As mentioned, it was wonderful to see Abdullah Abu Rameh at the conference after being released from his 16 month imprisonment this April. Not only Abdullah, but another citizen of Bil’in, Adeeb Abu Rahmeh, had just been released in December after spending 18 months in Ofer Prison. Both are well known and respected in the community for their nonviolent resistance against the Occupation.
The lawyer that represented Abdullah Abu Rahmeh gave a talk on the strategies the Israeli military uses against Palestinians. She said that the prisons are the only real weapon Israel has against the Palestinian nonviolent movement.
The tactics used, often begin with the minors of the villages. Unlike international law which recognizes a minor as anyone under the age of 18, Israel considers a minor in the West Bank to be anyone under the age of 16. Often the soldiers will come to the homes of minors in the middle of the night to handcuff and arrest them at gunpoint. The children are then taken to a remote location and since it is against the law to interrogate them in middle of the night, they are forced to stay awake until morning when they are taken to the police station.
They are interrogated after being kept awake all night, denied food, water, use of the bathroom, being blindfolded and held at gunpoint. Then they are asked questions about their own activities at the demonstrations as well as the activities of the suspected leaders of the popular resistance movement. If the children acknowledge to throwing stones at the Wall in the past, this nonviolent act is charged as a criminal offense and they can be put in jail for weeks. The court refuses to dismiss any information given by these minors because they have given it “willingly”. In the recent trial of Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, the judge actually stated that there was no scientific evidence that these children were traumatized.
Another tactic of the prison system is the strict regulations around visiting rights. Under international law, prisoners must be held in the occupied land. This means, Palestinians prisoners should not be taken to prisons inside Israel. Both Abdullah and Adeeb spent their time in prison at Ofer Military Base. While Ofer Military Base is technically inside the West Bank, you need an Israeli Permit to visit it, which is the same for most prisons in Palestine.
A woman attending the conference from the European parliament asked why she was denied permission to visit and tour the prisons and if there was a way around this. The lawyer said that these Palestinians prisoners, such as Abdullah and Adeeb, are considered “security prisoners” and only first degree family members and lawyers are allowed entry to see them. The Red Cross is allowed in to monitor and view the prison conditions, but their reports are not accessible.
As this lawyer said, a democracy is only as good as its prisons.
*Photo by Hamde Abu Rahme of Adeeb Abu Rahme after his release from prison