palestinian prisoners in israel

Israel’s hateful, misguided policy against the weakest of the weak
What connects jailed asylum seekers and displaced Palestinian shepherds? The government’s shameful, bullying treatment of them both.
By Gideon Levy
About 250 kilometers separate the Holot prison in the Negev and Ain al-Hilweh in the northern Jordan Valley, but a direct line of evil connects them. The two places are seemingly as different as the distance between the desert and the valley. The first is a “detention center” – an open prison for refugees fleeing violence, and asylum seekers from Africa. The other is a tiny village with Palestinian shepherds.

The Israel Prison Service controls the first, the Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration the other – again, two organizations with no seeming connection.

And yet, see what a nightmare it is. The policy is exactly the same, the means the very same means, and the goals identical: to pamper, coddle, indulge.

Evil holds sway in both, with abuse of the helpless and their dehumanization. In both cases, this abuse is aimed at making the victims miserable, until they break and want to leave it all behind – the Africans to leave Israel, the Palestinians to leave the Jordan Valley.

Israel is freezing the detainees in the cold. It incarcerated some 2,300 people at Holot, without providing any heating devices for their rooms. Freezing cold.

The shepherds dwellings at Ain al-Hilweh (and other shepherds’ dwellings) are demolished, leaving its residents – including babies and children, pregnant women and disabled elderly – exposed to the heavens, without anything, in the freezing cold of the Jordan Valley.

In recent weeks I visited both sites, which have everything except for a scrap of humanity or fragment of compassion. In Holot, I saw detainees rush out of their cells on a day in which the sun peeked through for a moment, wearing the entire contents of their closets on their bodies – layers of clothes to preserve their body heat. They have no other way.

In Ain al-Hilweh, I saw the residents spread out on the ground, under the open skies, living between the mounds of ruined tents and shacks that were once their homes. They didn’t even have clothes left; almost everything was trampled.

Israel’s attitude toward these two marginal groups is identical. That is, of course, not coincidental but the result of a systematic and intentional policy, dictated from above.

Israel is convinced that if it makes life miserable enough for the Africans, if it piles on their suffering, they will leave the country “voluntarily” – its fantasy.

It has the exact same goal in the Jordan Valley. Since Israel decided that it will remain in its hands, it has set its goal to purify it of Palestinian residents. Shepherds are, of course, the weak link, and this quiet policy of transfer is directed against them. More and more demolition, everything in the name of the law – the apartheid law that discriminates between settlements and a community of shepherds.

The shepherds will pitch their tents anew, Israel will once again demolish them – until they are fed up and leave on their own, like the Africans.

But here is what the government needs to know: Neither of them will leave. Why? They have nowhere to go. “They don’t like us here, and we have nowhere to go,” Fathi Zaidan, from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, told me last week at the entrance to Holot. Zaidan’s first wife was murdered in Sudan, while his second wife and their young daughter are hiding in Egypt. He has been jailed here for nearly a year.

To achieve these victories over the weakest of the weak, Israel does not rule out any methods. To prevent superfluous moral misgivings, the victims are declared to be nonpersons: The Africans do not need heat; the shepherds do not need shelter.

After that, the regular brainwashing and justifications are enlisted. The Africans entered Israel illegally (as if African refugees can enter Israel legally), and the shepherds planted their tents without permits (as if Israel allows legal construction). Both of these groups “endanger” the existence of Israel and “undermine” its rule of law.

Then the work is amazingly easy: The jailers freeze, the Civil Administration employees destroy, the media ignores, the public yawns, no one appeals – and may peace be on Israel.

At the margins, at the very ends of the country, these actions are being carried out as a matter of routine. They are far out of sight and far from the heart. But they are determining the true face of the country.

Palestinian women prisoners have been subject to abuse and mistreatment under arrest and inside Israel’s HaSharon prison, reported Palestinian lawyer Hanan al-Khatib.

