by Crescent International (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 5, Muharram, 1420)
Thousands of non-Palestinian Muslims are languishing in Israeli jails, some of them for more than 20 years. They are routinely subjected to torture, hunger, disease and isolation at the hands of Israeli ‘security forces’ in a systematic attempt to extract information and destroy their Islamic identity. They are even used as guinea-pigs by Israeli pharmaceutical companies to test their drugs. Yet they are forgotten by the rest of the world, with Muslim capitals, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference the most conspicuously silent.
The Israeli law and judiciary do not afford legal protection to Muslim prisoners. The authorities deny them the protection accorded to prisoners of war in the Geneva Conventions, dismissing them as terrorists; and the accords signed by Israel with Jordan and the PA during the so-called ‘peace-process’ do not cover the issue of prisoners (whether Palestinians or non-Palestinians). The matter is made even worse by the west’s insistence that Israel is a democracy whose actions are governed by the rule of law.
Their treatment is all the more unacceptable because they are not criminals falling foul of the Israeli penal code but members of the resistance to the occupation of Palestine, including Al-Quds. As suchwhether captured in active combat or detained because of their membership of Palestinian organizations or because of their political viewsthey are prisoners of war or prisoners of conscience, and should have been entitled to protection under international and human rights conventions.
Their case should have been addressed in the agreements reached as the ‘peace process’ unfolds. After all, peace processes addressing other armed struggles provide effectively for the issue of prisoners. The UK, for example, has already released members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), under an interim peace agreement brokered by the US.
But Israel has successfully resisted all attempts to address the problem. First it divided the prisoners into Palestinians and non-Palestinians, arguing that the case of the non-Palestinians is of no concern to the ‘peace talks.’ Then it sub-divided the Palestinians, insisting that those from the ‘1948 areas’ and Al-Quds are Israeli citizens and therefore outside the scope of the talks. And third it invented a new class of prisoners to reduce the scope of the ‘peace process’, arguing that any detainees under ‘administrative orders’ were strictly within Israeli jurisdiction.
Administrative orders are issued by the security authorities under a 1945 law inherited from the British Mandate, and made even stricter by a military decree in 1989. Administrative orders are not only immune to judicial review but can also be used to detain prisoners who have completed their sentences or been pardoned; this enables the authorities to hold them indefinitely or put them beyond the reach of the ‘peace process’.
The judiciary fully supports freedom of action of the security agents when it comes to ‘terrorist suspects’. The Israeli supreme court recently ruled that the security forces have the legal power to use ‘reasonable force’ to extract information, effectively endorsing the use of torture.
Yasir Arafat accepted the Israeli classifications of prisoners for the purposes of peace negotiations, effectively consigning all non-Palestinians, ‘1948 Palestin-ians’ and those under administrative orders to oblivion. But even those Palestinians whose cases Israel originally agreed to discuss under the terms of the ‘peace talks’ have not been brought under the protection of the interim agreements signed since December 1993, when the Declaration of Principles was concluded in Washington. This has been partly because of Israeli reluctance, but also because of lack of interest on the part of Palestinian negotiators. While the 1994 Ghazzah and Areha accord and the 1995 Taba agreement briefly referred to prisoners, Israel evaded all obligations imposed by them. And the 1998 Wye Plantation accord, brokered by US president Bill Clinton, does not address the issue at all.
Arafat will no doubt argue that he is in good company. The 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty does not mention Jordanian prisoners although there are some known to be held by the Israelis. Egypt is not interested in recovering its prisoners, and Syria will not broach the issue independently of the question of the Golan Heights. Nor is the Lebanese government much exercised about the fate of its citizens.
Most of the non-Palestinian prisoners are from these four so-called ‘front-line States’. There are also known to be prisoners from Sudan, Libya, Algeria and Iraq. But as the available figures only cover those convicted of offences, and not political detainees held under administrative orders, the true number numbers must be much higher, and nationals of other countries may also be involved.
The Muslim governments’ failure to push their cause is due mainly to fear of offending the Americans. There is also a fear of releasing political activistsespecially members of the Islamic movement. Most of those in Israeli jails are angry and committed people - angry not only with Israel but also with the Muslim regimes that pander to it. Most Arab dictators would prefer to see them rot in Israeli jails rather than released.
Meanwhile, the western powers, which control the United Nations and the application of so-called ‘international law’, prefer to protect Israel rather than its Muslim prisoners.
British foreign office minister Derek Fatchett, echoing prime minister Tony Blair, recently told Parliament “Israel is a democracy where there is freedom of speech and there is respect of the rule of law.” This evidently puts it above any western criticism.
Fatchett, who is a frequent and popular visitor Arab capitals, did not reportedly cause any offence to any of them as a result of his spirited defence of Tel Aviv. Given Israel’s determination to destroy its Muslim captives, western support and Muslim indifference, it falls to the global Islamic movement to adopt their cause and, at least, keep it alive.
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1999