Demanding Permission for Physical Contact during Visits between Political Prisoners and their Children.

HCJ 7585/04, Hakeem Kana'ni, et. al. v. The Israel Prison Service

Petition filed to the Supreme Court in 8/04 demanding an injunction instructing the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to allow children of prisoners classified by the IPS as "security" prisoners physical contact with their incarcerated parents during visits. Petition filed against the IPS on behalf of ten children of political prisoners, Ansar al-Sajeen (the Prisoners' Friends Association) and in Adalah’s own name.

The IPS began severely restricting physical contact between political prisoners and their children in 5/02, after an alleged attempt by a child to smuggle a banned object to his imprisoned father. The law allows any prisoner and detainee to receive family visits, and does not distinguish between their classification (criminal or security) over visitation rights. The right to family visits for political prisoners is made particularly critical by the fact that these, unlike criminal prisoners, are not permitted to use telephones, and because visits by Palestinian families from the Occupied Territories are extremely limited due to the Israeli military's restrictions on their entry into Israel. Adalah has previously approached the IPS on this issue; in its responses, the IPS argued that, because physical contact between political prisoners and their children has been exploited in the past, allowing such contact could pose a threat to national security and the security of the prisons. The IPS added that political prisoners' contact with the outside world has been specifically restricted, and that there is no possibility of reversing the IPS's policy, as security considerations outweigh any others.

Adalah argued in the petition that the IPS's decision to deny physical contact between children and their incarcerated parents is illegal, since the IPS is not authorized to introduce such limitations: the decision infringes the constitutional right to dignity; contradicts and neglects the principle of acting in the best interests of the child; is discriminatory; and constitutes illegal and collective punishment. Adalah further argued that the decision gravely harms the right of prisoners with children to equality and dignity, as well as their right to family visits. Adalah contended that preventing physical contact between a parent and child contradicts Israeli law, as well as international treaties to which Israel is a signatory, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 9(3) of the CRC stipulates that state parties must respect the right of children separated from one or both of their parents to continue engaging in a personal, direct, and physical relationship with them. In 8/04, the Court ordered the IPS to respond to the petition within one month. The IPS subsequently requested and received several delays.

The IPS, represented by the State Attorney's Office, responded in 11/04 that the IPS will allow physical contact between political prisoners and their children only as an exception, following review of prisoners' requests and according to individual circumstances. The IPS emphasized that the restrictions placed on physical contact are due to security considerations. The IPS's response made no mention of children's rights, focusing only on the IPS regulation which enables the restriction of physical contact.

At a hearing on the case held in 3/05, The State Attorney's representative claimed that a general sanction for physical contact between prisoners and their children would represent a danger to state security. Adalah countered that the state's argument is an attempt to over-emphasize isolated incidents, without examining the root of the issue - the state's lack of authority to limit children's rights, as protected under international law. Adalah objected to the IPS's suggestion of allowing physical contact in exceptional circumstances, arguing that this suggestion does not guarantee that any child will be allowed to approach his parent, and stressed that the IPS's response did not detail the criteria for the acceptance or non-acceptance of a prisoner's request for physical contact with his or her children. During the hearing, the Court ordered the IPS to explain the reasons for the prevention of children from having physical contact with their incarcerated parents other than in exceptional circumstances. The Court's order also obliges the IPS to draw up a complete list of the criteria which apply for the permitting of such contact. The Court gave the IPS three months to submit its detailed responses.

In 8/05, the IPS informed Adalah of new directives under which it allows physical contact between prisoners and their children provided that the child is younger than six-years of age, the prisoner submits a written request, the prisoner’s behaviour is good, and there is no security-related reason for withholding such permission. In 9/05, Adalah responded, objecting to IPS’s new directives. Specifically, Adalah stated that a child should not be punished for his parent’s conduct in prison and that the imposition of the age restriction of six-years of age is unjustified and arbitrary. Adalah further stated that there can be no obligation on the part of prisoners to file a request for something to which they and their children are legally entitled.

In a hearing in 4/06, the Supreme Court allowed the IPS 45 days to re-examine its directives governing the ability of security prisoners to enjoy physical contact with their children and ordered the IPS to consider restricting physical contact in only exceptional cases, and only for security-related reasons. In 6/06, the IPS provided revised guidelines which, for example, arbitrarily deny physical contact to children over six years old and for offenses committed in prison, thereby punishing the child for the parent’s behavior. The IPS also reserved the right to alter the guidelines. In 6/06, Adalah demanded the cancellation of the revised guidelines as they prevent the consistent exercise of rights.

H.C 7585/04, Hakeem Kana'ni, et. al. v. The Israel Prison Service (case pending).