Lina Khattab, the Bir Zeit University media student and El-Funoun folkloric dancer whose hearing has been postponed multiple times since her arrest on 13 December, reported that she was abused and beaten by Israeli soldiers during her detention, and one of the soldiers hit her, ripped her clothes and shouted obscene insults at her. Yasmin Shaaban also reported that when she was arrested on 3 November, she was bound for a long time to a stiff chair in stress positions and was threatened with the arrest of her family members in order to coerce a confession. She was denied the right to see a lawyer and was held in a dirty, humid interrogation cell.
The Story of Malak: 14-year-old Palestinian girl tried before Israeli military court

Palestinian Khawla Al-Khatib, holds a poster of her 14-year-old daughter Malak al-Khatib, detained in Israel, in the village of Beitin near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 27, 2015.

The fate of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl, tried before an Israeli military court for hurling rocks at passing cars in the occupied West Bank and sentenced to two months in prison, has gripped Palestinians who say her treatment demonstrates Israel’s excessive measures against stone-throwing youth. Malak al-Khatib, arrested last month, is one of only a rare few female Palestinian minors who have ever faced arrest and sentencing by Israeli authorities.

“A 14-year-old girl won’t pose any threat to soldiers’ lives,” said her father, Ali al-Khatib. “They are well equipped and well trained so what kind of threat could she have posed to them?”

Israel said Khatib was charged with stone throwing, attempted stone throwing and possession of a knife, and that under a plea bargain she was sentenced to two months in prison and a $1,500 fine.

Having spent four weeks in detention, Khatib has another four left weeks left at a central Israeli prison for women.

Out of a total of more than 5,500 Palestinians held by Israel, about 150 are minors, the vast majority of them male, according to official figures from November, provided by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Malak al-Khatib is among a handful of female minors ever held by Israel. Palestinian officials say she is the youngest girl ever detained and sentenced by Israel — a claim Israeli officials and rights groups said they were not able to confirm.

Palestinians and rights groups criticize Israel for its response to rock throwing, either directed at its forces or civilians. Israel views rock throwing as a dangerous tactic and at times a life-threatening attack, and claims it can be the first step toward militancy. Palestinians see it as a legitimate way to resist Israel’s occupation.

Israel was hit by a wave of riots by Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem last year, following the killing of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy by Jewish extremists in revenge for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens.

Up to 1,000 protesters were arrested, many of them for stone throwing. Israeli police said many of those arrested were minors. Some of them, schoolbags strapped to their backs, hurled stones at security forces on their way to or from school.

Protests in the West Bank since then have been more subdued, but still occur frequently, with Palestinian protesters clashing with Israeli troops — incidents that often end in arrests.

Stones and small rocks have become an iconic weapon in the West Bank. In the past six years, more than half of all arrests of Palestinian youth have been over stone throwing.

Khatib walked Dec. 31 to a West Bank road used by both Israelis and Palestinians, and began throwing stones at passing cars, Palestinian officials told her parents.

Israeli security forces later arrested her and said they found a knife in her possession.

“These kids grow up with news about clashes, about oppression of Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and they go to express themselves,” Ali al-Khatib said. The girl’s parents, who appeared with her in court, said her feet were shackled and she was handcuffed.

Since her arrest, the case has received constant media attention in the West Bank and spawned countless memes and caricatures, some showing Khatib, full-cheeked and pouty-lipped, behind bars and holding a teddy bear. One drawing shows a cherubic Khatib — whose first name means angel in Arabic — tied to shackles held by an Israeli soldier.

At her home, Khatib’s bedroom shows the interests of a 14-year-old girl steeped in the realities of day-to-day life in the West Bank.

Bracelets and necklaces bearing the colors of the Palestinian flag and a poster of a Palestinian man from her village killed in clashes with Israeli forces lie near a picture of Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sarit Michaeli from B’Tselem said that under Israel’s military justice system, Khatib will not be afforded the same rights and protections as Israeli minors under Israel’s legal system.

“An Israeli child will not be held in detention for three weeks, even a boy, let alone a girl, because of these protections provided to children by the Israeli youth law,” she said.

Israel occupied the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject to Israel’s military justice system, whereas Jewish settlers and Israelis fall under a separate legal system.

Issa Karake, head of the Palestinian government’s Prisoner Affairs Department, said Khatib’s case is just another in a policy meant to break the spirits of young people resisting the Israeli occupation.

“The Israelis show no tolerance with the Palestinian children,” Karake said. “The Israelis are crushing a whole generation.”