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Ketziot Military Prison Authorities Endanger the Lives of Palestinian Detainees

6. November 2002

Addameer Press Release, 4 November 2002

Detainees Protest Attack and Continuing Human Rights Violations

Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association is deeply concerned with the escalating violation of detainees` rights within Israeli prisons and detention centers. In particular, recent events in the Ketziot (Negev) Military Detention Center indicate an intensification of tensions between the military administration and detainees, and are a further affront to the rights of Palestinian detainees being held in the military detention camp.

On Thursday 24 October 2002, the Ketziot military detention camp administration informed three prisoners from Section D/4 that they would be transferred from Ketziot to Nafha Prison, without informing them of the reason for their transfer. The prisoners refused to voluntarily comply with the decision. As a result, the administration of the military camp met to plan a response to their refusal. When it became known that the administration was planning a response, the three prisoners informed the administration, by way of the Prisoners` Representative, that they would comply with the order so as to avoid collective punishment of all the detainees in the section.

However, despite this, in the early evening of that same day a large force of Israeli soldiers, armed with automatic rifles, teargas and sound grenades, surrounded the sections of the detention camp. Soldiers fired teargas and sound grenades into all the sections and, in particular, into Section D of the prison tents. Tents in the section D/4 caught fire, burning down the tents themselves, detainees` mattresses, blankets and other items within the tents.

Each of the four sections contained within Ketziot Military Detention Center consists of four prison tents each surrounded by 5 meters high walls. All 60 detainees from Section D/4 were trapped in the fire, unable to flee from the force of the flames because of these walls, whilst simultaneously being attacked with tear gas and sound grenades. The detainees were eventually able to force a hole through one of the walls separating the sections to escape the fire. At least one detainee sustained injuries from the fire. A number of prison tents in the other sections, A, B and C, also suffered damage from sound grenades that were fired at their tents, which could have easily caught fire as well.

In protest of the attack, detainees of Section D/4 refused to be relocated to other tents and slept outside on the asphalt pavement, refusing to have new tents erected until an investigation committee was formed and came to the section to take evidence of the incident.

In an attempt to ensure the safety of detainees and collect information regarding the incident, two representatives from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Advocate Lila Margalit and Hava Matras-Irron, accompanied by Advocate Tamar Peleg from Hamoked, visited the detention center on 31 October 2002 in order to take affidavits from detainees and to view the section in which the fire occurred. However, the delegation was only allowed a period of fifteen minutes to visit with each of the five detainees interviewed, only one of which was from section D, where the majority of the attack took place. They were also not able to visit the area in which the incident took place.

This incident is but one symptom in a system of continuous violations of Palestinian detainees` rights that, if left unchecked, will be aggravated by increasing tensions within the prison itself. The Israeli military administration used unreasonable force against detainees and placed the lives of at least 60 detainees in danger in an act of collective punishment. Furthermore, the conditions of detention within Ketziot, an outdoor military detention center located in the middle of the Negev Desert and isolated from nearby cities, remain in violation of basic standards of internationally recognized norms of internment.

Ketziot (Negev) Military Detention Camp is the primary location of the majority of Palestinian administrative detainees. There are currently approximately 850 administrative detainees being held in the prison camp, with an additional 200 prisoners. Detainees are held in four sections, each of which is divided into four units containing 3 prison tents. Each of the prison tents holds approximately 20-22 detainees, with a total of 60-66 detainees being held in each of the 4 units, in old tents that can accommodate only 18 individuals and which do not provide sufficient shelter against the harsh desert weather. Detainees sleep on wooden shipping planks, covered by a thin mattress and thin covers, one of which is used as a pillow. Each unit shares three unsanitary makeshift outdoor toilets and one shower between over 60 detainees.

Food rations provided to detainees do not meet necessary daily requirement, both in terms of quality and nutritional value, and those with special dietary needs are not offered proper meals. Detainees are afforded insufficient basic necessities such as soap, toothpaste, etc. (e.g. one bar of soap for every 10 detainees) and have not been given a change of clothing, forced to wear the clothes they were wearing when they were arrested. Lawyers have been prevented from bringing any personal effects for detainees from family members. Electrical facilities for the tents were only recently permitted, following a petition submitted to the Israeli High Court of Justice, with electricity now available only from 11 p.m. until 6 am, making it impossible to read, watch TV, etc. until very late in the evening. Random searches take place from time to time and head-counts are conducted three times a day outside of the tents in often severe weather conditions. Inadequate health attention is offered, with approximately 60 detainees being held at Ketziot prison requiring immediate medical attention that has, as of yet, not been provided to them. Many of those who require medical attention were arrested during the Israeli invasions in April 2002 and sustained injuries during raids and mass arrest campaigns.

Detainees have reported being beaten on occasion by soldiers while being transported to military courts, held in isolation cells for entire days whilst awaiting trial, and hands and legs bound during journeys. As of 20 October 2002, all military court proceedings take place at Ketziot detention center, and lawyers, if they are informed in time, must travel approximately 5 hours to and from the central West Bank to the detention center to be present during the tribunal. Family visits have been systematically denied by the Israeli military administration since the opening of the detention camp.

Addameer is gravely concerned with the deteriorating condition of Palestinian detainees being held within Israeli prisons and detention centers. Addameer demands an immediate investigation committee to be formed to investigate the attack on Palestinian detainees in Ketziot Military Detention Camp in order to ensure the safety of detainees and that violations do not continue to occur with impunity. Furthermore, basic standards of life must be afforded to detainees and their rights ensured as stipulated in international human rights and humanitarian law.

Source: ADDAMEER – Prisoners` Support and Human Rights Association