Palestinian Prisoner’s Day

17 April 2021

Every year on April 17 the State of Palestine commemorates the Palestinian Prisoner’s Day. In 1974, the Palestinian National Council’s regular session adopted a resolution to mark April 17 of each year as a day to honor Palestinian prisoners. Since then, that day is seen as a national tribute to prisoners and their sacrifices, a call to unify the efforts to support them and their right to freedom, and a call for solidarity with their families.

There is hardly any Palestinian family that has not been affected by the ongoing campaign of arrests, harassment and intimidation carried out by the Israeli occupying forces. The arbitrary Israeli military law criminalizes legitimate protest against the occupation. Palestinians are tried in military courts, which do not meet the minimum international standards of fairness, independence and impartiality. In contravention to international law, they often are convicted on secret evidence, based on confessions extracted under duress or torture, denied the right to a lawyer, with children tried as adults. Many Palestinians do not even get a trial. They suffer in detention, sometimes for years, not charged with any specific offence. These actions by the occupying Power directly contravene article 71 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel's notorious policy of mass arbitrary detention is amongst many other illegal, inhumane and immoral policies, aimed to intimidate the civilian population, to quash Palestinian resistance, and to prolong Israel's colonial occupation.

Currently, there are over 4450 Palestinians arbitrarily held in Israeli detention centers, 37 of them are women, 140 children and 440 held in administrative detention.

Since 1967, Israel, the occupying Power, has resorted to mass arbitrary detention, and has arrested over 800,000 Palestinians. The courts have been established and operate in a manner that violates fundamental principles of international law, mainly, article 66 of the Forth Geneva Convention that requires military courts to be of a “non-political” nature and prohibits using the judicial machinery as an instrument of political or racial persecution.

The outrageous conviction rate (99%) of Palestinian detainees in Israeli courts combined with deprivation of their basic rights is symptomatic of a central mechanism designed to dehumanize the Palestinian people, criminalize their presence on their land and their struggle towards achieving their right to self-determination.

These courts fail to offer the guarantees of a fair and regular trial. A grave breach under International Humanitarian Law has proved to be an instrument of political and racial persecution. More Palestinian detainees are forcibly transferred and held outside the occupied territory, in clear violation of articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The international community, including states, the United Nations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, must take action to ensure Israel’s respect for the rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, allowing communication with family members and lawyers, and to heed WHO recommendations by providing access to adequate healthcare, a hygienic environment and allowing for distancing among inmates and prison personnel.

Embassy of Palestine in Pretoria, South Africa