palestinian detainees who consequently are left without legal counsel. Palestinian detainees are isolated from their families. This context is the antithesis of what is required of State Parties to the CAT and by international law.

4. The Treatment of Palestinian and Arab Prisoners in Israeli Prisons

Palestinian and Arab prisoners are held under continually deteriorating conditions, including overcrowding, inadequate food and health-care, extremes of temperature in prison accommodation and lack of cleanliness. Cumulatively, these conditions threaten the livesof prisoners, and their isolation from family and legal counsel only aggravates their abysmal situation.

Detainees have on many occasions protested the conditions in which they are imprisoned by going on hunger strike. As conditions have worsened since the signing of the Oslo Agreements, the phenomena of hunger-striking has become more prevalent, particularly in Al Jalama, Ashqelon, Nafha, Majedo, Beersheva and Ramla Prisons.

i. The Employment of Excessive Force by the Prison Administration

The Israeli prison administration has, on many occasions, resorted to excessive and unjustified violence against Palestinian and Arab prisoners, when they have demonstrated against the appalling conditions in which they are imprisoned. The following are accounts of two recent events in which the Israeli prison authorities employed excessive force:

ii. Heating

Most of the Israeli prisons in which Palestinian prisoners are held, were built by the British during their Mandate over Palestine between 1922-1948, as places of punishment for Palestinians. Not only are the facilities basic and the buildings old and decrepit, but there has been no more than a cosmetic modernisation since their establishment. Temperatures in these prisons in summer and winter are extreme, to the extent that conditions amount to inhumane treatment.

In summer the heat and humidity in these prisons is almost unbearable. Even though in winter they are severely cold and damp, the prison administration does not provide any heating for the prisoners. Consequently, prisoners suffer from a variety of diseases and infections, particularly, rheumatic and kidney complaints, caused by the cold conditions. Conditions are so poor that illness is the norm and it is unusual for a prisoner not to become sick.

In response to the inhumane conditions and the lack of heating provision, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAWE) appealed to the Israeli High Court in February 1997 for a ruling that the prison administration must provide heating for 60 administrative detainees in Majedo Prison, whose accommodation is comprised of tents. Majedo Prison is located at a high altitude in the north of Israel, where temperatures in winter are below zero, and are often accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain.

Despite these salient humanitarian arguments, the High Court rejected the appeal, accepting the unsubstantiated submissions of the Israeli Attorney-General that the provision of heating in the prison would threaten security and would jeopardise the safety and lives of detainees because it would provide the prisoners with a tool with which to torture each other and with which to commit suicide. The Court’s acceptance of this perverse argument suggests its collaboration with the Israeli prison authorities and reflects the moral decline of the judiciary in regard to the treatment of Palestinian and Arab prisoners.

iii. Food

All international instruments relevant to the treatment of prisoners and detainees contain unequivocal provisions that the detaining authority is under an obligation to provide prisoners with adequate quality and quantity of food. The obligation to provide food is stipulated not as a privilege for prisoners, but as a basic right which must remain constant and may not be subject to variables.

The provision of food follows a similar pattern in all Israeli prisons in which Palestinians are kept, with some slight variations. Food provision is as follows:

1. Each prisoner receives three meals a day comprising:

BREAKFAST: a small amount of foole (pureed beans, typical to the Middle East) or eggs. Often the foole is old and insect-infected.

LUNCH: a cup of cooked rice and around 70 gms of either fish or meat.

SUPPER: a small quantity of humus, one tomato and one cucumber.

Article 89 of the IV Geneva Convention states:

Rule No.20 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states:

The Israeli prison authorities violate these unequivocal international legal obligations to provide adequate food to Palestinian prisoners. The food it provides does not satisfy the quantitative nor the qualitative standards set. The inadequate provision of food to prisoners has a direct impact on their health and increases their vulnerability to illness; consequently they then require special food which the prison authorities do not provide. Thus the cycle of ill-health is perpetuated and aggravated.

iv. Health

The health situation for Palestinian prisoners has declined to the lowest recorded level. The unhealthy conditions in which they are kept, and the poor food they receive, leads to illness, which is met with inadequate medical facilities and care. Around 500 Palestinian prisoners suffer from diseases which require continuous health-care. Although the Prisoners Anto the Taba Agreement requires Israel to release sick detainees, Israel has failed to do so.

