How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?

Special How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?
Rice is a food staple in the Gulf but India’s ban on the export of non-basmati varieties owing to delayed sowing could lead to price hikes. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2023
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How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?

How serious an impact will reduced rice supplies have on the Arab world following India’s export ban?
  • Indian decision to prioritize the domestic market follows delayed monsoon rains and price rises
  • Effect of reduced supplies and higher prices to vary from country to country in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI/NEW DELHI: India’s decision to ban the export of several varieties of rice in order to ensure sufficient supplies at home is pushing up prices on the global market, a development whose impact on food-insecure countries is being viewed with concern by experts.

Although the ban does not include the popular basmati variety, which is a staple at Gulf dinner tables, it is triggering an increase in the prices of all rice varieties, adding to the vulnerabilities of import-reliant economies of the Middle East and Africa.

While the Indian restrictions might contribute to food price inflation in the Arab region, economists who specialize in the field of agriculture do not anticipate a rice shortage.

“The impact is not going to be restricted to exporters to the Arab countries, nor rice production levels in the Arab region,” Fadel El-Zubi, lead consultant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Jordan and the agency’s former chief in Iraq, told Arab News.




Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said last week that the move would increase price volatility and should be reconsidered. (AFP)

“The impact will be seen on global prices in stock exchange markets.”

He said the price increases would not be limited to the cereal coming out of India but would apply to rice produced in other markets too, from the US to Australia.

“This is going to be the main impact. Yet, the increase in prices won’t be similar to the increase in wheat prices. (Also) the increase in rice prices will be for a short term. This is my expectation.”

El-Zubi was referring to the soaring price of wheat on the world market as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine, which before February 2022 were jointly responsible for almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley production.

Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports following its invasion led to fears of grain shortages and spiraling food prices, whose impact would have been felt most by the world’s most food-insecure nations, particularly in Africa.

Last summer, a UN- and Turkiye-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine allowed both nations to continue exporting grain. But earlier this month, Moscow withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, renewing fears of food-price inflation.

The ban on exports of non-basmati white rice imposed on July 20 by India — the world’s largest supplier of rice, accounting for almost 40 percent of global trade — has added to those fears.

Responding to the Indian decision, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said last week that the move would increase price volatility and should be reconsidered.

“In the current environment, these types of restrictions are likely to exacerbate volatility in food prices in the rest of the world and they can also lead to retaliatory measures,” he said.

“We would encourage the removal of these type of export restrictions because they can be harmful globally.”

But Indian food policy analyst Devinder Sharma believes the ban was the correct response to guarantee India’s own food security. He said the IMF was not justified in criticizing India’s market controls when Western nations continued to use vast quantities of grain for making biofuels.

“Despite the threat from the IMF, I think the Indian government has taken the right decision. India’s own domestic food security is of paramount importance,” Sharma told Arab News.

“Regarding the shortfall in the global supply, why don’t you ask America and Europe to cut down on ethanol production? The former consumes 90 million tons of food grain for its ethanol production, while the EU uses 12 million tons. They should stop it.

“India has to take care of its own food security. Imagine, 3 million people died in the 1943 Bengal famine because food was diverted. I think India has taken the right decision.”

For now, anecdotal evidence suggests few consumers in Arab countries are concerned about the impact of India’s export ban.

“We in Jordan consume basmati rice and not the white non-basmati rice that was included in the ban,” Jamal Amr, foodstuff representative at Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News.

He said Jordan bought most of its rice from the US, the EU, East Asian countries, Uruguay and Argentina.

“I am not stockpiling rice and I am not planning to. Things look normal to me,” Emirati housewife Umm Mohamed, a resident of Dubai, told Arab News. “My family and the domestic helpers all eat rice as a main staple.”




A farmer harvests at a rice paddy on the outskirts of Srinagar, India. (AFP)

The picture is the same in Saudi Arabia. “Rice is the main source of food in Saudi Arabia,” retired engineer Abu Akram said.

“In every main meal, we have to put basmati rice on the table. Saudi families usually store rice in quantities that can last for a month or two.”

He said he was not concerned about a possible price rise, but was thinking of asking his sons to buy extra rice, “just in case.”

