RAMALLAH, April 17 (JMCC) – From within Israel’s Negev prison, a Palestinian prisoner sentenced to 15 years spoke clandestinely by phone to JMCC.org: I have served nine years to this day. I believe I have despaired, or become impassive. Each day is like the other, and here I am tasting bitterness one moment after the next.
Some 7,000 Palestinian prisoners languish in Israeli jails waiting either to finish their sentences or for the faint hope of a prisoner exchange deal. Criminals by Israeli standards but political prisoners to Palestinians, their numbers seem only to increase.
I hope to see daylight before the end of my sentence, but how can this be when we are now invisible, merely pictures on the walls? says the prisoner.
He refuses to give his real name in fear of being punished. Everything is watched, he says.
Since 1948 and the creation of Israel
, some 800,000 Palestinians -- one-fourth of the Palestinian population -- have been arrested and spent time in Israeli jails.
Jumaa al-Sheikh was released 10 years ago. Today, he is the butt of jokes, his nickname Crazy Jumaa.
“I know they call me crazy,” he says, “but I wasn't born this way. I was tortured and beaten hundreds of times until I lost my mind.
A report by a Palestinian advocacy group, the Prisoners' Club, estimates that 70 percent of detained Palestinians were tortured.
Anas Rafiq was released from prison, but still feels its effects. “To this day, I fear sleeping in a dark room. I become dizzy if I smell humidity. I don't eat lentils or beans as they remind me of prison. I have night terrors where I wake up frightened, feeling demons are chasing me -- demons that resemble the Nachshon unit that used to raid our rooms.”
Palestinians are arrested and tried under military regulations dating to the British mandate period.
“This is just ink on paper,” says Jawad Boulos, head of the legal department at the prisoners' club, an advocacy group. He says who is arrested and tried is largely governed by Israel’s secret service.
“Military justice is primarily based on decisions by the Shabak, which controls the fates of prisoners and decides who is released and who stays, and who should pay exaggerated monetary fines.
Palestinian officials in the West Bank
say they have a plan for pressing Israel to release Palestinians.
“We must first go to the international court of justice to get a legal ruling that clarifies the prisoners' current status,” says Issa Qaraqeh
, Palestinian Authority minister of prisoner affairs.
“Then we go to European countries to file lawsuits opposing Israeli military law by which the prisoners are tried. We should also work with the United Nations’ General Assembly and the countries that signed the Fourth Geneva convention to discuss the issue of prisoners and the international role in pressuring Israel to release them.”
officials in Gaza
scoff at this approach. “Reality is different and only resistance will release the prisoners,” says Mohammad Qanou.
Hamas has been in negotiations with Israel over a prisoner release that would exchange several hundred Palestinians for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, captured in 2006 and believed to be held in Gaza.
“The solution is to detain more and more of Shalit's friends and exchange them for Palestinian prisoners,” says Qanou. “Palestinian history has seen hundreds of exchange deals, just like that which will occur when the Shalit deal is carried out.”
“There are no other alternatives to releasing our prisoners,” Qanou asserts.
On average, 20 Palestinians are arrested a day, says the prisoner’s club.
Since the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, Israeli forces have arrested 70,000 Palestinians, among them 800 women and 8,000 children. Over 780 prisoners are serving life sentences, 577 have been sentenced to more than 20 years in jail and 1,100 sentenced to 10 to 20 years.
“Among the current prisoners are 16 parliamentary representatives, two ex-ministers and 36 female prisoners,” says prisoner’s club head Qadura Fares. “The prisoners also include 340 children, the youngest of whom is barely 13 years old.
Prisoners say they have little hope that official attempts to gain their release will succeed. Peace agreements with Israel did not result in the freedom of most prisoners, and more than 300 detainees remain in jail from prior to their signing.
The Negev prisoner calls official attempts to gain detainees’ release “feeble” at best.
“All the initiatives to gain our release have fallen on deaf ears in a world that waits with bated breath for the safety of Gilad Shalit.”