The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights/Israel (called Mezan et al below) June 2011 report headlined, “Solitary Confinement of Prisoners and Detainees in Israeli Prisons” explains harsh and abusive conditions they endure.
For so-called “security prisoners,” treatment is especially brutal because of extreme restrictions, including when out of isolation. It affects everyone physically and emotionally, notably after long periods with no human contact.
The report focuses on one type of isolation called “separation,” whether for punitive or administrative reasons. Mezan et al calls all forms of isolation “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment….”
As a result, it violates fundamental international laws, including:
— Geneva’s Common Article 3, prohibiting all forms of cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment;
— the International Covenant Against Torture (CAT), prohibiting it at all times, under all conditions with no allowed exceptions; and
— International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), stipulating that:
“All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person (Article 10.1).”
International laws unequivocally prohibit torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Depriving detainees of human contact violates minimal conditions under which they may be held.
In fact, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that state obligations include protecting the constitutional rights of prisoners, especially to humane treatment and dignity. According to Chief Justice Aharon Barak:
“The walls of the prison do not separate the prisoner from human dignity. Life in prison intrinsically involves a violation of many liberties that a free person enjoys. But life in prison does not require denial of the prisoner’s right to bodily integrity or protection against violation of his dignity as a person.”
In fact, Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty protects them for everyone, including prisoners.
Types of Solitary Confinement
(1) During interrogation:
It continues throughout the process, regardless of how long. Under Israeli law, it can last 30 days prior to an indictment or as long as authorities wish with the Attorney General’s approval. For alleged security offenses, confinement includes harsh procedures, including torture and other forms of abuse.
(2) As a disciplinary measure:
Punitive isolation can be for whatever reasons authorities wish or none at all. Prisoners are held in small cells 24 hours a day with only a bed or mattress on the floor.
(3) Prolonged isolation:
Called “separation,” it’s for prisoners posing an alleged threat to others interned or threatened by them, or have mental problems severe enough to threaten other inmates.
Mezan et al’s report focuses on this type of isolation.
As of December 2010, Israel held about 150 prisoners in solitary confinement, 120 sentenced, the others awaiting it. About two-thirds were held alone, the others with another prisoner. Some have been isolated for years. About 40 are Palestinians.
According to Article 19B of Israel’s Prison Ordinance, “separation” isolation is a last resort. However, Israel’s Combating Criminal Organization’s Law permits it for disciplinary reasons, to prevent violations to prison rules, or for a violent offense.
Keeping inmates isolated for over six months requires district court approval, renewed every six months indefinitely. As a result, prisoners may remain in solitary confinement for years.
However, the UN Committee Against Torture calls the practice cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT), violating CAT’s Article 11, requiring State parties to ensure incarceration conditions are systemically reviewed, and Article 16, obligating them to protect prisoners from CIDT procedures.
Moreover, in 1990, the General Assembly declared that isolation should be abolished or rarely used. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights also called prolonged solitary confinement a violation of Article 5(2) of the American Covenant on Human Rights, prohibiting torture, inhuman and cruel treatment of prisoners.
Numerous studies confirmed the effects, including sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, disorientation, confusion, cognitive disorders, and many other humanly destructive ones. For mentally ill prisoners, the effects are devastating. When prolonged for extended periods, mental and/or physical illnesses often result.
In fact, a joint 1996 Israel Prison Service (IPS)/Ministry for Public Security solitary confinement report concluded that:
“Research findings on the issue are unequivocal and show that imprisonment in isolation (for prolonged periods) causes deep psychotic reactions.”
Since the 1990s, Physicians for Human Rights/Israel (PHR/I) has campaigned for the abolition of solitary confinement. Moreover, the Israel Psychiatric Association (IPA) agreed that prolonged isolation harms body and mind without stating an official position on the practice.
It argued for the Israel Medical Association (IMA) to decide. Its Ethical Board published a 2009 paper seeking “to balance between the needs of the state to defend its security and the security of prisoners, and the obligation to protect the health and dignity of prisoners.”
In other words, though IMA agreed on prolonged isolation’s harm, it equivocated on its practice. As a result, it passed the buck unethically to prison authorities in violation of their sworn Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Physicians are obligated solely to patients, not prison rules or practices.
According to Mezan et al:
“A physician who is complicit in solitary confinement acts in the same improper manner as a physician who is complicit in torture. Both cause great harm to the prisoner, and in both cases, a physician’s role is to take every possible measure to prevent their occurrence.”
Isolated Palestinian Prisoners
Those held in “separation” solitary confinement remain isolated at least 23 hour a day in cells ranging from 1.5 x 2 meters to 3 x 3.5 meters. They include a toilet and shower.
Prisoners have no eye contact with other prisoners or guards. Whether or not there’s a window, almost no natural light or fresh air is gotten. Fluorescent bulbs provide lighting. Most often, television, DVD players and books are allowed, as well as the right to send and receive letters.
Inmates not called “security prisoners” have telephone use for up to one hour a day. Spotty visitation rights are given for first-degree relatives. However, Palestinians rarely ever get permission to travel to Israel, and Gazan prisoners have no visitation rights.
Many inmates are held in detention centers and prisons inside Israel, a clear violation of Fourth Geneva’s Article 76, stating:
“Protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied territory, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.”
In December 2010, a scathing Israel Bar Association report concluded that isolation conditions “in most of the various Prisons Service facilities do not meet minimal standards and are not suitable for living and certainly not for an unlimited period of time.”
Conditions for isolated Palestinians are far more severe than for Israelis. All are classified as “security prisoners” subject to cruel and unusual treatment. Many get no family visits for extended periods, even years, nor have telephone privileges.
In addition, they’re denied due process rights, including to compulsory legal representation before courts that rule on whether to extend isolation periods. They also have no access to “secret evidence” or ability to contest it. Overall, they’ve subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for extended periods up to years.
As a result, Mezan et al concluded that isolation shouldn’t be used for any prisoner “for any reason, as it undeniably causes harm to (their) physical and mental health….constitut(ing) illegal and disproportionate punishment and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
In fact, for Palestinian prisoners, including “security” ones, that’s precisely Israel’s intent, in violation of fundamental international law and its own.
A Final Comment
On July 21, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) “strongly condemn(ed)” the Israeli Prisons Administration July 20 decision to deny Palestinian prisoners higher education henceforth.
Moreover, PCHR “call(ed) on the international community to (compel) Israel….to respect international law and (cease) systematic and continued inhumane and degrading treatment of” thousands of Palestinian prisoners.
Denying education followed followed Netanyahu’s June order to prison authorities to end what he called “advantages granted” Palestinian prisoners. Other measures taken against them include “intensifying searching (them) after forcing them to take off their clothes and placing (their) leaders….in solitary confinement.”
In response, prisoners went on hunger strikes “for sporadic days over the past two months.” Hardening already cruel and inhumane practices assures even greater barbaric treatment will be commonplace. It’s another way Israel shows disdain for non-Jews, especially Palestinian Muslims.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Email address removed.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Author’s Bio: I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.