In the era of globalization, involving free movement of goods, people and capital, the shopping habits of rice eaters in the Arab world are not immune to fluctuations in the fortunes of Indian agriculture.

India’s farmers typically start planting rice and other water-intensive crops from June 1 to coincide with the annual monsoon season. However, the country received 10 percent less rain than the average for June, with that figure rising to 60 percent in some states.

Although the monsoon rains have now arrived, the delay held up the planting of summer crops, a setback that experts believe prompted the Indian government to curb exports of rice.

Just a few days after the restriction was imposed, the UAE announced its own four-month ban on the export and re-import of all rice varieties, starting from July 28.

The UAE imports almost 90 percent of its food, making it especially vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices. According to Reuters data, the UAE was among the top 10 importers of non-basmati rice from India in 2020, buying almost 346,000 tons.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UK and the US also feature among the top 10 importers.




A farmer spreads unpolished rice to dry along a highway in Toopran Mandal in the Medak district, some 55 km from Hyderabad on November 11, 2021. (AFP)

Large quantities of rice imported by the UAE are later exported after packaging in the free zones. The ban on re-importing will therefore affect countries that buy packaged rice from the UAE.

Other countries that are likely to feel the squeeze of India’s export ban are African importers such as Benin. But even big economies like China will be affected, despite it being a major rice producer in its own right.

Arab countries that are likely to suffer the most from India’s export ban are Egypt, Algeria and Sudan, all of which already face economic turbulence and the effects of rising wheat prices. In Sudan’s case, a deadly feud between two generals since April 15 has compounded the woes of a population ravaged by hunger and malnutrition.

Unsurprisingly, some observers believe India made the wrong call, undermining its carefully cultivated image as a reliable trade partner and aspiring leader of the Global South.

“I feel the ban on the export of rice is a knee-jerk reaction to control prices in the domestic market with elections in view,” said Gokul Patnaik, former chairman of India’s government-affiliated Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority.

“But it gives a very bad name to India which is emerging as an agri-exporter. Earlier, India was a net importer and of late it had earned a good reputation as an exporter. Countries which are buying from India will definitely feel this kind of reaction. To switch on and off is not good if one is to be a consistent exporter.”

He added: “What the government could have done was to control the taxes. It could have increased export tax. If you are going to be in international trade, you should always be open to import and export. You should not ban.

“Importing countries expect you to be consistent and you should not only be a fair-weather friend. Export-import is a question of trust. If you lose trust, people don’t want to continue.”




The ban on exports of non-basmati white rice imposed on July 20 by India. (AFP)

It is not just rice that has become costlier in India in recent weeks. The prices of tomatoes and other staples have also risen following the late arrival of the monsoon rains in some parts of the country and unexpectedly heavy downpours in others.

With heavy rains damaging standing crops in some regions, predictions now are of poor harvests and even higher prices of farm produce. Public anger over food inflation could become a clear disadvantage for the government, which faces several regional elections this year in the run-up to the national vote.

Brajesh Jha, a professor at the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, takes the view that India is ill equipped to be a major exporter, but believes the ban is largely tied to the general election next year, which takes primacy over international relations.

“India is an exporter of food grains. (But) the kind of arable lands and the population that is dependent on foodgrains (means) India cannot be an exporter,” he told Arab News.

“Rice is exported from those areas which are semi-arid. The way the population is increasing, India needs lots of food grains.

“No doubt India’s standing among the community of nations will get a beating with this kind of decision, but the election is way more important (for the government) than the impression people form about it.”

Other experts say the Indian government should have implemented alternative policies that would have avoided compounding the global food crisis while at the same time stabilizing domestic prices.

“India could have used this opportunity to be a global leader that is helping against a potential food crisis,” Anupam Manur, an international trade economist at the Takshashila Institution in Bengaluru, told Arab News.

“Instead, imposing a ban on an essential commodity at such a time will weaken India’s arguments against other countries weaponizing supply chains by imposing export controls on semiconductors, rare earth elements or medical application programming interface.”




Workers transplant rice paddy in West Bengal, India. (Getty Images)

He added: “If it truly wants to mitigate a domestic price rise, the government can open up the warehouses which have more than adequate rice stocks.

“India might not bend to international pressure, but if domestic production increases, it might yet make a grand gesture of relaxing the ban.”

