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Incarceration Is a Central Tool of Israel’s Oppression of Palestinians

Over 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners remain inside Israeli prisons, says a lawyer with a prisoner advocacy group.

With a four-day truce between Israel and Hamas set to expire after Monday, we look at who has been released and the growing pressure to extend the pause in fighting that has given Gaza residents small respite from Israel’s relentless bombardment and allowed humanitarian aid to reach people inside the territory. The pause began Friday to allow for the release of Israelis and foreign nationals kept hostage by militants in Gaza in exchange for the freedom of some of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, many of whom are minors and women. “We are talking about over 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners inside Israeli prisons right now. More than 2,500 are being held under administrative detention … without a charge and without a trial,” says Tala Nasir, a lawyer with Addameer, a group that advocates for Palestinian prisoners. We also speak with Israeli journalist Orly Noy, who says the sheer number of Palestinian prisoners shows “how central the tool of incarceration is in the Israeli project” of occupying and oppressing Palestinians. “The same system that allows every Jewish settler, citizen or soldier or policeman to walk away after killing Palestinians under the most outrageous circumstances is the same system that treats a 12-year-old who threw stones as a dangerous terrorist,” says Noy.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The four-day truce in Gaza has entered its final day, but negotiations are underway to extend it. So far, Hamas has released a total of 58 hostages who had been held captive for the seven weeks. Thirty-nine of the freed hostages have been Israeli citizens. Hamas also released 17 Thai workers, a Filipino worker and an Israeli Russian. Since the truce began, Israel has released 117 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women and children, including many who had been held without charge.

One of the first hostages released was the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Yaffa Adar. She was captured from her home in the kibbutz Nir Oz. Her granddaughter, Adva Adar, spoke Sunday.

ADVA ADAR: I can say that she’s deaf, and I can say that she said that she was thinking about the family a lot and that it helped her survive that she could hear the voices of the great-grandchildren calling her and that it gives her a lot of power, and that she’s now trying to realize what’s happening here and about a lot of friends and neighbors that are either dead or kidnapped from the kibbutz and about Tamir, her oldest grandson, that is also a hostage, and that she has no house to return.

AMY GOODMAN: In the occupied West Bank, crowds gathered to celebrate the release of Palestinians held in prison. This is Nasrallah Alawar, one of the Palestinian teenagers released.

NASRALLAH ALAWAR: [translated] Prison guards made us starve. They used to bring us two patches of bread for each cell, which is not enough. There were also children, 11 and 12 years old, with us, and there wasn’t enough food for them. God only knows how bad the situation was.

AMY GOODMAN: Health officials in Gaza now say the death toll from Israel’s bombardment has reached nearly 15,000. The New York Times is reporting the rate of civilians killed in Gaza by Israel has been far higher than in recent wars in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The New York Times reports more than twice as many women and children have already been reported killed in Gaza in the last seven weeks than have been confirmed killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its attack nearly two years, though the exact death tolls in both conflicts are unknown.

Earlier today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Israeli troops in Gaza and told them, “Israel will continue until the end. Nothing will stop us.”

We’re joined now by two guests. We go to Jerusalem, where we’re joined by Orly Noy, Israeli political activist and editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call. She’s also the chair of B’Tselem’s executive board. Her new piece for +972 Magazine is “What Israelis won’t be asking about the Palestinians released for hostages.” Tala Nasir is also with us, a lawyer with the Palestinian prisoner and human rights organization Addameer.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Orly Noy. If you can talk about this temporary truce, that could end today or possibly will continue, Israel says, for each day that Hamas releases at least 10 hostages, what this four-day respite has meant, who has been released, Orly?

ORLY NOY: Thank you, Amy, so much for having me.

As soon as the exchange of prisoners deal was agreed upon, Israel came up with a list of 300 Palestinian prisoners, almost all of them minors, with a few women included, that would be the pool to be released throughout the ceasefire. When you look thoroughly at the names and the charges, as you said, first off, many of them were never charged with anything. I mean, the numbers are incredible. The latest data from the beginning of November talk about more than 6,800 Palestinians, political prisoners, what Israel refers to as “security” prisoners, more than 2,000 of them through administrative detention. It means that not only they have never been convicted with anything, they’ve never been charged with anything, so never had the opportunity to defend themselves.

