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Following the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike, a security prisoner serving multiple life sentences has met his three minor children for the first time in three years: the ban on visits imposed on him by the IPS and upheld by the court – has been lifted

The right to family visits in incarceration facilities is a basic right – of both the inmate and his family – entrenched in an array of Israeli and international legal sources. The prison walls restrict the inmate’s freedom of movement with all that it entails, but it does warrant the deprivation of all his other basic rights, other than those denied to him under an express legal stipulation. Denial of family visits to security prisoners is especially significant given that such prisoners are placed under a string of restrictions that keep them cut off from the outside world.

The IPS ordinance stipulates that “the security risk anticipated from the security prisoners requires their incarceration separately from criminal prisoners and the imposition of special limitations in all relating to contact with the outside world.” Thus, on a security pretext, sanctions are imposed on security prisoners, including the prohibition on visits by anyone who is not an immediate family member; prohibition on any telephone contact, even with family members; prohibition on prison leaves, even in special circumstances, such as the death of an immediate relative. Israel further restricts the Palestinian prisoners’ right to family life, by requiring that family members from the West Bank obtain a military permit to enter Israel for the purpose of visiting – permits which are given in limited numbers and after a long waiting period. Family visits from Gaza have been banned completely since June 2007.

In March 2003, a Palestinian security prisoner began serving his sentence of 67 life prison terms. From that year on, the prisoner was held apart from other prisoners and received just the visits from his family, the last in February 2009. Even these few visits were only made possible through the persistent efforts of HaMoked and the ICRC. On June 5, 2012, following the agreement for ending the hunger strike of the Palestinian “security” prisoners held inside Israel, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) allowed the children of the prisoner to visit him – for the fourth time since his sentence began. Some two weeks ago, for the first time since 2003, the prisoner has been taken out of the separation wing, where he was held alone or with another inmate, and placed in the general wing.

In late January 2012, HaMoked petitioned the court for the fourth time to allow the prisoner to receive family visits. The petition was later deleted at the prisoner’s request, after his children had visited him and subject to the IPS’ promise that there was no preclusion to his wife visiting him as well. The wife is now waiting for a military permit to enter Israel, which would enable her to go visit her husband. It should also be mentioned that the last two petitions HaMoked had filed on this matter, had been rejected by the court on the grounds that “the extreme threat emanating from the petitioner” justified violating the right to family life of the prisoner, his wife and their children.

The “security reasons” cited by Israel over the years as justification for the infringement of “security” inmates’ rights, vanished in May 2012, following the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike for better prison conditions. The agreement for ending the strike has not yet been published, but according to the website of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), Israel has undertaken, inter alia, to remove prisoners from separation back to the general wings and allow immediate relatives from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to visit their incarcerated kin.

The visit to the prisoner and his removal from separation are perhaps the first step, if partial, in the implementation of Israel’s undertakings. HaMoked is following the continued implementation of the agreement and recalls that human rights must be upheld also within prison walls. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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