While such a gesture would ease global concerns, El-Zubi says that many Arab countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Jordan, are in no position to meet their own demand for wheat and rice as they lack the necessary water resources.

“Jordan produces only 3 percent of the wheat it needs,” he told Arab News.

According to him, Arab countries with fragile economies face serious challenges from food shortages, so they should expand the sources from which they buy strategic food staples, diversify payment methods and broaden their food supply chains and routes.


Israeli war cabinet puts off third meeting on Iran’s attack to Wednesday

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv.   (AFP file photo)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 April 2024
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Israeli war cabinet puts off third meeting on Iran’s attack to Wednesday

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) during a War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv.   (AFP file photo)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry
  • President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States, Israel’s main protector, would not participate in an Israeli counter-strike

JERUSALEM: A third meeting of Israel’s war cabinet set for Tuesday to decide on a response to Iran’s first-ever direct attack was put off until Wednesday, as Western allies eyed swift new sanctions against Tehran to help dissuade Israel from a major escalation.
Military chief of staff Herzi Halevi had promised that Saturday night’s launch of more than 300 missiles, cruise missiles and drones from Iran at Israeli territory “will be met with a response,” but gave no details.
While the attack caused no deaths and little damage thanks to the air defenses and countermeasures of Israel and its allies, it has increased fears that violence rooted in the six-month-old Gaza war is spreading, with the risk of open war between long-time adversaries Iran and Israel.
Iran launched the attack in retaliation for an airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 attributed to Israel, but has signalled that it now deems the matter closed.
An Israeli government source said the war cabinet session scheduled for Tuesday had been put off until Wednesday, without elaborating.
President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States, Israel’s main protector, would not participate in an Israeli counter-strike.
Together with European allies, Washington instead strove on Tuesday to toughen economic and political sanctions against Iran in an attempt to steer Israel away from massive retaliation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he was “leading a diplomatic attack,” writing to 32 countries to ask them to place sanctions on Iran’s missile program and follow Washington in proscribing its dominant military force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a terrorist group.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the US would use sanctions, and work with allies, to keep disrupting Iran’s “malign and destabilising activity.”
She told a news conference in Washington that all options to disrupt Iran’s “terrorist financing” were on the table, and that she expected further sanctions against Iran to be announced in coming days.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
, speaking in Brussels after an emergency video conference of EU foreign ministers, said some member states had asked for sanctions against Iran to be expanded and that the bloc’s diplomatic service would begin working on the proposal.
Borrell said the proposal would expand a sanctions regime that seeks to curb the supply of Iranian drones to Russia so that it would also include the provision of missiles and could also cover deliveries to Iranian proxies in the Middle East.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said earlier on Tuesday that several EU members had promised to look again at extending sanctions, adding she would head to Israel within hours to discuss how to prevent an escalation.

’CALM HEADS’

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
told Netanyahu in a call on Tuesday that escalation in the Middle East was in nobody’s interest and would only worsen insecurity in the region, so it was “a moment for calm heads to prevail,” Sunak’s office said.
Sunak had said on Monday the Group of Seven major democracies was working on a package of measures against Iran. Italy, which has the G7 presidency, suggested any new sanctions would target individuals.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani told state TV on Monday night that Tehran’s response to any Israeli counterattack would come in “a matter of seconds, as Iran will not wait for another 12 days to respond.”
The prospect of Israeli retaliation has alarmed many Iranians already enduring economic pain and tighter social and political controls since major protests in 2022-23.
Since the war in Gaza began in October, clashes have erupted between Israel and Iran-aligned groups based in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Israel said four of its soldiers were wounded hundreds of meters inside Lebanese territory overnight, the first known Israeli ground penetration into Lebanon since the Gaza war erupted, although it has regularly traded fire with the heavily armed Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined on Monday to say whether Biden had urged Netanyahu in talks on Saturday night to exercise restraint in responding to Iran.
“We don’t want to see a war with Iran. We don’t want to see a regional conflict,” Kirby told a briefing.
Some analysts said the Biden administration was unlikely to seek to sharpen sanctions on Iran’s oil exports due to worries about a big spike in oil prices and angering top buyer China.
In a call between the Chinese and Iranian foreign ministers, China said it believed Iran could “handle the situation well and spare the region further turmoil” while safeguarding its sovereignty and dignity, according to Chinese state media.
Iran’s weekend attack caused modest damage in Israel and wounded a 7-year-old girl. Most missiles and drones were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and with help from the US, Britain, France and Jordan.
In Gaza itself, where more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive according to Gaza health ministry figures, Iran’s action drew applause.
Israel began its campaign against Hamas, the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza, after the militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, by Israeli tallies.
Iran’s attack prompted at least a dozen airlines to cancel or reroute flights, with Europe’s aviation regulator still advising caution in using Israeli and Iranian airspace.

