Group: Israel Violating Rights of Palestinian Prisoners

Israel is violating the rights of Palestinians held in Israeli jails by transferring the detainees out of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and placing restrictions on their visits, a human rights group said Thursday.

Moving most of the 9,000 Palestinian prisoners out of the territories Israel occupies is already a violation of international law, the B'tselem group said in its report.

But Israel makes the situation worse by limiting visits, because it requires Palestinians to receive permits from the army to enter Israel, where the prisons are, and barring nearly all visitors between the ages of 16 and 35, according to the report.

In Gaza, Asma Abu Namous, 20, who presents a weekly program dedicated to prisoners on an Islamic Jihad radio station, said most of those affected by the limitations are women and children. Also, she said, 3,000 prisoners have no immediate relatives, so no one can visit them at all.

"Visits are important for the prisoners, to lift their spirits," she said. "The Israelis take away visitor rights to punish prisoners."

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Hamed Hasouna, 42, said he has not seen his brother in 10 years, because Israel always turns down his requests on security grounds. His brother Shaban, an Islamic Jihad activist, is serving a life sentence for killing a Palestinian suspected of collaborating with Israeli security.

Hasouna said the procedures are especially hard on his 73-year-old mother. "The night before, she doesn't sleep, she spends her time getting ready, and after the visit, she's in bed for three or four days because of her psychological state, and fatigue," he said. "If she visits, it's torture, and if she doesn't, it's torture."

Prisons Authority official Yaron Zamir said efforts are made to allow as many visits as possible, but security factors must be taken into account. "This is especially important in wake of recent events like the attempted stabbing of a female prison guard ... and the smuggling of knives and other weapons into prisons," he said.

In its response to the B'tselem report, the Justice Ministry quoted statistics that showed only about 1 percent of requests for visits are denied and insisted that only security issues are grounds for rejection.

Until September 2000, when the current Palestinian uprising began, Palestinians were given almost unrestricted access to their relatives in Israeli jails. A month after the fighting flared, Israel stopped the visits — which are arranged by the Red Cross — renewing them gradually in March 2003.