You look at minor Palestinian teenagers who have been arrested for throwing stones at police jeeps or army jeeps. One of the names in that list is in prison just simply for calling, with a group of his friends, “Allahu Akbar” — yes, “God is great.” Another Palestinian woman has been sitting in jail for allegedly intending to carry out an attack, not even doing anything in practice. Others have been charged with attempts to carry out stabbing attacks, or did — even did so, but mildly injured policemen and women. So you see that the charges are incredibly minor, but what this list really gives, allows is the sense of how central the tool of incarceration is in the Israeli project of the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the Israeli hostages, and others. Thai, a Filipino hostage, a Russian Israeli hostage was released.

ORLY NOY: So, of course, I mean, these past three days with the release of the hostages have been really a sort of national celebration, after — in what are maybe the darkest days that Israelis can remember. I mean, there was a very anxious anticipation for their return, especially the children, whom the Israeli entire society became to know by name each of the children that have been held as hostages. So there’s been a lot of anxiety in anticipation for their return.

They’ve been greeted with a national embrace. And they, of course, went immediately to receive medical treatment, those who needed, but a medical checkup for all of them. And they have — I mean, but this is just the beginning of their journey back to life, because many of them don’t know what happened since they went to captivity. Many of them lost immediate family members, and they are just now learning about it. So it’s a very bittersweet moment for them and for the Israeli society as a whole.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, from the beginning, it was said that Americans or Israeli Americans would be released. It was only yesterday that the little 4-year-old, Abigail Edan, was released. Both her parents were murdered. She ran, as a 3-year-old — it’s astounding; she turned 4 in captivity — to her neighbor’s house, and there Abigail was captured along with the mom and her three kids — I think her oldest daughter and the husband were murdered — and then they were all taken into captivity. She is the first American to be released, and some are speculating that Hamas is holding off on Americans so that Biden will put pressure on Netanyahu to continue the ceasefire.

ORLY NOY: Yeah, we are being told so. And it actually makes some sense, because, I mean, it is almost ironic that while Israel is incarcerating Palestinian children for throwing stones, at the same time, the only lesson that it teaches the Palestinians is that the only way to actually release Palestinian prisoners is through such heinous crimes, such as the one that Hamas carried out on October 7th. I mean, really, the amount of Palestinian children, women, minors and others in the prisons, without any due process, without the ability to really honestly protect themselves from, is such that right now it seems that their only hope is through such actions — again, horrible, violent, heinous actions taken by the Hamas — but Israel just doesn’t show any other way for Palestinians to be able to resist the occupation, which they have the right to, without spending the rest of their lives in the Israeli prisons.

AMY GOODMAN: Tala Nasir, I want to ask you about what’s happening on the streets right now. I want to go back to what Ben-Gvir, the far-right Cabinet minister, said. On Thursday, the Israeli minister of national security, Ben-Gvir, instructed police to use an iron fist against attempts to celebrate prisoner releases, and said, quote, “My instructions are clear: There are to be no expressions of joy. Expressions of joy are equivalent to backing terrorism; victory celebrations give backing to those human scum, for those Nazis.” So, if you can talk about what this means? In the West Bank, we’ve seen thousand people coming out to celebrate the young men now, boys when they were arrested — some have come of age while they were in prison. But in East Jerusalem, we are not seeing that. Is it because people are terrified of being arrested for terrorism? I mean, this from Ben-Gvir, a man who himself was convicted in Israeli court 15 years ago of aiding terrorism and inciting hatred of Palestinians?

TALA NASIR: Yes. First of all, good morning. Thank you for having me.

I’m going to talk about several violations after, or in the past three days, within this exchange deal, starting with the West Bank. So, the Israeli forces deliberately assaulted the released prisoners and their families during the prisoner release operations. They first delayed the release of prisoners until late at night. They released the child prisoners wearing clothes that are too big for their size, and some of them were barefoot. Additionally, the clothes did not provide adequate protection from the cold weather at these days. Forces also used gas bombs, the rubber bullets, live ammunition in front of Ofer Prison, where families were gathered to meet with their children and loved ones.

On the other hand and concerning the released prisoners from Jerusalem, the Israeli forces raided the homes of the prisoners before their release in the occupied Jerusalem. They prevented them from any signs of celebration upon, of course, reuniting with their loved ones, sons and daughters. The families of the released prisoners were summoned to Al-Moscobiyeh center, where they were subjected to harsh and arbitrary conditions that prohibited them from gatherings, banned them from marches and fireworks, prevented them from chanting slogans, in addition to confiscating the sweets that were inside the houses.

