Israel och dess vänner gråter över Gilad Shalit, en soldat som tillfångatogs i kriget mellan Israel och det palestinska folket, men vem begråter de hundratusentals som lidit sedan Israels ockupation 1967 av palestinsk mark? De som inte fått stå inför en civil domare utan fått stå anklagade inför militära domare; de stackare som blivit illa behandlade genom åren? Ögonbindel på ögonen och i många fall även tortyr?
Gilad Shalit lives large in the collective Israeli psyche as the soldier who was “kidnapped” by Hamas operatives some three years ago. Never mind that Shalit wasn’t “kidnapped” but is actually a prisoner of war, nor that he was an active combatant of an occupying army taking part in hostile military action against an occupied people. Shalit has since been made into an Israeli national hero, and represents an “innocent victim”. For Israelis and those who imagine that Israel is the only democracy and civilized nation in the region, this is merely a struggle of good versus evil.
Yet while Israel collectively clamors for the release of one lone soldier, some Palestinian women and children and virtually all Palestinian men are vulnerable to arrest, and thousands of Palestinian prisoners sit in Israeli prisons and detention centers without any rights and very little access to legal recourse.
Over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since 1967 when they occupied the remaining Palestinian territories. Moreover, Palestinians who are arrested are handled and tried through military courts and tribunals, not through civil courts. Upon arrest, they are handcuffed and blindfolded; they are not told why they are being arrested or where they are being taken, and they are often times not charged with any crime, but are placed under administrative detention.
Administrative detention is a particularly troubling tactic that Israel has been using increasingly to hold Palestinians indefinitely without charge or trial. Administrative detention allows Israel to detain anyone it deems a security threat to the state. The practice isn’t illegal under international law in and of itself; however Israel has never defined its conception of state-security. As such, almost anyone can be considered a security threat. Thus Israel can and has abused the practice.
What is particularly disturbing about administrative detention is that it is authorized not by judicial decree, but by administrative order. Under the Israeli practice, Palestinians can be held for six months without trial, which can be renewed by a military judge for additional six month time periods. The decision to renew detentions is the result of motions filed by military attorneys, who receive “secret evidence” from Shabak, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency. The “secret evidence” is never shared with the detainees or their legal representation, when they are lucky enough to have such representation. As a result, Palestinians have little ability to fight whatever charges are ultimately brought against them.
Perhaps it’s much easier for Israelis and others looking in on this conflict from the outside to imagine that the Palestinians that Israel arrests and detains are all “terrorists” who do indeed represent a security threat to the state of Israel. There are undoubtedly some Palestinian prisoners who have committed awful crimes. But when Israeli detention practices are examined a bit closer, it appears that as with so many other aspects of this conflict, the reality for Palestinians tells a very different story.
Arrests and administrative detention function as another tool of the occupation that can be used to punish those who resist Israeli hegemony and colonialist practices. Moreover, arrests tend to rise when the conflict enters a new phase, as happened during the second Intifada, and are generally directly related to the political situation on the ground. More specifically, arrests tend to increase at particular moments when resistance to oppressive Israeli practices and occupation is on the rise. At the moment, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is successfully growing, and there has been heavy resistance in the form of weekly demonstrations against construction of the Separation Wall in the villages of Jayyous, Ni’lin and Bi’lin. Those who play an instrumental role in the BDS movement and organizing weekly protests seem to be one the latest target for Israel, such as my friend Mohammad Othman.
Mohammad was arrested on 22 September 2009 at the King Hussein Bridge as he was trying to cross back into Palestine from Jordan. He was returning from a trip to Norway, where he regularly advocates for Palestinian human rights and lobbies for the Norwegian government to join in the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign. The Norwegian Ministry of Finance recently divested from the Israeli company Elbit, which provides drones and other military technology and security systems to Israel for maintenance and construction of the Wall and settlements. This decision was most certainly influenced by Mohammad, who is dedicated to resisting the Israeli occupation through his non-violent advocacy work.
Mohammad has yet to be charged and has not been informed of the reason for his arrest. The military judge has extended his detention four times despite the fact that no solid evidence has been brought against him to prove he has indeed committed a crime. Nonetheless, the judge refuses to release him yet saying that Mohammad is a security threat, and more time is necessary to interrogate him. He is not in administrative detention as of now, and if they aren’t able to extract a confession from him through interrogation and they have no evidence to bring against him, it is possible he will eventually be released. However, it is also possible they will place him under administrative detention or that they will sentence him depending on whether or not they can find something to charge him with.
In the meantime, according to Mohammad’s lawyer who is allowed to speak to him very infrequently, Mohammad is being held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with no windows and a hole in the ground for a toilet. Although he is allowed to shower, he is still wearing the same clothes he was arrested in. He has undergone long hours of interrogation, sometimes lasting from 8 a.m. until midnight. He is often forced to stay in the same position for hours at a time, and his interrogators have threatened to hurt his sister if he doesn’t confess. For Palestinians who have been arrested, they are all too familiar with these techniques, which can often be more severe and have at times resulted in death.
It is believed that Mohammad was arrested and is being held solely for the BDS advocacy work he does, which indicates clear abuse of Israel’s ability to arrest and detain Palestinians. So while Israelis and many in the international community continue to demand that Gilad Shalit be treated humanely and ultimately released, perhaps it is time to consider and demand that Palestinians also deserve to be treated humanely and released, particularly if their only crime is resisting their oppression.
Britain Eakin is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.