 


UN envoy lashes out at Libya’s feuding parties and their foreign backers, then says he’s resigned

 UN envoy lashes out at Libya’s feuding parties and their foreign backers, then says he’s resigned
Updated 17 April 2024
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UN envoy lashes out at Libya’s feuding parties and their foreign backers, then says he’s resigned

 UN envoy lashes out at Libya’s feuding parties and their foreign backers, then says he’s resigned
  • Bathily did not inform the Security Council either at the open meeting or the closed session that followed that he had submitted his resignation, council diplomats said
  • For years, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia backed Haftar while the Tripoli-based militaries enjoyed the support of Turkiye, Qatar and Italy, especially during Haftar’s unsuccessful offensive to take the capital in 2019

UNITED NATIONS: The UN envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, lashed out at the country’s feuding parties and their foreign backers at a UN Security Council meeting Tuesday and then confirmed he had submitted his resignation.
The former Senegalese minister and UN diplomat, who has held the job for 18 months, said he had done his best to get the five key political actors in Libya to resolve contested issues over electoral laws and form a unified government to lead the country to long-delayed elections.
But Bathily said his attempts “were met with stubborn resistance, unreasonable expectations and indifference to the interests of the Libyan people.” And he warned that these entrenched positions, reinforced by “a divided regional and global landscape,” may push Libya and the region to further instability and insecurity.
The UN envoy, clearly frustrated, also warned that oil-rich Libya “has become the playground for fierce rivalry among regional and international actors motivated by geopolitical, political and economic interests as well as competition extending beyond Libya and related to its neighborhood.” And he accused these actors of undermining UN efforts.
Bathily did not inform the Security Council either at the open meeting or the closed session that followed that he had submitted his resignation, council diplomats said. But afterward, in response to a question from a reporter, he said, “Yes, I did tender my resignation to the secretary-general,” he said, without giving any reasons.
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. In the chaos that followed, the country split, with rival administrations in the east and west backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
The country’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections on Dec. 24, 2021, and the refusal of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah — who led a transitional government in the capital of Tripoli — to step down.
In response, Libya’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, but suspended him in May 2023. The powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar continues to hold sway in the east.
For years, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia backed Haftar while the Tripoli-based militaries enjoyed the support of Turkiye, Qatar and Italy, especially during Haftar’s unsuccessful offensive to take the capital in 2019.
Libya’s strategic location on the Mediterranean, and the political chaos, have made the country a major route for African migrants trying to get to Europe and human smugglers. The Islamic State and other extremist groups also exploited the chaos and while some are in prison in Libya they remain a threat, especially from its restive western and southern borders where these groups have gained support.
Over the last month, Bathily said, the situation in Libya has deteriorated as a result of two major factors.
The first is “the lack of political will and good faith by the major Libyan actors who are comfortable with the current stalemate, which has been going on in Libya since 2011,” he said.
The second is the ongoing scramble for Libya’s territory that has made it a battleground for different foreign actors and Libyan armed groups, he said.
Bathily pointed to initiatives in recent months, whose objective, even if not declared, is “to disrupt the UN-led process” to form a unified government.
He singled out a meeting in Cairo on March 10 where three key political players reportedly reached an agreement that the UN was not part of, and that wasn’t supported by the other parties that were not invited.
“Unilateral, parallel and uncoordinated initiatives contribute to unnecessary complications and to the consolidation of the status quo,” he said, and as long as these continue “there is no way we can move forward.”
Bathily stressed that “the unity of the international community is key to resolving the Libya crisis.”
He said the Security Council, which authorized the 2011 NATO intervention, must demonstrate unity and “compel” Libyan and regional “stakeholders” to back the UN’s efforts to unite Libya through a political dialogue.
The Security Council also has “a moral responsibility” to end the crisis by telling everybody – the “so-called national leaders” in power today and their foreign backers – to let the Libyan people have the opportunity to chart a new course through elections and rebuild the country, Bathily said.
Libya is the richest country in the region and has the resources to be prosperous, stable and peaceful – without regional or international intervention, he said.
Bathily also stressed that peace and stability in Libya is critical for the stability of neighboring western Sahel and the wider region.
“More than ever, the renewed and coordinated commitment among regional and international actors is imperative,” he told the council.

