RAMALLAH, Palestine (AA) – Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday to commemorate Palestinian Prisoners Day.
In Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians — waving Palestinian flags and raising images of their imprisoned loved ones — marched from Arafat Square in the city center to the nearby Jewish-only Beit El settlement.
Israeli forces used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, dozens of whom suffered from excessive teargas inhalation.
Similar rallies were also seen in the cities of Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Hebron, Tulkarem and Qalqilya, where protesters called for the “immediate release” of longstanding Palestinian detainees.
Palestinians first began marking Prisoners Day in 1974, when the Palestinian National Council adopted Apr. 17 as a national — and international — day on which to show solidarity with Palestinian detainees.
According to official Palestinian figures, some 6,500 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli prisons, including 62 women and about 350 minors.
Some 500 of these are under what Israel calls "administrative detention" in which they face neither trial nor charge. Six members of the Palestinian Legislative Council also remain in Israeli custody.
“About 1,800 Palestinian prisoners are in desperate need of medical attention,” Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s committee on detainees’ affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
“Some are chronically ill; others are disabled or injured,” he said. “Every day, we expect to hear of their martyrdom.”
Qaraqe went on to note that the issue of Palestinian prisoners had been referred to the International Criminal Court.
He lamented, however, that The Hague-based tribunal “has yet to take any steps in this regard or hold Israeli officials accountable for these violations”.
According to Qaraqe, the Israeli army arrests between 15 and 25 Palestinians every day — mostly minors — in different parts of the West Bank.
“Palestinian Prisoners Day is a call to the international community to fulfill its legal and moral responsibility to protect detainees from daily Israeli violations,” he said.
“They are political prisoners; legitimate activists,” he added. “Their respective cases will be an integral part of any future political settlement.”
– ‘Administrative detention’
Roughly 500 Palestinians are now being held — without trial — under what Israel calls “administrative detention”, in which neither detainees nor their lawyers are informed of the charges.
“For the last two months, ‘administrative’ detainees have continued to boycott Israeli courts to protest their ongoing illegal detention,” Qaraqe said.
“And they plan to escalate their protests further if the Israeli authorities fail to end the administrative detention policy,” he added.
The policy, which allows suspects to be held without trial or charge for renewable six-month periods, was first established by British colonialist forces during Palestine’s British Mandate period (1923-1948).
– Death behind bars
According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, 214 Palestinians have died in Israeli custody since 1967.
Of these, seven were shot, 72 were tortured to death and 59 died due to a lack of medical attention.
“Seventy-five others died as a result of premeditated murder or extrajudicial execution immediately after arrest,” society head Qadura Fares told Anadolu Agency.
– Jailing kids
“When it comes to prisoners, Israel makes no distinction between adults and children, neither of whom enjoy any rights,” Fares said.
According to Fares, almost 60 percent of detained Palestinian children are subject to some form of physical and/or psychological torture.
“Minors are subject to physical and psychological torture in a variety of ways,” he said. “These include long hours in detention and food deprivation, in addition to beatings.”
Since 2000, Israel has arrested over 10,000 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and in the occupied Gaza Strip, according to official Palestinian figures.