Middle East

Israel to collectively punish Palestinian detainees after jailbreak

6 Palestinian detainees tunneled out of Gilboa prison last week, in a jailbreak hailed by Palestinians as “big victory”

Awad Rajoub   | 14.09.2021
Israel to collectively punish Palestinian detainees after jailbreak

RAMALLAH, Palestine

Palestinian officials and human rights groups have raised concerns about Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian detainees following last week’s jailbreak from a high-security Israeli prison.

Last week, six Palestinian detainees tunneled out of the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, in a jailbreak hailed by Palestinians as a “big victory”.

Five of the escaped prisoners belonged to the Islamic Jihad movement, while the sixth was a member of Fatah movement, all of who were serving life sentences.

Soon after the prison escape, reports emerged that Israeli authorities separated prisoners of the Islamic Jihad movement in other prisoners to prevent them from meeting each other.

Israeli forces recaptured four of the escaped prisoners on Friday and Saturday, amid reports of abuses against them. Israeli authorities also prevented them from meeting their lawyers and family members, and slapped them with new charges.

On Sunday, the Palestinian Prisoner Society said it held the Israeli authorities fully responsible for “any harm suffered by the four captured prisoners."

The NGO made the statement after news of Zakaria Zubeidi, one of the recaptured prisoners, was taken to hospital for treatment.

Meanwhile, the Commission for Detainees and Ex-Prisoners Affairs reported Monday that the Nazareth Central Court rejected the petition submitted by the commission's lawyer to allow him to visit the four prisoners and called on Palestinians to pile pressure on the international community “by all means and methods” to protect the detainees.

Punitive measures

To get a better understanding of how Israel deals with recaptured escapees, Anadolu Agency spoke to an expert on prisoners' affairs, and a lawyer for two of the re-arrested detainees.

Issa Qaraqe, a former minister of prisoners’ affairs, expects the Israeli authorities to implement maximum punitive measures on the re-arrested prisoners in form of prolonged solitary confinement.

"I think they will be isolated in solitary confinement for more than five years,” Qaraqe told Anadolu Agency. He noted that some of the detainees have already spent more than ten years in jail.

He also expects that they will not be allowed out of the prison yard without handcuffs and leg cuffs, alongside constant harassment and searches, being deprived of meeting their families, and banned from buying basic stuff from prison groceries.

Qaraqe said the recaptured prisoners might face fresh charges and prison penalties despite some of them having been sentenced to life imprisonment.

The former minister expects the Israeli authorities to continue acting in a vengeful manner against other prisoners by conducting more inspections in prisons and tightening restrictions on the entry of items, clothes, and food into prison as well as separating prisoners from each other and banning them from meeting their families.

Asked about how these punitive measures can be prevented, Qaraqe said the detainees should be united in “confronting the Israeli repressive measures and arbitrary collective punishment” by engaging in “confrontations and collective struggle to defend their basic rights."

He also called for solidarity with Palestinian prisoners from human rights organizations as well as mass rallies in their defense.

Fresh charges

Khaled Mahajna, the defense lawyer for two of the prisoners, said that the Israeli intelligence decided to prevent the detainees from meeting their lawyers on grounds that the prisoners were planning to escape again and to carry out a terrorist attack after the jailbreak.

Mahajna said the ban is supported by the Israeli Penal Code but is due to expire on Tuesday midnight. However, he said the ban might be extended for several more days by the Public Prosecution.

Asked about the Israeli penalty for escaping prison, Mahajna said a sentence of up to five years in prison is provided by the Israeli law but noted that the sentence may be harsher in the event of an indictment containing a security charge.

Citing previous experiences, the lawyer fears the Israeli prison authorities will practice a policy of solitary confinement, transferring detainees from all prisons in the north, and placing them in jails in the south.

He also expected "the isolation of each of them in a separate cell for a period of six months, subject to extension”, citing solitary confinement cases that went on for many years.

Abu Jihad Center for Prisoner Movement Affairs of Al-Quds University estimates that a total of 22 jailbreaks or attempted escapes have been carried out by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

There are around 4,850 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, including 41 women, 225 children, and 540 administrative detainees, according to observers.

*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara

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