 


How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
Updated 17 April 2024
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How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
  • Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment, says Amnesty
  • Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 — and the 14th since the Gaza war began

LONDON: When he was arrested by Israeli forces on March 25, 1986, Walid Daqqah was just 24 years old. When he died of cancer on April 7 this year, aged 62 and still a prisoner, he had spent all of the intervening 38 years in Israeli custody.

In the process Daqqah earned the dubious distinction of becoming Israel’s longest-serving Palestinian prisoner and was one of only a handful of inmates who had been in prison since before the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, the story of Daqqah’s life and death has profound significance for every Palestinian jailed by Israel — and especially for the record number thrown behind bars since Oct. 7.

According to the Palestinian Commission of Detainee Affairs, Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 and the 14th since the Hamas attack on Israel last year.

Daqqah was sentenced to life in prison in March 1987, following the abduction and killing of an Israeli soldier by a unit of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1984.

A freed prisoner waves from a bus during a welcome ceremony following the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas last year. (AFP)

He was not found guilty of killing the soldier but of commanding the unit, a charge he consistently denied. Furthermore, Amnesty International said “his conviction was based on British emergency regulations dating back to 1945, which require a much lower standard of proof for conviction than Israeli criminal law.”

What happened next, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s senior director for research, advocacy, policy and campaigns, was “a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard of Palestinians’ right to life.”

Daqqah’s original 37-year sentence had been due to expire in March 2023, but in 2018 was extended by two years after he was implicated in a scheme to smuggle mobile phones to prisoners desperate to contact their families.

He was, in effect, sentenced to die in prison.

In 2022 Daqqah had been diagnosed with terminal bone marrow cancer, but his appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected, even after he had served his original sentence.

“It is heart-wrenching that Walid Daqqah has died in Israeli custody despite the many calls for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds,” Guevara-Rosas said.

Ahmed Manasra was accused of taking part in the stabbing of two Israelis in 2015. (AFP)

“For Daqqah and his family, the last six months in particular were an endless nightmare, during which he was subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including beatings and humiliation by the Israeli Prison Service, according to his lawyer.

“He was not permitted a phone call with his wife since Oct. 7. His final appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court, effectively sentencing him to die behind bars.”

Even when Daqqah was on his deathbed, “Israeli authorities continued to display chilling levels of cruelty … not only denying him adequate medical treatment and suitable food, but also preventing him from saying a final goodbye to his wife Sanaa Salameh and their 4-year-old daughter Milad,” Guevara-Rosas said.

Milad was the couple’s small miracle. When they were denied the privilege of conjugal rights, their child was conceived after a unique prison “breakout” — her father’s sperm was smuggled out of prison.

He was, however, only allowed to see his daughter once in person, in October 2022, and even then only after “a daunting legal battle.”

Worse, his wife, Sanaa Salameh, “who tirelessly campaigned for his release, could not embrace her dying husband one last time before he passed,” Guevara-Rosas said.

In death, Daqqah will live on in the collective memory of his people as one of the million or more Arab citizens imprisoned by Israel since 1948 and whose incarceration has been commemorated every year since 1974 on April 17 as Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.

the Ofer military prison located between Ramallah and Baytunia in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

This year, there are more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons than ever before.

According to figures released by the Israel Prison Service, as of this month, Israel is holding 9,312 “security inmates” in jails under its jurisdiction, including Ofer Prison in the West Bank.

That figure does not include the thousands of Palestinians detained by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip, who are believed to be held incommunicado in military camps, including the Sde Teiman base in the desert.

