Chapter member and former National and Chapter President, Karen Jo Koonan, participated in a five person NLG delegation to Palestine from May 18-24. The following is an initial statement reporting on what the delegation learned. A full report will be presented to the NLG Convention in September.
Approximately 200 Palestinians from the West Bank have been held for months or years by Israeli occupation forces without access to a just legal system, members of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) learned in a fact-finding delegation from May 18-24, 2014. A formal report is forthcoming, but several observations merit preliminary mention.
About 135 incarcerated Palestinians have begun a hunger strike—and more are joining daily—demanding an end to administrative detention, which under the Fourth Geneva Convention is permitted for only a very short time and in situations of severe urgency. After a widely publicized 2012 mass hunger strike, Israel agreed to improve some security prison conditions throughout the system and release a number of administrative detainees. But it has abrogated many of its promises and re-arrested many of those released, again without charge or trial.
As in 2012, the health of several current strikers is failing fast, exacerbated by inadequate medical care. The NLG joins these Palestinian prisoners, most of whom have now been on hunger strike for over 33 days, in calling for the immediate end of the policy and practice of administrative detention.
The NLG delegation concluded that administrative detention is used primarily as a tool to intimidate and deter political resistance and undermine the popular indigenous leadership. This is in contradiction to Israel’s supposed commitment to diplomatically end its 47-year-old occupation of the West Bank.
The U.S. government is in large part responsible for the increasing oppression of Palestinian life under occupation. “Despite pretending to be an honest broker, the U.S. has continued to provide Israel with more than $3 billion a year in military aid along with diplomatic and other financial backing. That aid must immediately stop,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, NLG President and delegation participant.
The delegation learned that approximately 5,000 Palestinians currently held in military prisons –including hundreds of children – suffer from conditions far worse than those of Israeli convicts and the handful of settlers convicted of security offences such as violent attacks on Palestinians or destruction of Palestinian property. The assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, for instance, has been allowed to marry and father children in prison – an unheard of perk when it comes to Palestinian “security” prisoners, the vast majority convicted of charges that were political in nature. Military courts rely on thousands of arbitrary military orders to define charges and sentences. 99.74% of Palestinians who go before military courts are convicted, most on the basis of coerced confessions.
Most administrative detainees are political leaders, including, for instance, elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, now defunct in part because of the arrests. A military judge can order them held for up to six months at a time—renewable indefinitely—based on supposed secret evidence of unknown offenses and no trial.
The NLG delegation met with human rights advocates in the West Bank and in Israel and learned of many other techniques used to fortify the occupation and pave the way for Israeli annexation of large swaths of territory. Methods include the oppressive “separation barrier” that drastically restricts movement and violent repression of civil protest against it—including the widely publicized killing of two unarmed teens just before the delegation arrived; relentless land confiscations for expansion of Jewish-only settlements; widespread home demolitions and discriminatory residential rules reminiscent of apartheid in areas where ethnic cleansing is an openly stated goal; and pervasive economic exploitation of labor, resources and consumers. These measures stand in stark violation of international humanitarian law.
On May 23, delegates heard firsthand from the family of a “wanted” 26-year-old, Moataz Washahe. In the town of Bir Zeit in February 2014, hundreds of soldiers rocketed and bulldozed their home, then shot Washahe 65 times, killing him. Washahe was unarmed. “Backing by the U.S. government gives Israel the cover of legitimacy to continue its violations of human rights and the rule of law,” said delegate Andrew Dalack, Co-Chair of the NLG Palestine Subcommittee.
A detailed report from delegation members is forthcoming for submission to Congress, the Obama administration and the general public.