Two thousand Palestinians held in Israeli prisons suspended a month-long hunger strike after Israel agreed several measures to improve prison conditions – a move seen by Amnesty International as a step toward compliance with Israel's human rights obligations.
Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, Israel has agreed to end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners – held in isolation for up to 10 years – and lift a ban on family visits for prisoners from the Gaza Strip, among other things.
"We hope that these commitments signal a new approach by the Israeli authorities founded on respect for prisoners’ human rights,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“However, 2,000 prisoners and detainees should not have had to put their health on the line in order to ensure respect for their human rights which the Israeli authorities have been violating for years.”
Amnesty International has repeatedly called for a resumption of family visits for prisoners from Gaza, which were completely suspended in June 2007.
”These repeated violations by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) against hunger-striking prisoners require a full, independent and impartial investigation, and those responsible must be held accountable,” said Ann Harrison.
“Such prolonged solitary confinement – based on information withheld from the prisoners and their lawyers – is a violation of their rights to due process and constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Under the agreement, these prisoners are expected to be moved to cells where they will have contact with other inmates by the end of this week.
“Those in the Ramleh IPS medical facility who have been on hunger strike for between six to 11 weeks must be transferred to a civilian hospital immediately until their lives are no longer in danger and must be treated humanely at all times,” said Ann Harrison.
Administrative detention is a procedure under which detainees are held under military orders without charge or trial for periods of up to six months which can be renewed indefinitely. Based on regulations initially passed under the British Mandate, Israel has used the measure against its citizens since 1948, and since 1967, against thousands of Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territories.
Administrative detention orders are based on secret information which is not disclosed to the detainees or their lawyers, denying detainees the opportunity to effectively exercise their right to mount a legal challenge.
At the end of April 2012, some 308 Palestinians were held as administrative detainees according to IPS statistics. Some are held as prisoners of conscience, held solely for their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association or assembly.
For many years, Amnesty International has urged Israel to end the practice and to release administrative detainees unless they are charged with a recognizable criminal offence and promptly tried according to international standards.
“Israel's reported commitment under the deal not to renew the detention orders of current administrative detainees unless significant new intelligence information is presented does not fulfil these recommendations, but would - if implemented - be a first step towards meeting its international human rights obligations,” said Ann Harrison.
Amnesty International and local human rights organizations have documented repeated violations by the IPS against hunger-striking detainees since administrative detainee Khader Adnan began a hunger strike in December 2011.
These include punishing detainees on hunger strike by placing them in solitary confinement and imposing punitive fines; denying them urgent medical care; preventing access to independent doctors and lawyers; banning family visits; physical assaults; and forcibly administering treatment including injections against the detainees' will.
Amnesty International is also concerned that in recent weeks Israeli forces and police are reported to have used excessive force against non-violent protesters demonstrating in solidarity with the prisoners on hunger strike in both the West Bank and Israel.