On April 4 a group of nongovernmental organizations including the Committee Against Torture wrote to Israel’s Military Advocate General demanding the immediate closure of the facility. They cited the testimonies of innocent Palestinians who had been released from the camp who painted “a horrifying picture of inhumane prison conditions, humiliation and torture.”

The detainees, they said, “are held in a kind of cage, crowded, sitting on their knees in a painful position for many hours every day. They are handcuffed at all hours of the day and blindfolded. This is how they eat, relieve themselves and receive medical care.”

Even without this unknown number of detainees, the 9,312 prisoners acknowledged by the IPS is a record, beating even the previous highest number, established during the Gaza War of 2008-09.

Of these, just 2,071 have been tried and sentenced. A further 3,661 are what are euphemistically termed “administrative detainees” who have not been charged, tried or found guilty of any offense.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, administrative detention is when “a person is held without trial, without having committed an offense, on the grounds that he or she plans to break the law in the future.”

The tactic is disturbingly reminiscent of the 2002 science fiction film “Minority Report,” in which police arrest people for crimes that psychic “precogs” predict they might commit.

Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian youth during an incursion in the West bank town of Nablus in 2007. (AFP)

Amnesty said it was a particularly invidious legal device under which military authorities “may place individuals in administrative detention for up to six months at a time, if the commander has ‘reasonable grounds to believe that reasons of regional security or public security require that a certain person be held in detention.’”

The order may be extended for an additional six-month period “from time to time” and there is no time limit to administrative detention.

“The person is detained without legal proceedings, by order of the regional military commander, based on classified evidence that is not revealed to them.

“This leaves the detainees helpless — facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them, not knowing when they will be released and without being charged, tried or convicted.”

A smaller but significant number of residents from the Gaza Strip — 849 — are being held under Israel’s controversial Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, which was introduced in 2002 and also allows arbitrary detention without trial.

Amnesty said the official figure was doubtless wide of the mark.

“We know there are thousands of Palestinians from Gaza held arbitrarily under said unlawful law for weeks and months on end,” a spokesperson told Arab News.

For many, incarceration is just the beginning of the nightmare.

“Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment that reached unprecedented levels of cruelty as part of the Israeli authorities’ retaliation campaign against Palestinians following Oct. 7,” Waed Abbas, a research and campaigns officer at Amnesty’s regional office in Ramallah and Jerusalem, told Arab News.

Drawing on the testimonies of Palestinians who have been released from prison and detention, and evidence gleaned through rarely allowed visits by lawyers, Amnesty said “a chilling image of a terrifying reality” was emerging.

“They’ve been tortured, starved, denied adequate medical care, cut off from the outside world, including from their families, put in solitary confinement, humiliated and degraded,” Abbas said.

The use of torture, she said, “has witnessed a spine-chilling spike and at least 40 Palestinian prisoners and detainees have died in Israeli custody over the past six months, either in military detention centers or in prisons run by the Israel Prison Service.”

And this is only the number of deaths officially acknowledged by the Israeli authorities. “The actual death toll may yet be higher,” Abbas said.

Wissam Tamimi, 17, reunited with his mother Hunaida and his younger brother and sister. (CNN videograb)

In many cases, the imprisonment of individuals has continued even after their death. “Families have been denied the right to mourn them with peace and dignity as Israel continues to withhold their bodies.”

Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the deteriorating conditions facing Palestinians in Israeli prisons was of “grave concern.”

Recent policy changes instigated by the IPS following an order by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s right-wing minister of national security, “have resulted in the arbitrary denial of basic rights, including access to medical care and legal counsel,” he told Arab News.

ACRI had petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court, protesting against “the policy of starving security prisoners, highlighting testimonies of extreme hunger and poor food quality among detainees,” and also called for the immediate resumption of Red Cross visits to Palestinian detainees.

“Even, and perhaps especially, amid conflicts and hostage situations, upholding detainees’ rights remains imperative for ensuring justice and dignity for all,” Sattah said.

For Miriam Azem, international advocacy and communications associate at Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the extent to which the wider world is turning a blind eye to Israel’s abuse of human rights and legal norms is shocking.

“To be frank, this has gone under the radar, in terms of both the mainstream global media and most of the Western world, including the UN,” she said.

