At 7am, Wednesday 9th May, around 50 Palestinian activists blockaded and shut down the principal office of the United Nations in Ramallah, Occupied Palestine. They were protesting the failure of the UN to fulfill its mandate and to hold Israel to account for its repeated violations of International Humanitarian and International Human Rights Law. As Palestinian political prisoners Bilal Diab and Thai’ir Halahleh enter their 72nd day of hunger strike against their imprisonment without trial under Israeli administrative detention orders, and in the wake of the Israeli High Court’s rejection of their appeal, Palestinian anger is increasing at the silence of the international community, and in particular at the UN’s lack of action in the face of Israel’s systematic and brutal human rights abuses.
Administrative detention is a policy used extensively by the British state to enforce colonial rule, for example in South Africa, Kenya and the North of Ireland. In a clear continuation of European colonial subjugation of indigenous populations, the Israeli state now uses several laws to intern Palestinians without trial, one of which is an adapted version of the British Mandate in Palestine’s 1945 ‘Law on Authority in States of Emergency'. While International Humanitarian Law allows an occupying power to use administrative detention in extreme cases, there exist strict criteria for its use, amongst which are the free access to lawyers, to be made aware of the reasons for detention, to have a public trial and to have the right to defend oneself in court; all of which Israel denies to Palestinian detainees. Additionally, in violation of Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel deports detained Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to military bases, police stations, interrogation centres and prisons within Israel’s 1967 borders.
Vowing to maintain their blockade of the UN offices, the activists delivered a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, delivered to UN staff, calling on him to vocally support the rights of the over 4,600 Palestinian political prisoners as enshrined in numerous international conventions. The letter noted scathingly the UN’s silence on the issue of the continued violations of Palestinian prisoners’ rights, which stands in stark contrast to the UN’s urging of the release of the-now-free Israeli soldier Gilad Shailt. Morale is high and former hunger striker Khader Adnan earlier delivered a telephone message of support via megaphone to those gathered in Ramallah.
Below is the statement to the UN Secretary-General.
May 10, 2012
His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
We, Palestinians for Dignity, represent a network of movements and individuals united in the struggle to achieve equality, justice and freedom for the Palestinian people wherever they reside. In your capacity as the United Nations Secretary General and in support of the rule of International law, we are writing to urge you to take urgent action to stop Israel’s continued violations of the rights of the over 4,600 Palestinians currently held in Israeli jails.
Over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners initiated on April 17th an open-ended hunger strike to protest abuse at the hands of the Israeli Prison Service and to demand that their basic rights be respected. Hundreds more prisoners joined the hunger strike since then bringing the number of hunger strikers up to an estimated 2,500 prisoners. Their plight has become even more urgent with the deteriorating health condition of eight prisoners, five of whom are held under the illegal practice of administrative detention, and some of whom have been on hunger strike for over two months.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said yesterday that the lives of Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla are in danger, and demanded that Israel transfer them to a civilian hospital, without moving them back and forth to the prison. Israel has thus far refused to do so, highlighting Israel’s disregard for the lives of Palestinians. The cruel, inhuman and degrading practices that Palestinian prisoners are subjected to include denial of access to medical care, torture, solitary confinement, limits to family visitation, violations of children’s rights and bans on education, not to mention hundreds of them were never charged or given legal due process and are being held in Administrative Detention.
We note with disappointment your silence ever since this protest movement began in December 2011 with Khader Adnan’s arbitrary arrest and subsequent hunger strike. This stands in stark contrast to your vocal and persistent remarks in support of formerly incarcerated Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Though Shalit has been released, Palestinian prisoners are still suffering under the so-called “Shalit Law”, which imposed harsher measures on their conditions of detention.
We remind you of your responsibilities as Secretary-General of the UN. We invoke the norms of international law that guarantee basic rights to Palestinian prisoners, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention Against Torture and the World Medical Association Malta Declaration on Hunger Strikers.
We urge you to take a firm and vocal position in opposition to Israel’s abuse and violation of Palestinian prisoners’ rights and encourage, through UN mechanisms at your disposal, measures of accountability for these violations. We urge you to take an official position in line with the Palestinian prisoners’ demands and to encourage member states to stand against these gross human rights’ violations. We await your urgent response.
Palestinians For Dignity