At the end of April 2019, Israel had in its custody 5,152 Palestinian prisoners and detainees who are being held on what it terms “security” grounds. Most are incarcerated in prison facilities within Israel’s sovereign territory. The state exploits this fact to severely restrict family visits to Palestinian prisoners.
In addition to limiting the number of visitors and the frequency of visits, since July 2017 Israel has also banned all visits to 1,329 Hamas-affiliated prisoners, most of whom are from the West Bank and some from Gaza.
The declared purpose of this ban is to pressure Hamas into returning the Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed it is holding captive and the bodies of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin. As “security” prisoners are not allowed to use phones, this restriction makes it impossible for them to maintain any form of contact with their families.
Even when families are permitted to make prison visits, the journey – organized by the Red Cross – is long and exhausting, involving leaving home before dawn and returning late in the evening. During the visits, which last only 45-60 minutes, the prisoners are kept apart from their visitors by a glass partition and communicate with them via a prison phone line.
Among the Palestinians incarcerated in Israel are 303 residents of Gaza, who are subjected to even harsher restrictions on visits. Some were arrested before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, under the Disengagement Plan, and some after. Three are minors between the ages of 16 and 18. In addition, 15 Palestinians from Gaza who are being held for illegally entering Israel are categorized as “criminal” prisoners.
In 2007, Israel issued a complete ban on family visits to prisoners from Gaza. As of 2012, it has been allowing visits, but subject to draconian limitations. Among other things, only the parents, spouses and children – under 16 – of prisoners are allowed to visit. They are allowed to make visits only once every two months, as opposed to once a month for prisoners from the West Bank. Siblings are permitted to visit only if their parents are deceased or gravely ill and if the prisoner is unmarried. Even then, visits are allowed only once every six months, subject to special coordination and submitting medical records, and only if the visitors are not defined as “barred entry into Israel for security reasons” – an arbitrary definition that cannot be appealed.
In testimonies given to B’Tselem field researchers, men and women from Gaza who have relatives imprisoned in Israel described the pain of being kept from meeting their loves ones for years.
For the original report by B’Tselem including testimonies by family member of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, see: