BY ADRI NIEUWHOF
ISRAEL has held six Palestinian boys from Nablus in solitary confinement in al-Jalame detention centre near Haifa, writes Defence for Children International-Palestine Section in an urgent appeal.
The boys have spent on average 14.5 days in solitary confinement, ranging from four to 29 days.
Following their detention in al-Jalame, the boys were transferred to Megiddo prison.
The transfer into Israel and subsequent detention of the boys violates the Fourth Geneva Convention Articles 49 and 76.
British-Danish security giant G4S has provided security equipment to both al-Jalame and Megiddo prisons, according to a March 2011 report on the firm by Who Profits.
Solitary confinement cells in al-Jalame
Since 2008, Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI) has documented 59 cases of children who report being held in solitary confinement in detention facilities in Israel, including six boys during the past five months. Interrogators used threats of prolonged solitary confinement to extract confessions.
The six boys were locked up in different cells. Their description of the cell follows below. The full story of the arrest and detention of the boys can be read by clicking on the name of each boy.
Seventeen-year-old Suleiman spent 18 days in solitary confinement, mainly Cell 36: ‘It is very small and has no windows. The lights were on non-stop.’
Sixteen-year-old Jamal was held for four days in solitary confinement in Cell 19. The cell had no windows and the light was left on 24 hours per day. The interrogator threatened to keep him in solitary confinement for a long time if he did not confess.
‘I actually believed him when he said this. My body started shaking and I felt really dizzy,’ recalled Jamal. ‘I begged him not to put me back in the cell and I confessed to throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and grenades at military jeeps, even though I never did it.’
Seventeen-year-old Adham was held for 12 days in solitary confinement in Cell 36: ‘It is very small and only has room for one mattress. The mattress was very dirty. The toilet had a horrible smell and there were two holes in the ceiling that allowed freezing cold air in.
‘The lights were dim yellow and left on the whole time. I spent 12 days in this cell. I could not tell day from night. I could not tell what time it was. I did not even see the prison guard who brought me food and passed it through a gap in the door. I did not sleep at all on the first night because I was so scared.’
Sixteen-year-old Abdullah was held for six days in solitary confinement in Cell 36: ‘It’s a very small cell with a mattress on the floor. There is a toilet with an awful smell, no windows and a very cold air conditioner. The lights are always on and hurt my eyes.’
Sixteen-year-old Mujahed said he was held for 29 days in solitary confinement during the 52 days detention period in al-Jalame. He was held in a number of different cells, but ‘all the cells looked the same but some were bigger than others. They all lacked windows. The lights were turned on the whole time. Also the toilets had a horrible smell.’
Seventeen-year-old Murad was held for 19 days in solitary confinement in three different cells. Detention Cell 1 ‘is miserable. It has no windows. There is a yellow dim light that is kept on all the time and hurts the eyes. I confessed on day one because I was very scared they might keep me in the cell for a long time. Cell 36 is similar to Cell 1, but is smaller and barely large enough for one person.
‘I never saw anyone except the interrogator. The prison guard who took me to the interrogation room and back made me wear blacked-out glasses so I could not see anything. I could not tell day from night. I was in really bad shape.’
Solitary confinement inflicts mental damage
Solitary confinement inflicts severe mental damage upon prisoners, rights organisations Addameer and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) wrote in a 2008 report. The report looked into the effect of solitary confinement on adults.
‘Sleep disturbances, through depression and anxiety, to psychotic reactions, such as visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoid states, disorientation with regards to time and space, states of acute confusion, and thought disorders,’ are mentioned as effects.
The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) confirmed the negative impact of solitary confinement in a 16 April 1996 report. The following quote from the IPS report is mentioned in Addameer and PHR’s report:
Research findings on the issue are unequivocal and show that imprisonment in isolation causes deep psychotic reactions. Clearly the duration of time a prisoner is held in solitary confinement has direct implications on its side effects, as holding an individual alone in a cell for one day is not the same as isolating him, as stated, for a period of three weeks, months, or years.
There is no doubt that there exists a certain time limit after which most people will feel that solitary confinement is intolerable and will suffer, as a result, from long-term effects.
Addameer and PHR stress that there is no fixed time period after which mental problems will arise, because it will differ from one individual to another.
Solitary confinement is harmful for children
The potential damage to young people held in solitary confinement is much greater than to adults.
In the report Growing Up Locked Down of 4 October, Human Rights Watch researched the practice of solitary confinement of youth in the US. The practice harms young people in ways that are different, and more profound, than if they were adults, says the report.
‘Experts assert that young people are psychologically unable to handle solitary confinement with the resilience of an adult. And, because they are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow. Solitary confinement can exacerbate, or make more likely, short and long-term mental health problems.
The most common deprivation that accompanies solitary confinement, denial of physical exercise, is physically harmful to adolescents’ health and well-being.
Children should not be held in solitary confinement
Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, condemned Israel’s use of solitary confinement against Palestinian children in a 20 July 2012 press statement.
‘Prison conditions are often deplorable, requiring children to sleep on the floor or on a concrete bed in a windowless cell,’ said Falk. Israel’s use of solitary confinement against children ‘is inhumane, cruel, degrading, and unlawful, and, most worryingly, it is likely to adversely affect the mental and physical health of underage detainees.’
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, shares Falk’s view.
Solitary confinement should be banned as a punishment or extortion technique, Méndez told the UN General Assembly on 18 October 2011. The Israeli solitary confinement cells are ‘often lit with fluorescent bulbs as their only source of light, and they have no source of fresh air,’ wrote Méndez in an interim report.
He recommended solitary confinements for children be abolished: ‘it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.’