Article 91 of the IV Geneva Convention states:

The Israeli prison authorities fail to fulfil this basic requirement on several counts:

The deterioration in the health situation in Israeli prisons, and the lack of basic medical services has resulted in the death of detainees. Most recent was the death of Riy’ad Mahmood Hamooda Odwan who was a prisoner in Beersheva Prison; he died on 12th January 1997, as a result of a heart attack; had he received adequate and expeditious medical care, he may not have died, (see Appendix III:B for details of this case).



The Israeli Government is under an obligation to respect what it has signed in the Oslo Agreements both in spirit and letter. Accordingly, Israel must release Palestinian and Arab prisoners immediately. Their release is not only a legal and political obligation, but also a moral obligation and is fundamental to a peaceful outcome to the Oslo Process.

Whilst Israel fails to release Palestinian and Arab prisoners in accordance with these obligations, its prison authorities fail to provide the basic minimum conditions and standards which are required by international instruments relating to conditions of detention and imprisonment. The conditions in which Palestinian and Arab prisoners are imprisoned are inhumane. In addition they are effectively isolated from the outside world, including their families and legal counsel; thus they do not have safeguards from or comfort for the violations to which they are subjected.

The Centre would like to reaffirm the role of the international community in upholding the norms of international law and the humanitarian conventions; states must pressure Israel to adhere to its legal obligations.





For further information contact:

The Palestinian Centre For Human Rights:

Tel/Fax: (+) 972 7 825893/824776;

E-mail: pchr@trendline.co.il



The Interim Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area, signed between the PLO and the Government of Israel in Cairo on 4th May 1994 (The Cairo Agreement)

Article XX



The Israeli Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip signed between the PLO and the Government of Israel in Washington on 28th September 1995 (The Taba Agreement)

Articles XVI

Annex VII - Release of Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees


A. The Cases of Mohammed Hamdan and Khadir Mubarak

On 14 and 17 November 1996, the Israeli Supreme Court authorised the GSS to use “physical pressure” during their interrogation of Mohammed Hamdan from Beit Sira, near Ramallah, and Khadir Mubarak from Halhoul, near Hebron. Hamdan was arrested on 7 October 1996, and had previously been subjected to torture, including violent shaking, by GSS personnel. On 12 November, Hamdan’s attorney appeared before the Israeli Supreme Court and obtained an injunction on the GSS’ use of physical pressure against him. However, the Supreme Court withdrew the injunction following an appeal from the GSS, and the use of “increased physical pressure” against Hamdan was authorised. Khadir Mubarak was detained on 21 October 1996, and held in the interrogation section of Ashkelon prison. He appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to prevent the use of torture during his interrogation. On 17 November, the Court rejected his appeal, effectively re-affirming the use of physical violence against Palestinian detainees. The Supreme Court justified the use of physical violence, including “shaking” on the basis that Hamdan and Mubarak were detained on suspicion that they possessed information about planned suicide bombs. Neither Hamdan nor Mubarak were arrested for their participation in a bomb attack or related activity.


B. TCase of Riy’ad Mahmood Hamooda Odwan

Mr. Odwan was a prisoner in Beersheva Prison; he died on 12th January 1997, as a result of a heart attack. When his inmates saw that he was in difficulty, they asked the prison administration to give him urgent medical care, but there was a long delay before he was attended to; he was dead upon arrival at hospital.

Mr Odwan had been arrested on 12th April 1991 for stabbing an Israeli soldier near the Israeli Civil Administration Headquarters in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Upon apprehension he was shot by Israeli soldiers in the chest, both legs and his left arm (which was left paralysed). Mr. Odwan’s wife informed the Palestinian Centre that he had suffered from respiratory complications (asthma) since 1982. She said that upon her visit to her husband at the prison on 23rd November 1995 he was pale, weak and in a very poor state of health. During the visit he informed her that the prison administration regularly delayed the medical treatment he was supposed to receive.

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