Also, there were assaults on journalists who were present at the homes of the released prisoners, and that was by physically assaulting them and expelling them out of the houses, prohibiting them from media coverage. That’s what happened, or these are the main violations happened in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem in the past three days of the prisoner exchange.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about particular cases of young people who are imprisoned, Tala Nasir? You’re speaking to us from Ramallah. If you can talk to us, for example, about the case of — let’s see — of the young man who was — Ahmad Manasra. Tell us when he was arrested. What happened to him when he was 13 years old?

TALA NASIR: Yes, OK. So, regarding Ahmad Manasra, so he was arrested when he was 12 years old, and he was — on attempt of stabbing an Israeli settler. He was interrogated in a very hard conditions inside Israeli prison. He went under torture and ill treatment. He is now facing psychological illness and issues. Of course, he’s not on the list of the prisoners supposed to be released within this exchange deal, because he is over 18, while he was under 18, he was 12 years old, when he was arrested. We hopefully think his name will be on the next list of the supposed to be released from Israeli prisons, but until now nothing is accurate about the many prisoners.

Talking about the prisoners who were released or the names who were on the list, one of them serves the highest sentence of all child prisoners. His name is Mohammed Abu Qtaish. He is serving a 15-year sentence, which is the highest sentence among all the children. We’re talking about a woman prisoner who was released before two days. Her name is Shorouq Dwayyat. She is sentenced to 16 years old, and it’s the highest sentence among the women prisoners. We’re talking about injured and ill female prisoners who were released. One of them is Israa Jaabis, who suffers severe burns all over her body. We’re talking about Fatima Shaheen. She is a woman prisoner who was released. She lost the ability to walk. She is paralyzed for being shot by the occupation forces. We are also talking about releasing four administrative detainees from women prisoners, in addition to nine child administrative detainees. These are being held under administrative detention without a charge, without a trial and indefinitely.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s talk about how many Palestinians are imprisoned right now. What? Over 7,000, 2,000 of them from the West Bank since October 7th?

TALA NASIR: Not exactly. We are talking about over 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners inside Israeli prisons right now. More than 2,500 of them are being held under administrative detention. And talking about after the 7th of October, the number of 80% of the Palestinians detained after the 7th of October are being now held under administrative detention without a charge, without a trial. And after the 7th of October until this day, we’re talking about 3,260 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons until this day. So, in less than two months, it’s more than 3,000 Palestinians, including 120 female prisoners, including 41 journalists.

And let me shed light on something. From Friday until this day, we are talking about more than 112 Palestinians that were detained in the past three days only, from the beginning of the truce. So it’s actually equal to the number of released prisoners within the exchange deal. So these mass arrest campaigns are still taking place in all the cities, villages, refugee camps in the Palestinian territories. And most of them are being held under administrative detention.

Something important to note also: Six Palestinian prisoners died or were killed inside Israeli prisons in less than a month. These six, four of them were arrested after the 7th of October, and two of them were arrested before. Until now, we don’t know the circumstances of their death, because we still don’t have the accurate information, but the testimonies of prisoners and released prisoners affirm that they were brutally beaten inside the prisons. So, several violations have been taking place inside Israeli prisons after the 7th of October, and that’s what we have documented throughout these two months.

AMY GOODMAN: Near Ofer prison in the West Bank, Hanan Al-Barghouti spoke after she was part of the first group of 39 Palestinian detainees to be released. She said, since October 7th, her family was not allowed to contact her, after Israeli prison authorities launched a brutal crackdown on Palestinian prisoners. She says she was in September and placed in jail without charge or trial for an additional period of four months, subject to indefinite extensions under Israel’s administrative detention policy. Four of her sons are also under arrest.

TALA NASIR: Yes, true.

AMY GOODMAN: This is her.

HANAN AL-BARGHOUTI: [translated] The female prisoners await relief. The female prisoners are in agony. The female prisoners are very upset. They impose on us many humiliating things and all the things that hurt us. But we remain with our heads held high and steadfast and tolerant despite their sadism. God willing, we will free all the female prisoners and empty the jails.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Hanan Al-Barghouti, who was arrested in September and just released as part of the prisoner exchange. I actually want to put this question to Orly Noy. How are Palestinian prisoners perceived? I mean, the way you describe them — we talk about the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas on October 7th. You describe them as hostages of the Israeli state, with so many of them not even charged.

