Dismantle Israel’s carceral regime and “open-air” imprisonment of Palestinians: UN expert

Geneva, 10 July, 2023.- Israel’s military occupation has morphed the entire occupied Palestinian territory into an open-air prison, where Palestinians are constantly confined, surveilled and disciplined,” a UN expert said today.

“Over 56 years, Israel has governed the occupied Palestinian territory through stifling criminalisation of basic rights and mass incarcerations,” said Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, in a new report to the Human Rights Council.

“Under Israeli occupation, generations of Palestinians have endured widespread and systematic arbitrary deprivation of liberty, often for the simplest acts of life and the exercise of fundamental human rights,” Albanese said. Without condoning violent acts that Palestinians may have committed during decades of Israel’s illegal occupation, most of their criminal convictions have resulted from a litany of violations of international law, including due process violations, that taint the legitimacy of the administration of justice by the occupying power.

The report finds that since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians, including children as young as 12, have been arrested and detained under authoritarian rules enacted, enforced and adjudicated by the Israeli military. Palestinians are subject to long detention for expressing opinions, gathering, pronouncing unauthorised political speeches, or even merely attempting to do so, and ultimately deprived of their status of protected civilians. They are often presumed guilty without evidence, arrested without warrants, detained without charge or trial and brutalised in Israeli custody.

“Mass incarceration serves the purpose of quelling peaceful opposition against the occupation, protecting the Israeli military and settlers, and ultimately facilitating settler-colonial encroachment,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Bundling Palestinians as a collective “security threat”, Israel has used draconian military orders to punish the exercise of basic rights. These measures have been used as tools to subjugate an entire population, depriving them of self-determination, enforcing racial domination and advancing territorial acquisition by force,” she said.

Albanese noted that Israel’s “carceral regime” haunts Palestinian life even outside prisons. Blockades, walls, segregated infrastructure, checkpoints, settlements encircling Palestinian towns and villages, hundreds of bureaucratic permits and a web of digital surveillance, further entrap Palestinians in a carceral continuum across strictly controlled enclaves.

“The widespread and systematic arbitrariness of the occupation’s carceral regime is yet another expression of the apartheid imposed on the Palestinians and strengthens the need to end it immediately,” the UN expert said.

“The mass and arbitrary deprivation of liberty that Palestinians have been collectively subjected to for decades aims to protect Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territory, a project with unlawful aims pursued by unlawful means,” Albanese said. “This macroscopic violation of fundamental principles of international law cannot be remedied by addressing some of its most brutal consequences. For Israel’s carceral regime to end, and its inherent apartheid with it, its illegal occupation of Palestine must end,” she said.

Albanese called on Member States to uphold their obligations not to aid or recognise Israel’s settler-colonial occupation and incremental annexation, and use all diplomatic, political and economic measures under the UN Charter to bring it to an end and make sure its architects are brought to justice.

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