The McGill chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) hosted Ala Jaradat this past Wednesday in Chancellor Day Hall. Jaradat is involved with ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian NGO.
“The percentage of Palestinian adult males who have been to prison [is] between sixty per cent and eighty per cent,” said Jaradat during his talk. “My father was imprisoned, my uncle was imprisoned, I was imprisoned, and if I ever have children, they will be imprisoned until this occupation ends.” The Daily spoke with Jaradat after the talk.
The McGill Daily: What is ADDAMEER?
Ala Jaradat: I’m part of a human rights organization that works against political repression, for political prisoners, opposing the use of torture, arbitrary detention, or the fair trial using different mechanisms. One of them is providing free legal aid to political prisoners, free legal representation, intervening legally on their behalf against any of the violations, attempting to use the local legal systems, filing complaints and intervention on an international level, and trying to use UN protection mechanisms or universal jurisdiction. Additionally, what we do is advocacy work – in terms of monitoring and documentation and the use of that information to write legal analyses or reports on conditions of detention which are used internationally or trying individual cases and raising awareness on individual cases on local, domestic and international levels. Besides that, we provide training to Palestinian lawyers on international law and the possibility of being able to use international law in their work on the ground and we work with human rights youth activists trying to provide them with skills that they can use in terms of advocating for the rights of the people and protecting local communities rights, lobbying, advocacy, and media work.
MD: How does Palestinian imprisonment compare to imprisonment elsewhere in the world?
AJ: The Palestinian prison issue cannot be understood in terms and concepts that currently in the world are accepted as talking about prisoners and about prison systems. We are here talking about a colonial project. We are talking about a form of military occupation. Palestinians are being arrested and detained for political reasons and for allegedly taking part in activities related to the conflict, or trying to live or defy the mechanisms and the measures and the policies of the military occupation that is about to appropriate their land, water and all of their natural resources: the defense of these measures is the reason behind the arrest and detention. So, the nature of the Palestinian prisoners’ population by far is not very similar to other prisoner populations. You can compare it only to smaller groups of prisoners in different parts of the world, political prisoners or in areas of conflict where there are people on different sides of conflict being imprisoned. You can compare it to other eras of colonialism and prisoners in those prisons in the past. Palestinians are not being imprisoned because they pose a threat to their own society or according to laws agreed upon by their own society. These are people being imprisoned because of violating laws that are determined by the occupier and the colonizer.
MD: How does the military order function in the Occupied Territories?
AJ: Basically, under international law, an occupying power has the right to establish a military court system and arrest and detain people under [this system of] military courts. But the way Israel has practiced the military court system was totally beyond their rights as an occupying power. Israel, with the military court system, gave itself the jurisdiction over many aspects of the Palestinians’ lives. The military order and military court system totally overrides any preexisting laws and Israel uses them selectively. The military courts chose and the military commander chose to give themselves jurisdiction over civilian lives, over any civil, economical, cultural, political aspect of the lives of Palestinians. And the military commander, who is assigned by the state of Israel, gave himself the sole powers to rule every aspect of the Palestinians’ lives.
MD: What is considered illegal according to the military order? On what grounds can somebody get arrested?
AJ: There are over 1,650 military orders by now, and these military orders govern almost every aspect of the lives of the Palestinians: from what they can read, to what they cannot read; what kind of activities they can do, to what they cannot do. Military orders limit freedom of expression, freedom of association, academic freedom and so on, just to name a few. Any kind of social organization is illegal. Any kind of community organization or mobilization is illegal. Any kind of political activity is illegal. Basically, these military orders almost illegalize your day-to-day life as a Palestinian. You can find yourself easily and simply at any moment, in violation of one or another of the military orders, just by trying to live and provide for life.
MD: What happens once somebody is detained initially? Do they have access to lawyers?
AJ: The military orders include provisions on how the whole process is regulated. Under this process, they can prohibit from the moment of arrest and detaining a person meeting legal counsel or a lawyer, for a period of about ninety days, continuously or uncontinuously. And uncontinuously means that it can be extended to even more than ninety days by giving orders to private meeting with a lawyer for three days at a time or five days at a time, making it stretch to 180 days without meeting a lawyer.
MD: What are the conditions like in the prisons?
AJ: The least we can say about the detention conditions is that they are totally inhumane detention conditions, under which Palestinians are subject to harsh treatments, continuous neglect of providing health care, overcrowded conditions, extremely difficult hygiene situations, lack of health conditions, in terms of ventilation, light and denial of communication with the outside world. No phone calls are allowed, family visits are very controlled and limited, with continuous denial of giving permits to families to visit – basically totally inhumane conditions of detention.
MD: What is “Administrative Detention”?
AJ: Administrative detention is an administrative as opposed to legal procedure, where a military commander can issue an order to detain a person for a period that varies from one month to six months under the pretext that this person forms a threat to the security of the region and the population, based on a secret file and secret information that neither the detainee nor any counsel or lawyer can have access to. At the end or before the end of the detention order, it can be renewed and there are no limitations on how many times this detention order can be renewed. Palestinians can spend five years to eight years in prison under administrative detention. Their detention order is renewed every couple of months, without ever knowing when they are going to be released, or if they are going to be released, without ever knowing why they are being detained and for what reasons.