ORLY NOY: Yeah. I mean, here, I should mention a word about the collaboration of the Israeli media with the general state attempt to portray each and every Palestinian behind bars as a terrorist. I mean, this is the one and only term that the Israeli media is referring by to the Palestinian prisoners, and it doesn’t matter what they did. And if it’s a 12-year-old child who threw stones or a grown-up man who did something more severe, they are all seen as terrorists. And the double standard, particularly in that area, is really mind-blowing, because the same system that allows every Jewish settler, citizen or soldier or policeman to walk away after killing Palestinians under the most outrageous circumstances is the same system that treats a 12-year-old who threw stones as a dangerous terrorist, and all of a sudden, you know, stones can kill and whatnot, so they are all seen as terrorists.

And one of the most difficult tasks for a human rights organization is actually to advocate for the conditions of the Palestinian prisoners, who — as was mentioned before, which were harshened dramatically since October 7th. And we’ve been talking to some people, and we’ve been hearing heartbreaking, shaking testimonies about the conditions of Palestinian prisoners in the prisons these days, and far away from the public eye and further — even further away from public interest.

AMY GOODMAN: So, where do you see this going, Orly Noy? Do you see Israel — Hamas has already agreed to this — extending this truce for every day that they release 10 hostages? And what about the pressure on Netanyahu, where you had thousands of Israelis marching to his offices, demanding hostages be number one over a military strike on Gaza?

ORLY NOY: I think that the question would become crucial after the release of all the civilians, because we should keep in mind that Hamas is also holding in captivity Israeli soldiers. And without a doubt, the price that they will demand for their release is going to be much, much higher than what we’ve seen so far.

At the same time, and again going back to the role of the Israeli media, the media is pushing very hard to renew the war after those exchanges. And Netanyahu actually has a very big incentive to carry on the war, because of those demands that you mentioned, because he knows that the day after the war, the Israeli public is going to hold him accountable for that catastrophe.

At the same time, nobody knows what Israel’s endgame is and what is Israel’s plan for the day after the war regarding Gaza. So, all of that, with the given situation in Gaza, where — when people, the residents of the already most densely populated place on Earth, are now squeezed in a smaller area, facing hunger, without clear water to drink, without proper medications, what will be the nature of the next phase of war, should there be one? Under those circumstances, I really do not dare to even imagine that scenario.

AMY GOODMAN: Just have 30 seconds left, but I want to ask Tala about your knowledge of the number of arrests of people, of Palestinians in Gaza. In recent days, Israel arrested the Awni Khattab, the head of Khan Younis Medical Center, and Muhammad Abu Salmiya, the head of the Al-Shifa Hospital. We also, of course, know about Mosab Abu Toha, who is known around the world, the Palestinian poet and writer. He was taken with about 200 others in prison, but because of tremendous pressure and outcry, especially from the United States news organizations, he was released, but the others weren’t.

TALA NASIR: Yes. So, unfortunately, we have no information about Palestinians who have been imprisoned from Gaza, to this day. We tried to contact, of course, the Israeli Prison Service. All the Israeli human rights organizations are trying also to find out the whereabouts and the situation of Palestinians detained from Gaza. But until now, we don’t even know the numbers of these Palestinians, and, of course, we do not know the circumstances of their arrests.

We are also talking about, until this day, there are approximately 700 missing Palestinians, who are likely detained in the occupation prisons, but we don’t know the accurate information about their conditions. These are from the workers who have been working inside Israel before the 7th of October. Some of them were released at the Karm Abu Salem crossing. But there are approximately 700 that are now still missing, and we don’t have any information about them. So we are trying and working to know the conditions they are being detained and what are their condition and what are they going through right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tala Nasir, I want to thank you so much for being with us, lawyer with the Palestinian prisoner and human rights organization Addameer, speaking to us from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, and Orly Noy, Israeli political activist, editor of the Hebrew-language news site Local Call and chair of B’Tselem’s executive board. We’ll link to your new piece for +972 Magazine, “What Israelis won’t be asking about the Palestinians released for hostages.”

Coming up, we speak to a former Palestinian prisoner and a former Israeli military commando, who together helped found Combatants for Peace. Back in 20 seconds.

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