Challenging Inhuman Conditions of Detention for 1,400 Palestinian Detainees from the West Bank

HCJ 3278/02 Hamoked v. The Commander of the Israeli Army in the West Bank

Today, seven human rights organizations submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against Itzhak Eitan, Commander of the Israeli Army in the West Bank. The petition demanded that the army observe minimum standards of humane treatment and provide appropriate and dignified conditions for Palestinian detainees from the West Bank, both before transporting them to Ofer camp, and during their detention in the camp. The petitioners also demanded that members of human rights organizations be allowed to enter Ofer camp in order to observe the detention conditions and the treatment of the detainees.

Ofer camp is located next to the town of Betunia, near Ramallah, in the West Bank. Since the beginning of the Israeli army's attack on the Palestinian territories, the so-called "Operation Defensive Shield," over 5,000 Palestinians have been detained, most of them at Ofer camp. Approximately 1,400 Palestinians are currently being detained in the camp.

The petition was filed by HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B'Tselem, LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, Addameer, and Al-Haq. In light of the terrible conditions under which Palestinian detainees are currently being held, Advocates Yossi Volfson and Tariq Ibrahim of HaMoked and Advocate Jamil Dakwar of Adalah requested that the Supreme Court hold an urgent hearing to address the petition.

The organizations based their petition on information obtained from detainees recently released from Ofer camp, who reported that they were subjected to physical ill-treatment before being transported to the camp and while at the camp itself. Detainees testified that before they were taken to Ofer camp, they were blindfolded, restrained with plastic handcuffs that cut off the circulation to their hands, and forced to sit in physically uncomfortable positions for hours at a time while exposed to the sun. While awaiting investigation and possible selection for transfer to Ofer camp, the detainees were denied food and water and were not permitted to use bathroom facilities. They were beaten, humiliated and verbally abused. Further, Israeli soldiers confiscated detainees' personal belongings, including ID cards, mobile phones and money. No report was made of what was taken, and the majority of the confiscated belongings were not returned.

At Ofer camp, the detainees reported being held in overcrowded conditions with inadequate protection from the external environment. They were forced to sleep on the ground or on wooden boards, without adequate bedding materials. The detainees did not receive sufficient food, and the food that they received was of poor quality. Moreover, few bathrooms were available, and the detainees were denied soap, hot water for bathing, toilet paper, and clean underwear. Medical treatment was denied to detainees who required it; they were given painkillers instead.

Detainees who were released were let go at locations far from their homes. Combined with curfews, besieged areas and other movement restrictions imposed on the West Bank by the Israeli army, and the fact that the army did not return most of the detainees' ID cards, it was extremely difficult for detainees to return to their homes.

In the petition, the organizations stated that the conditions under which Palestinian detainees are being held in Ofer camp do not meet the minimum standards for detention. Such conditions deprive the detainees of their humanity.

The petitioners stressed that the rights of the detainees to a minimum standard of treatment are part of the basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed to any citizen or resident in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty (1992). Detention does not negate the rights of the detainees under the Basic Law. The petitioners argued that the detainees should receive an even higher standard of care and respect for their rights, given that the majority of them are civilian noncombatants and were simply picked up during a mass arrest by the Israeli army. The petitioners stressed that Israel has failed to meet its obligations under the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949), to which it is a party. The Geneva Convention (IV) requires that minimum standards of detention be maintained, and that the humanitarian rights of the detainees be protected.

In arguing for the right to enter Ofer camp to observe and report on the treatment of the detainees, the petitioners emphasized that effective, functioning human rights organizations are essential in the defense of human rights. It is vital for the detainees, the Israeli public, and the international community to allow human rights organizations to enter Ofer camp and other detention facilities. These organizations must have access to the detention facilities in order to be able to provide the essential information that is needed to facilitate scrutiny by the Israeli public and the international community.