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Palestinian Prisoners in Israel: Time to End the Injustice

Last year saw more than 3800 Palestinians arrested and detained by Israeli security services. This constitutes a 16% increase compared to 2011. By the end of 2012, more than 4,750 Palestinians were kept in detention inside Israel.

The European Parliament often hears a speech from a foreign head of state before the serious business of policy making begins each month at our Strasbourg plenary sessions.

This week we heard from the world's oldest head of state, Shimon Peres. Israel's president, who has also been a member of 12 cabinets and been Prime Minister twice in a political career spreading over 66 years. He gave a wide ranging speech on Israel's place in the world and briefly mentioned Palestine:

"The Palestinians could have used the Strip to build an independent entity. Unfortunately, they turned it into a terrorist base instead. We have to defend our island. And we are interested in the tranquilization of the sea." He said.

It's worth spending a moment reflecting on Israel's interest in the 'tranquilization of the sea' in the context of the continued detention of thousands of Palestinians in Israel.

Last year saw more than 3800 Palestinians arrested and detained by Israeli security services. This constitutes a 16% increase compared to 2011. By the end of 2012, more than 4,750 Palestinians were kept in detention inside Israel.

Arafat Jaradat was thirty years old when he died in Israeli custody last month. He had two children already and his wife is four months pregnant. According to the Palestinian doctor who examined his body it showed clear signs of torture. Israeli health officials deny this.

Palestinians responded to Arafat's death in their masses: 15,000 attended his funeral, and many took to the streets in protest. Whilst the causes of this particular Palestinian's death remain unclear, there is no disputing that many Palestinians have died in Israeli custody.

This outpouring of anger also reflects the fact that most Palestinians have at least one family member in an Israeli jail. In fact Since 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians, 20% of the population of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have been detained. Amnesty International has criticised Israel for not allowing Palestinian prisoners to have visitors.

Much of the Palestinian anger is directed at the Israeli policy of 'Administrative Detention.' A total of 178 prisoners are currently being held without charge or trial on the basis of evidence that it not accessible either to the detainees or their lawyers. This kind of detention may last up to six months but can then be indefinitely renewed. It's the kind of thing that Tony Blair could only dream of when he tried to bring 90 day detention without charge to the UK.

As declared in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to fair trial is an essential right in all countries that respect the rule of law.

And it isn't only adults who are facing ill treatment in detention. A UNICEF report released only days ago revealed "Ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized... " Last year, a UN special committee criticised Israel for holding children in solitary confinement.

Israel justifies its practice of locking up so many Palestinians on security grounds. Of course, many of these prisoners may have committed a crime, some of them extremely serious. But without charges, or a fair trial, the continued detention of these individuals is unjustifiable.

B'T selem, an Israeli Human Rights organisation has stated that whilst administrative detention is permissable under international law in exceptional cases which prevent a grave danger, Israel is clearly in breach of these rules.

This detainment of Palestinian prisoners cannot be seen in isolation. It is in fact part of a complex web of subjugation that that includes Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the building of illegal settlements.

And it is within this context - and with hundreds of Palestinians locked away in Israeli jails - that Shimon Peres' vision of a 'Sea of Tranquility' becomes increasingly meaningless. With Benjamin Netanyahu retaking his seat as Prime Minister, and the number of prisoners going up so dramatically under his watch last year, the fate of the Palestinians locked up in Israel is looking precarious.

Yesterday the European Parliament passed a resolution which calls for an independent enquiry into Arafat Jaradat's death and for a fact finding mission to go to Israel to investigate allegations of the mistreatment of Palestinians prisoners.

Next time the European Parliament hosts an Israeli president let us hope that the spectre of detention without trial, torture and solitary confinement in the nation's jails isn't still overhanging proceedings.

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