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ICRC: Prisoner visits with families are Israel's obligation under international law

May 5, 2017 2:52 P.M. (Updated: May 10, 2017 10:38 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is in charge of coordinating with Israeli authorities to arrange family visitations for Palestinian prisoners, released a statement Wednesday calling upon Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and increase family visits to Palestinian prisoners detained inside Israel.

The statement quoted Jacques de Maio, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, as saying that "family contact must be improved, not further restricted," referring to Israel’s suspension of family visits for hunger-striking prisoners, and of the visitation permits for their families.

“According to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, Palestinians are entitled to these visits, which can only be limited for security reasons, on a case by case basis, but never for strictly punitive or disciplinary purposes,” the statement said

The statement pointed out that under International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power is forbidden to hold prisoners from an occupied territory outside of the occupied land, however the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners from the occupied West Bank and Gaza are held in prisons inside Israel.

Consequently, family members of prisoners have less access to their relatives, as they need special permits that are difficult to obtain, and have to undertake long trips to see their loved ones, with checks and waiting times when crossing checkpoints and at the prison.

"Since 1968, the ICRC has been facilitating family visits to detainees held in Israel. Let us be very clear however that this is first and foremost the responsibility of the state of Israel as occupying power," said de Maio, pointing out that ICRC delegates have been visiting Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, including those on hunger strike.

“They ensure critical family contacts through Red Cross messages, oral greetings, and the ICRC family visit program, coordinated with Israeli authorities. Since 1968, there have been 3.5 million family visits. Last year alone, the ICRC ensured 114,000 family visits in total to detainees held in Israeli detention facilities,” the statement concluded.

The ICRC faced anger last year when it reduced the number of monthly visits it facilitates from two times a month to just one.

Last month, three days into the "Freedom and Dignity" hunger strike, unknown assailants opened fire at the ICRC headquarters in Hebron City in the southern occupied West Bank.

Israeli authorities banned family visits for hunger-striking prisoners, just one day into the strike which was organized by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi and launched on April 17, Palestinian Prisoner's Day.

As the strike has continued, Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has implemented a series of punitive measures against hunger strikers, including prisoner transfers, solitary confinement, daily raids, and preventing access to the commissary, where prisoners had been getting salt to mix with water, their only form of nutrition since the strike began.

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