Israel plans alternative to Red Cross visits to Palestinian prisoners

Israel plans alternative to Red Cross visits to Palestinian prisoners
Rights groups have said Israel's decision to stop Red Cross visits to Palestinians held in Israel could violate international law.
4 min read
20 June, 2024
Rights groups have slammed Israel's decision to stop Red Cross visits to Palestinian prisoners [Getty]

The Israeli government announced on Tuesday that it will be forming an alternative option to Red Cross visits to Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, Haaretz reported.

Red Cross visits to Palestinians held in Israel and the transfer of information about Palestinian detainees have come to halt since the start of Israel's war on Gaza.

Israel said it will not rescind the policy until Hamas allows access to Israeli captives, despite numerous UN reports of systematic inhumane treatment of Palestinian detainees.

The announcement from Israel came in response to a petition that called for Red Cross visits to be allowed again. The petition states that under international law, even if one of the parties to a conflict breaches the laws of war, this does not exempt the other party of the obligations.

"Even though Hamas is holding Israeli hostages in terrible conditions, does not provide information on them…Israel still has the obligation to allow these visits to Palestinian prisoners held in its custody," it states.

In April, the cabinet said they would approve a mechanism to allow for visits to Israeli army and Prison Service detention facilities, as well as providing information about detained and imprisoned Palestinians.

Critics, as well as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel says that the government's decision contravenes international law, particularly as the Geneva Conventions requires Israel to give the Red Cross access to detainees.

The rights group added that "the Israeli government has made a conscious decision to contravene international law and establish a prosperous mechanism to replace the globally accepted arrangement".

"Israel cannot bypass Israeli law and all the international arrangements to which it is committed and which are based on the rules of international law, neutrality and professionalism, and replace them with mechanisms on behalf of the government" they continued.

According to Haaretz, the National Security Council has written a new draft procedure that states a new mechanism will be established and it has been sent for review and comments by government ministries.

It says that after the government's comments are received, the process for establishing the mechanism will be completed and sent to the cabinet to be approved within three weeks.

No explanation however was given on how the new mechanism will work. Haaretz says that based on information obtained by them, one option being considered is that instead of a Red Cross delegation, the visits will be carried out by a judge and two diplomats.

"The mechanism being drawn up is expected to perform the mission that the Red Cross has fulfilled until now, i.e an external party which will have the right to enter detention facilities, accept complaints by relevant detainees, and send information about them," the state response said.

An ICRC spokesperson told The New Arab that they will continue to engage with relevant authorities to reiterate their readiness to resume their legally mandated activities.

"We have seen the reports of a Government of Israel proposal to allow observers to visit some places of detention. A core legal requirement is that wherever and whoever they may be, persons deprived of their liberty must be treated with humanity and dignity at all times," they said.

"We believe the ICRC’s approach, methodology and experience are vitally important at this time – and for which there is not a substitute" they added.

Last month, the Guardian reported that foreign secretary David Cameron unilaterally negotiated a deal with Israel where two UK legal observers and an Israeli judge would visit some prisoners, but no further details were published.

The Palestinian Prisoner's Society said in a statement this week that Israel is holding 9,300 Palestinians in prisons and detention centres, including around 250 children and 75 women.

More than 3,400 of the total number of prisoners are held under 'administrative detention' - a procedure that allows Israeli authorities to hold alleged suspected for six months at a time, which can be extended indefinitely.

Israel says the procedure allows authorities to hold alleged suspects in a measure to "prevent attacks", while continuing to gather evidence.

Administrative detainees are often held on secret evidence that is barred from even the suspects' lawyers from viewing.