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Ben-Gvir moves to limit Palestinian prisoners' family visits

Palestinians jailed by Israel have right to family visits, ICRC says after Ben-Gvir moves to restrict
3 min read
02 September, 2023
The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Israeli authorities to 'safeguard the rights of protected persons in Israeli custody'.
Itamar Ben-Gvir is Israel's far-right national security minister [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty-archive]

Palestinian prisoners have a right to family visits, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday, after Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir moved to impose restrictions.

Ben-Gvir decided the frequency of the visits would be cut in half – from monthly to once every two months – for Palestinians classed as "security" prisoners, Israeli media reported.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office soon said this was "fake news" and no decision would be taken until the "special hearing on the subject" he has scheduled for next week. Ben-Gvir's office responded that the Israel Prison Service was "obligated to carry out the order".

"Under international humanitarian law (IHL), Palestinian detainees are protected persons and have a right to family contact. This includes family visits while in detention," the local ICRC delegation said in a statement on X, formerly called Twitter.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross… calls on all relevant Israeli authorities to safeguard the rights of protected persons in Israeli custody and uphold related IHL obligations."

While the ICRC statement did not mention Ben-Gvir, it comes after his reported decision to cut down on Palestinian security prisoners' family visits from Sunday.

It is anticipated Palestinian prisoner leaders will threaten a hunger strike in two weeks if the restriction remains, Israeli newspaper Haaretz cited the Palestinian Prisoners' Authority's chief as saying.

Israeli jail authorities' formal policy provides for visits once every two months, but monthly visits have become standard.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee's secretary-general, issued a warning on Friday.

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"The racist measures against Palestinian prisoners announced by the racist Ben-Gvir threaten to manifest in explosive situations," he said on X.

"This requires the immediate retraction of these decisions and the direct intervention of international human rights organisations and the International Red Cross."

It comes as more than 1,000 so-called security prisoners – mostly Palestinians – due for release on Friday will remain behind bars after a change in legislation pushed by Ben-Gvir.

The government minister is planning further restrictions on security prisoners, such as reducing yard time, according to Israeli broadcaster Channel 12.

He has also called for detainees to no longer be assigned based on their organisational affiliation, meaning prisoners belonging to different Palestinian factions would have to live in the same cell, Israel's Kan public broadcaster reported last week.

The ICRC has been facilitating Palestinian family visits to Israeli detention sites since 1968, its delegation's statement on X said.

Over 29,000 family members were able to visit in the first half of this year alone, it added.

"This provides much needed contact for both those in detention and their family members, fulfilling a basic universal need," the delegation said.

"The ICRC stands ready to continue supporting the families by facilitation of the visits and continues, based on its mandate, to pursue a bilateral and confidential dialogue with relevant authorities on issues of concern."

There are 5,100 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, with 1,200 held under a controversial administrative detention policy, according to statistics from prisoners' rights group Addameer.

Administrative detainees have neither been charged with a crime nor granted a trial, and they and their lawyers are prevented from seeing the evidence against them.

The detention orders typically last between three to six months and can be renewed indefinitely.