In a bid to put the issue on the global agenda, on Feb. 19, four NGOs, including Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, submitted a joint plea for action to Dr Alice Edwards, the UN special rapporteur on torture, drawing her attention to the “marked and severe escalation in the abuse of Palestinian detainees and prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons and detention facilities” since Oct. 7.

Among other things, the signatories urged Edwards to “call on Israel to immediately halt the systematic abuse, torture and ill-treatment inflicted upon Palestinian prisoners and detainees,” to ensure that “all persons deprived of liberty are afforded all legal safeguards from the very outset” and guarantee adequate medical care generally and “specifically for victims of abuse, torture and ill-treatment.”

As part of the appeal the NGOs documented 19 “very concrete” cases backed by “substantive evidence and testimonies of torture and ill treatment.”

The dossier makes for disturbing reading.

“Prisoner A,” released from Gilboa Prison, and other inmates “were subjected to beatings in their cells (and) were forced to curse themselves and to crawl while carrying an Israeli flag on their back and were threatened with beatings if they failed to do so.”

A Palestinian prisoner hugs his mother after being released from an Israeli jail in exchange for Israeli hostages released by Hamas from the Gaza Strip last year. (AFP)

Throughout Detainee E’s detention in the Russian Compound Detention Center in Jerusalem between Oct. 29 and Nov. 12, 2023, “he was beaten on four occasions by wardens, including kicking, punching and the use of batons.”

In a hearing at Judea Military Court on Nov. 13, “female detainee A’s attorney reported that A had sustained repeated abuse; among other incidents, wardens had beaten A in her cell, without cameras, while she was naked.”

Two days later, at a hearing at Haifa District Court, it was reported that another female detainee from Hasharon Prison “had been threatened with rape and bodily assault.”

Several of the highlighted cases documented in distressing detail incidents of sexual abuse and daily violence suffered by male prisoners in Ketziot Prison.

Azem said that given the difficulties of collecting evidence, the 19 submitted cases were merely a representative sample of a far larger problem.

“One of the themes we have highlighted in the document is that prisoners face extreme threats of reprisals for speaking out.”

On March 8, the UN rapporteur said she was investigating the allegations of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in Israel and was in talks to visit the country.

In a statement to Reuters, the UN human rights office said it had received “numerous reports of mass detention, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of Palestinians in northern Gaza by the Israeli military and has recorded the arrests of thousands in the West Bank.”

Responding to the allegations in a statement to AFP, a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service said: “All prisoners are detained according to the law.”

It said the service was “not aware of the claims” against it, but stressed that any complaints filed by detainees “will be fully examined and addressed by official authorities.”

In many ways the life and death of Walid Daqqah symbolizes the wider suffering of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have followed him into Israeli custody over the almost four decades since he was first incarcerated.

How he lived his limited life behind bars, however, lives on as an example of how hope can survive in even the most seemingly hopeless of circumstances.

Israeli border policemen detain a Palestinian stone-throwing youth during clashes on October 5, 2009 in the east Jerusalem Shuafat refugee camp. (AFP)

In an obituary published on April 8, the day after his death, Amnesty said that while behind bars Daqqah “wrote extensively about the Palestinian experience in Israeli prisons.”

“He acted as a mentor and educator for generations of young Palestinian prisoners, including children,” it said.

“His writings, which included letters, essays, a celebrated play and a novel for young adults, were an act of resistance against the dehumanization of Palestinian prisoners.”

A line he once wrote shines as a beacon of hope for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who since 1986 have followed him into captivity: “Love is my modest and only victory against my jailer.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation

Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation
Updated 16 April 2024
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Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation

Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation
  • Farid Alilat wrote on Facebook he spent 11 hours in police custody at the airport before being boarded onto a plane and sent to France

ALGIERS: An Algerian journalist was expelled from the country after flying in from France and not being allowed to leave the airport as journalists continue to face challenges reporting in Algeria.

Farid Alilat, a writer for the French-language magazine Jeune Afrique, wrote on Facebook that he spent 11 hours in police custody on Saturday at the airport before being boarded onto a plane and sent to France, where he has a residency permit.

Alilat said he regularly takes flights from Paris to Algiers to report on Algeria, where he has for years been a well-known journalist due to his work for French-language daily newspapers including Liberté, which was shuttered in 2022 amid financial problems and scuffles with the government and Algeria’s state-owned oil company, both of which are major advertisers for the country’s newspapers.

