Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation

Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his intention to extend Israel’s military operation to Rafah. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 February 2024
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Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation

Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation
  • Rafah has become the last major Gaza city that troops have yet to enter
  • Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry warned Saturday of “very serious repercussions of storming and targeting” Rafah

GAZA: The threat of an Israeli incursion into Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah persisted Sunday, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising “safe passage” to civilians displaced there.
In an interview airing Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his intention to extend Israel’s military operation to the city.
Despite international alarm over the potential for carnage in a city crammed with more than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.4 million people, Netanyahu told ABC News: “We’re going to do it.”
He conceded he agrees “with the Americans” that the operation will need to first plan for the impact on civilians.
“We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” he said, according to published extracts of the interview.
But it is unclear where such a large number of people, who are pressed up against the border with Egypt and sheltering in makeshift tents, can go.
When asked, Netanyahu would only say they are “working out a detailed plan.”
As Israeli forces have extended steadily southwards, Rafah has become the last major Gaza city that troops have yet to enter, even as it is bombarded by air strikes almost daily.
“They said Rafah is safe, but it is not. All places are being targeted,” Palestinian Mohammed Saydam said after an Israeli strike destroyed a police vehicle in Rafah on Saturday.
The Israeli premier, who contends “victory” over Hamas cannot be achieved without clearing battalions in Rafah, directed his military on Friday to prepare for the operation. His announcement set off a chorus of concern from world leaders and aid groups.
“The people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media platform X, adding that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making.”
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry warned Saturday of “very serious repercussions of storming and targeting” Rafah and called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting, while UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he is “deeply concerned” about the prospective offensive.
“The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out,” he wrote.

Intense fighting
The war in Gaza was sparked by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive in Gaza that the territory’s health ministry says has killed at least 28,064 people, mostly women and children.
Militants also seized 250 hostages, 132 of whom are still in Gaza although 29 are presumed dead, Israel has said.
Netanyahu announced the plan for a ground operation in Rafah only days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel seeking a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange.
Netanyahu has rejected the proposed truce after what he said were “bizarre demands” from Hamas.
But Israel’s plans for Rafah have drawn sharp rebuke from main ally and military backer Washington, with the State Department warning that if not properly planned, such an operation risks “disaster.”
In unusually sharp criticism, US President Joe Biden on Thursday called Israel’s retaliatory campaign “over the top.”
Gaza’s Hamas rulers warned on Saturday that a full-scale Israeli invasion of Rafah could cause “tens of thousands” of casualties.
The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said the move “threatens security and peace in the region and the world” and is “a blatant violation of all red lines.”
The Israeli military said it killed two “senior Hamas operatives” in a strike on Rafah Saturday.
It was part of a wider bombardment that killed at least 25 people in the city, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hamas tunnels
To the north in Gaza City, Israel’s military claimed that its troops uncovered a Hamas tunnel under the evacuated headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called for its head, Philippe Lazzarini, to quit.
Lazzarini said the agency had not operated from the compound since October 12 when staff evacuated it under instruction from Israeli forces.
Already under pressure after Israel claimed 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attack, he called for an independent investigation into the latest Israeli accusations.
An AFP photographer was among a number of journalists taken to the compound and tunnel by the Israeli military on Thursday.
UN premises are considered “inviolable” in international law and immune from “search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference.”
Hamas has repeatedly denied Israeli accusations that it has dug a network of tunnels under schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure as cover for its activities.

Public fury
The war, now in its fifth month, has spawned intensifying public fury in Israel.
Protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to demand the release of the hostages, Netanyahu step down and fresh elections be called.
“It’s clear Netanyahu is dragging out the war, he has no idea what to do on the day after,” Israeli protester Gil Gordon said.
The war has had far-reaching impact well bedyond Israel and Gaza, with violence involving Iran-backed allies of Hamas surging across the Middle East.
A senior Hamas officer survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Lebanon, Palestinian and Lebanese security sources told AFP, but two other people including a Hezbollah member were killed in the attack.
And in Syria, Israeli strikes near Damascus killed three people, a war monitor said, adding the targeted neighborhood hosted villas for top military and civilian officials.
 


Iran navy escorting Iranian commercial ships to Red Sea, commander says

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Iran navy escorting Iranian commercial ships to Red Sea, commander says

Iran navy escorting Iranian commercial ships to Red Sea, commander says
  • Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response
DUBAI: Iran’s navy is escorting Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea, Naval Commander Shahram Irani said on Wednesday, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
The move follows the first-ever direct Iranian attack on Israel, carried out in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus.
Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response.
“The Navy is carrying out a mission to escort Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea and our Jamaran frigate is present in the Gulf of Aden in this view,” Irani said.
Tehran was ready to escort vessels of other countries, he added.
The Red Sea has seen significant disruption to Israel-bound shipping due to attacks from Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.
On April 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged container ship which Tehran says is linked to Israel.

Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE
Updated 7 min 4 sec ago
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Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE

Dubai Airports issue travel advisory as fierce storm hits UAE
  • Record rainfall in UAE, Al-Ain witnesses 254 mm in fewer than 24 hours
  • Long delays for some flights to and from Dubai International Airport

DUBAI: Travelers were warned against heading to Dubai International Airport and advised to check the status of their flights with the airline due to the heaviest rainfall in 75 years, Emirates News Agency reported.

Dubai Airports said flights continued to be delayed and diverted following the deluge and urged passengers to contact airlines for the latest travel information.

“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.

Emirates Airlines suspended all travel procedures for passengers leaving Dubai on Wednesday, but added they would continue for arrivals and transit passengers. The Dubai airport website showed until midnight. The airport’s website showed extensive delays for some flights.

The UAE witnessed a record rainfall on Tuesday, with the National Center of Meteorology reporting that 254 mm fell in Al-Ain in fewer than 24 hours. This is the highest level since records began in 1949.

On Wednesday morning, the authorities were busy clearing up the debris following the downpour, which caused chaos across the country.

In Ras al-Khaimah, the country's northernmost emirate, police said one 70-year-old man died when his vehicle was swept away by floodwater. 

In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including children, following three consecutive days of heavy rain. Local media published images of flooded communities and the Times of Oman reported more rain was expected on Wednesday.

The skies were clear in Dubai, but the roads were quiet in some areas after government employees and all schools were ordered to work remotely for a second day.

UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and flooded homes. Others included images of roads and car parks under water, with some vehicles completely submerged.

Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck for hours in long traffic jams.


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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