On Monday, 25 December 2017, Israeli right-wing Likud Member of Knesset (MK) Oren Hazan assaulted a bus transporting families of Palestinian political prisoners from Gaza to Nafha Prison, beyond the Green Line, to visit their detained relatives. Together with a group of right-wing Israelis, MK Hazan blocked the entrance to Nafha Prison, boarded the bus and verbally assaulted and harassed the Palestinian families, most of whom were women and elderly men.
MK Hazan hurled abusive and degrading statements at the families and their detained relatives, vowing to do everything in his power to deny them further family visits to Israeli prisons. MK Hazan was joined by the right-wing Task Force for the Release of Prisoners and Missing Persons, a group of Israeli activists who have taken it upon themselves to deny prison visits to Palestinian families by blocking buses on their way to prisons and by confronting and harassing Palestinians visiting their detained relatives.
The vast majority of Israeli military prisons are located beyond the Green Line, which means that Israel unlawfully deports Palestinian detainees from the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) into Israel proper. The unlawful deportation of protected persons from occupied territory into the territory of the Occupying Power is prohibited as a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention1 and amounts to a war crime punishable by the International Criminal Court.2 Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically stipulates that Israel, as Occupying Power, may not detain residents of the oPt in prisons outside of the occupied territory.
As a consequence of the unlawful deportation of detainees by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF), all Palestinian families from the oPt, with the exception of Palestinian East Jerusalem ID holders, are required to receive an entry permit into Israel in order to be granted the right to visit their detained relatives. Yet, Israel’s application process for entry permits is lengthy and may take up to three months whereas the permit itself is only valid for one year.
The application is submitted via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and then transferred to the IOF for processing and approval. The ICRC, which organizes family visits for relatives of Palestinian detainees from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, have refrained from thoroughly addressing Monday’s incident, only stating that “[t]he ICRC takes very seriously what happened today during the visit of Palestinian families to their relatives detained in Israel. Families have the right to visit their loved ones in a dignified manner.” An ICRC spokesperson reaffirmed that “[i]t is the responsibility of the competent authorities to ensure that the visits take place safely and without interference.”3
Part of the ICRC mandate in the oPt is to restore and maintain family contacts and to improve the conditions of Palestinians in Israeli detention. The right of prisoners to receive family visits and to enjoy proper communication with their families is firmly rooted in international law and is binding upon Israel, as Occupying Power. Article 116 of the Fourth Geneva Convention enshrines the right of internees “to receive visitors, especially near relatives, at regular intervals and as frequently as possible.”The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners further provide that prisoners have the right to communicate with their families at regular intervals “both by correspondence and by receiving visits.”4
Under international humanitarian law, Israel is further required to ensure that protected Palestinian persons “are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.”5 Accordingly, Israel is under an obligation to prevent and protect against acts of ill-treatment such as that experienced by the Palestinian families from Gaza on 25 December 2017.6 Israel is further under an obligation not to condone statements made by MK Hazan to the effect that he plans to prevent further prison visits by Palestinian families.
The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) reaffirms the importance of family visits to Palestinian detainees and calls upon the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure Israel’s respect for international humanitarian law and to exert real pressure on Israel to bring to an end all restrictions imposed on Palestinian prison visits, to halt the unlawful deportation of Palestinian prisoners out of the oPt, and to transfer all Palestinian detainees back to the oPt in line with its obligations as Occupying Power. PHROC further calls upon the ICRC to fulfil its role as a facilitator of family visits by urging the IOF to investigate the acts of Hazan and the Israeli right-wing group against the Palestinian detainees’ families during Monday’s assault.
1Articles 49 and 147, Fourth Geneva Convention.
2Article 8(2)(a)(vii), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
3Times of Israel Staff and Dov Lieber, “Likud MK confronts, threatens Palestinians visiting imprisoned relatives” (25 December 2017), available at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/likud-mk-confronts-threatens-palestinians-visiting-imprisoned-relatives/.
4Article 37, Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
5Article 27, Fourth Geneva Convention.
6The protection from ill-treatment is further enshrined in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), by which Israel is bound.