In a lengthy post in which he wrote of his deportation as if he were reporting on it, Alilat alleged that police officers on the tarmac in Algiers told him that they were acting on orders “from above.”

He said he was interrogated about his travels, who he has met with and about Jeune Afrique, which Algerian authorities believe favors their neighbor and regional rival, Morocco. Few Algerian media outlets reported on Alilat’s expulsion and few politicians commented on it. Former Communications Minister Abdelaziz Rahabi called it “a measure from another era that serves neither the people nor the government.”

“No one can be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter their own country,” he wrote on Facebook.

The episode is the latest instance of Algeria’s government restricting journalists from reporting in Algeria and comes while high-profile journalists, including editors Ihsane El Kadi and Mustapha Benjama remain in prison on charges related to using foreign funds to finance journalism and disrupting public order. The government, however, has also resumed granting authorizations to journalists starting new media outlets or television shows and last year passed a law enshrining new protections for journalists.


Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah

Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah
Updated 16 April 2024
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Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah

Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah
  • Israel obstructing access to victims of Hamas Oct. 7 attack: UN probe

GENEVA/CAIRO: Israeli tanks pushed back into some areas of the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday which they had left weeks ago, while warplanes conducted airstrikes on Rafah, the Palestinians’ last refuge in the south of the territory, killing and wounding several people, medics and residents said.

Residents reported an internet outage in the areas of Beit Hanoun and Jabalia in northern Gaza. 

Tanks advanced into Beit Hanoun and surrounded some schools where displaced families have taken refuge, said the residents and media outlets of the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

“Occupation soldiers ordered all families inside the schools and the nearby houses where the tanks had advanced to evacuate. 

The soldiers detained many men,” one resident of northern Gaza said via a chat app.

Beit Hanoun, home to 60,000 people, was one of the first areas targeted by Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza last October. 

Heavy bombardment turned most of Beit Hanoun, once known as “the basket of fruit” because of its orchards, into a ghost town comprising piles of rubble.

Many families who had returned to Beit Hanoun and Jabalia in recent weeks after Israeli forces withdrew, began moving out again on Tuesday because of the new raid, some residents said.

Palestinian health officials said in one strike, Israel killed four people and wounded several others in Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering and bracing for a planned Israeli ground offensive into the city, which borders Egypt.

The Israeli military said its forces continued to operate in the central Gaza Strip and that they had killed several gunmen who attempted to attack them.

“Furthermore, over the past day, IDF fighter jets and aircraft destroyed a missile launcher along with dozens of terrorist infrastructure, terror tunnels, and military compounds where armed Hamas terrorists were located,” it added.

In Al-Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, residents said Israeli planes had bombed and destroyed four multi-story residential buildings on Tuesday.

Israel is still imposing “unlawful” restrictions on humanitarian relief for Gaza, the UN human rights office said on Tuesday, despite assertions from Israel and others that barriers have eased.

The amount of aid now entering Gaza is disputed, with Israel and Washington saying aid flows have risen in recent days but UN agencies say it is still far below bare minimum levels.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 33,843 Palestinians have so far been killed by Israeli fire since Oct. 7, including 46 in the past 24 hours.

Israel is preventing UN investigators from speaking to witnesses and victims of the Oct. 7 attack, former UN rights chief Navi Pillay, who is chairing a three-person probe, said.

The unprecedented Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021 to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“I deplore the fact that people inside Israel who wish to speak to us are being denied that opportunity, because we cannot get access into Israel,” Pillay said.

The investigation briefed diplomats at the UN in Geneva on its work and said that since Oct. 7, it had focused on the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

“So far as the government of Israel is concerned, we have faced not merely a lack of cooperation but active obstruction of our efforts to receive evidence from Israeli witnesses and victims to the events that occurred in southern Israel,” said Chris Sidoti, one of the three members of the inquiry.

The Gaza war began with Hamas’s attack against Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

The militants also took about 250 hostages, of whom Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Pillay, 82, a South African former High Court judge, said the commission was investigating alleged crimes during the Hamas attack as well as some allegedly committed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

Sidoti, speaking via video-link, said the investigation had found it difficult to collect evidence from large numbers of witnesses.