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The News Line: Feature US put pressure on Abbas to halt payments to families of prisoners! INTERNATIONAL pressure on the Palestinian Authority to halt payments to the families of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including those convicted of attacks, could trigger political crisis, rights groups say.


Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is caught between pressure from US President Donald Trump’s administration and a potential backlash from Palestinians, who view their prisoners as heroes.

Palestinian officials say some 850,000 people have spent time in Israeli prisons in the 50 years since Israel seized the Palestinian territories in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel currently detains 6,500 Palestinians for a range of offences and alleged crimes including 490 without charge or trial.
It claims making payments to the families of attackers encourages further violence.

But for Palestinians, such payments are a key source of income for families who have in many cases lost their main breadwinner. They are also symbolically important after decades of fighting for the Palestinian state to be recognised and against Israel’s occupation.

A recent poll showed that 91 per cent of Palestinians oppose suspending stipends to those in Israeli jails for security-related offences. Since 2004, Palestinian law has stipulated that the government pay allowances to families of those jailed. The legislation obliges the Palestinian authorities to ensure ‘a dignified life’ to inmates and ex-prisoners by ‘guaranteeing their economic rights and those of their families’.

Shawan Jabarin of Palestinian rights group Al-Haq said: ‘If their rights are eroded we are heading for a real crisis in Palestinian society and in due course toward an explosion.’ The Palestinian Authority (PA) has until now made regular payments to prisoners’ families based on the length of their sentence. They range from $400 per month for relatives of prisoners incarcerated for up to three years, rising to $2,200 for family members of those sentenced to 18-20 years.

Palestinian sources involved with prisoner affairs alleged on condition of anonymity that the PA had suspended payments to families of 277 prisoners and ex-prisoners at the beginning of June.
No Palestinian official has so far commented and the PA’s silence is encouraging speculation.
Helmi al-Aaraj, director general of the Centre for the Defence of Liberties and Civil Rights said: ‘To lay a finger on the prisoners’ rights is to attack the Palestinian struggle.’

Aaraj added: ‘There is US and Israeli pressure to stop paying money to prisoners and their families.’ US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in June told US lawmakers that Abbas had agreed to stop payments to attackers. Tillerson said: ‘They have changed their policy, at least I have been informed they’ve changed that policy.’

Israel however said it saw no evidence of such a decision and Palestinian officials would not confirm it. After a Palestinian assailant fatally stabbed an Israeli policewoman in June, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on world leaders to ‘demand the immediate cessation of Palestinian Authority payments to the families of terrorists’.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has labelled the Palestinian National Fund, which provides assistance to prisoners, a ‘terrorist organisation’. The issue was raised during Trump’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in May. Halting the payments is expected to be one of the concessions demanded of Palestinians in order to revive moribund peace talks.

Israel, which collects customs duties on goods destined for Palestinian markets then transfers the money to the PA, is considering using that arrangement to apply more pressure. Its parliament is mulling a bill to deduct from the transfers the same amount as the PA pays out to prisoners’ families. Palestinian political scientist Abdel Majid Suilem said: ‘It seems impossible for the Palestinian Authority to take a decision on this subject under American and Israeli pressure.’

The wife of veteran inmate Nael Barghouthi, Nafea, said the payments she used to receive had ceased without explanation in early June. Barghouthi was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978 for what the Israeli army claimed was ‘a series of security offences, including murder’.

Speaking at a recent gathering of ex-prisoners and current inmates’ wives whose incomes have also dried up Nafea Barghouthi said: ‘We just want the (Palestinian) law to be observed and to know what is happening.’

Ex-prisoner Yasser Hijazi said he was shocked to find his benefits terminated at the height of Ramadan, a time of increased family expenses.He had been released in 2011 after 11 years behind bars and got no explanation from PA officials for the sudden cut. He said: ‘We were not told anything.’

• Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs head Issa Qaraqe testified in front of a United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Wednesday over violations of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The testimony took place in the Jordanian capital, Amman, after Israel denied the commission investigators entry to the occupied Palestinian territory. In a statement released after the meeting, Qaraqe said that he focused his testimony on what he called ‘unprecedented, oppressive, and brutal’ Israeli violations against Palestinian prisoners during a mass hunger strike between April and May.

The hunger strike called for an end to the denial of family visits, the right to pursue higher education, appropriate medical care and treatment, and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention – imprisonment without charge or trial – among other demands for basic rights.

While the Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs stated at the end of the hunger strike that Israeli authorities had acceded to the prisoners’ demands, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) has maintained that it did not negotiate with the hunger strike leaders, nor accede to any of their requests.

Qaraqe told the commission that prisoners were assaulted following official orders from the Israeli government as the prisoners were ‘peacefully protesting’ to improve their living conditions in Israeli custody.

Qaraqe called on the commission of inquiry to investigate the living conditions of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel in person, and for the UN to take ‘immediate steps’ to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law. He also urged the UN General Assembly to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the dangerous situation of Palestinian prisoners. According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer 40 per cent of the Palestinian male population has at some point been detained by Israeli forces.
 
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