'We don't want to receive them as martyrs': The Red Cross is failing in its duty to Palestinian prisoners
In Gaza and the West Bank, there has been no end to the unabating violence that the Israeli settler-colonial regime continues to inflict across Palestine.
On the 1st of January, as the world celebrated the new year, the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs announced the assassination of 23-year-old Palestinian prisoner Abdul Rahman Al-Bahsh in Megiddo prison.
Al-Bahsh’s death is not the first. Since the commencement of Israel’s genocidal war on 7 October, at least seven Palestinians have been killed inside Israeli prisons. This is in addition to reports pointing to an unknown number of Palestinians who have been killed in an Israeli military camp in Southern occupied Palestine, and reports of executions of Palestinian detainees inside the Gaza Strip.
"Despite the ongoing brutal treatment of prisoners and fears of further deaths in captivity, however, international organisations continue to stay silent"
The assassination of prisoners constitutes part of a long history of carceral violence through which Palestinians have systematically been tortured, violated, denied medical care, executed, and their dead bodies held captive in Israeli cemeteries and mortuary refrigerators.
Israeli carceral violence and torture, however, have intensified since 7 October, with prisoners describing the conditions as akin to the early years of imprisonment following the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Over the past three months, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) arrested over 5,600 Palestinians from the West Bank, in addition to thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were detained inside the 1948-occupied areas and from the Gaza Strip.
Dozens of Palestinians were also arrested from the 1948-occupied areas. It is estimated that 11 thousand Palestinians were detained in the year 2023 alone, a figure that does not include the numerous Palestinians from the Gaza Strip detained by the Israeli army.
The release of Palestinian detainees reignites hopes for the liberation of all those imprisoned under Israel's regime of control, writes Basil Farraj👇 https://t.co/GAz9EB8idS— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) December 17, 2023
Testimonies by liberated prisoners and Palestinian prisoners’ organisations describe the violent conditions of captivity. Since 7 October, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) have ramped up repression against Palestinian prisoners across Israeli prisons and detention centres.
This includes isolating prisoners inside their cells, denying them ‘courtyard’ walks, and prohibiting their communication with prisoners in other cells. Prisoners’ communication with the outside world has also been denied, including an ongoing ban on family visitations and severe restrictions on lawyer visits.
The IPS’s attack on Palestinian prisoners included restricting prisoners’ access to water and electricity; confiscating prisoners’ belongings including photos and books; and providing prisoners with inadequate and insufficient quantities of food. In addition to all of this, the IPS, aided by the Israeli army, has systematically been torturing and humiliating prisoners.
In their testimonies, liberated prisoners relayed being forced to keep their heads down, to kneel on the floor during daily count by the IPS, and being forced to sing Israeli songs. Videos released by the IOF depict the torturous ways in which detainees are treated, and the violence to which they continue to be subjected.
Palestinian families and prisoners’ organisations have loudly been voicing their concern. As early as 19 October, Qadura Fares, the head of the Commission of Detainees, warned against rising Israeli brutal practices, and revealed that several prisoners have lost their limbs, legs and arms.
Fares likened the reported conditions of imprisonment in al-Naqab prison to Abu Ghraib, and Be’r al-Sabi’ prison to a ‘new Guantanamo.’ Two months later, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor described the conditions in ‘Sde Teman,’ an Israeli military camp where Gazan detainees are held, as equivalent to “a new-Guantanamo like prison.”
Detainees released from this military camp reported being blindfolded and bound throughout the day and being subjected to brutal interrogation tactics. One of the released detainees reported witnessing Israeli soldiers directly shooting and killing five detainees in the Israeli military camp. These deaths have not been announced by the Israeli occupation.
This is just a part of the story, particularly given the lack of information regarding the conditions of Palestinian detainees from the Gaza Strip.
"The ongoing genocidal war has provided Palestinians with further proof that terms such as ‘universal human rights’ may not be so universal when it comes to addressing the Israeli settler-colonial violence they have long been living under"
Despite the ongoing brutal treatment of prisoners and fears of further deaths in captivity, however, international organisations continue to stay silent, directing their concern only towards Israeli prisoners held by Palestinian resistance groups.
At the top of this list is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the body responsible for ensuring that detainees are treated in accordance with international law and standards.
The Israeli government continues to deny the ICRC access to Israeli prisons and detention centres. Yet the body has still only issued shy statements regarding the conditions of Palestinian detainees.
The ICRC’s inadequate response to the conditions in Israeli prisons comes despite pressure from activists and the families of Palestinian prisoners, and calls by Palestinian human rights organisations that the ICRC fulfil its responsibility towards Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
The ICRC’s shy statements include a call to “resume the ICRC’s detention visits, and its Family Visit Program for Palestinian detainees held in Israeli places of detention” that have been suspended since 7 October, and another statement on 31 October expressing concern for not being able to “assess the treatment and conditions of people detained” and calling for the reestablishment of “regular contact between detainees and their families.”
Contrast these with statements made by the ICRC’s president about Israeli hostages, which noted that “the hostages must be released, and the ICRC must be allowed to safely visit them.”
Only in December did the ICRC’s president head to the West Bank to meet with Fares and with Palestinian health authorities.
The ongoing genocidal war has provided Palestinians with further proof that terms such as ‘universal human rights’ may not be so universal when it comes to addressing the Israeli settler-colonial violence they have long been living under.
The absent role of international organisations, including the ICRC, in addressing and calling out Israeli carceral violence is another instance in which these organisations have failed to accomplish their core mandates.
Perhaps their continued silence is even paving the way for further Israeli violence.
There is no doubt that Palestinians will have to reassess the ways in which they deal with international organisations that continue to silently witness their unfolding pain and suffering while simultaneously adopting racialized discourses that elevate the ‘humanity’ of others.
In the meantime, however, the families of Palestinian prisoners continue to sound the alarm about the conditions of their loved ones, and to aspire for their long-awaited freedom.
“We don’t want to receive our prisoners as martyrs,” they are warning.
Basil Farraj is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Birzeit University, Palestine. He has written extensively on the settler-colonial regime's carceral practices and policies.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.