The Journal of History     Spring 2003     TABLE OF CONTENTS

Desperate to Communicate, Families
Smuggle Mobile Phones into Prisons

February 23, 2003

Fahmi Shkeirat, attorney at LAW didn't think a chocolate bar could get him into so much trouble. Attorney Shkeirat's work at LAW is to ensure all prisoners are regularly visited, and to report on the conditions of Palestinian prisoners.

In October 2002 Shkeirat was undertaking a regular visit to Palestinian prisoners. Prisons run by the Israeli army do not allow family visits at all. Civil administration prisons do allow family visits, coordinated with the Red Cross, provided that the family members have near impossible to obtain permits to enter Israel.

Shkeirat’s visit this time, was to Ansar prison in the Negev, run by the Israeli army. As usual, he contacted families and asked them if they wanted to send anything, a humanitarian service LAW undertakes, knowing that in the majority of cases, lawyers are the prisoners only contact with the outside world and news of their families.

"I always search the deliveries given to me by families," Shkeirat comments, "because occasionally they try to sneak in mobile phones, because they can't visit, and they want contact with their children inside prison. It's not fair; mobiles aren't allowed, and prison
visits, most of the time, aren't allowed. Families and prisoners want and need contact with each other, but lawyers aren't allowed to give prisoners mobile phones. We can be barred from visiting if we do that."

On this occasion, Shkeirat was again forced to act as the policeman, searching the deliveries. He didn't think the bar of chocolate was suspicious. Shkeirat, as usual, reached the Ansar prison (also called the Kitsiot prison) and passed through the detectors. The detector went off; Shkeirat and the deliveries were searched again.

Inside a bar of chocolate, the prison authorities found a small mobile phone. Shkeirat was accused of smuggling in mobile phones, and was banned from visiting army run prisons. LAW is taking up the case with the appropriate authorities, and a court hearing is expected this week. But that's not the point, according to Shkeirat, "I don't blame families for trying to smuggle in phones. They want to hear from their children, they are so worried about them. It's not fair. Either the Israelis should allow mobiles, or prison visits. But to deny both is unacceptable."

Palestinian adult prisoners are not the only ones affected. There are around 300 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers, most of whom are kept alongside adults, some kept alongside convicted criminals. They too, suffer from being denied any communication with their families. During a visit to Talmond prison, LAW attorney Hanan Khatib noted that the children were reporting physical threats against them because they were suspected of having mobile phones. The children were strip-searched and police dogs were used. The guards threw Qur'ans on the floor, while dogs sniffed their prayer clothes and other religious items.

Yet the prison administration paid no attention to the children's need for contact with the outside world, particularly those children with long sentences (up to 20 and 25 years). Newspapers are only allowed in once a week. Advocate Hanan Khatib noted the case of A.B., who found out belatedly that his brother was extra-judicially executed, his cousin being killed at the hands of Israeli forces, and the death of his mother, causing him to suffer from severe depression.

The process of family visits are, like much to do with the Israeli occupation, Orwellian. Family members must apply for a permit to enter Israel, if the prison/detention center is in Israel, and go through the long, usually unsuccessful process of obtaining a permit. The Red Cross is contacted, and liaison between the family and the prison.

Smuggling mobile phones in chocolate bars reflects the sheer depression many prisoners face, particularly child prisoners, in attempting to communicate with families. This is a result of Israel's not respecting customary international law, including the fourth Geneva conventions, which clearly state how protected persons, including prisoners, should be treated.

Article 27 of the Convention notes, "Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated."

The United Nations has its own body of principles regarding detainees and prisoners, which has been repeatedly affirmed at its General Assembly, according to Mr. Azem Bishara, lawyer at LAW. The document notes, in principle one, "All persons under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person."

Principle 19 states, "A detainee or imprisoned person shall have the right to be visited by and to correspond with, in particular, members of his family and shall be given adequate opportunity to communicate with the outside world, subject to reasonable conditions and restrictions as specified by law or lawful regulations."

Israel's treatment of Palestinian detainees does not meet the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, and the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners. These instruments are binding on Israel to the extent that the norms set out in them explicate the broader standards contained in human rights treaties.

LAW is gravely concerned about the fate of thousands of Palestinian prisoners who are still in custody, without charge or trial, often under administrative detention orders that may be renewed indefinitely. LAW further calls on the Israeli government to ensure that the rights of detainees are protected in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment is a non-governmental organization dedicated to preserving human rights through legal advocacy. LAW is affiliate to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).

LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, PO Box 20873, Jerusalem, tel. +972-2-5833530, fax. +972-2-5833317,

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