Mahmoud al Weesi, Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories
Mahmoud al Weesi, Israeli Palestinian, journalist and currently coordinator of communication for the “Lajnat al horiya” freedoms committee in Nazareth, was arrested at the age 18 and spent 7 years in prison. He denounces the arrest and detention conditions of Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons.
We met with him on the 2nd of December 2016 in Paris, in the offices of the Plateforme pour la Palestine organization.
PRISON INSIDER. You are an Israeli citizen – an Israeli Palestinian – and you spent 7 years in prison. What reasons did they give for your detention?
MAHMOUD AL WEESI. When I was 18, I was arrested and charged with being a member of a terrorist organization since the age of 14. But I was not a member of any organization. I was only a young person who was curious about what was happening. In 2005, I wanted to go and study medicine in Romania. I spent six months there trying to learn the language and was arrested when I came back.
Can you describe your arrest?
I was in my car when all of a sudden several people dressed in civilian clothes stopped me and pulled me out of the car by the neck and ears. They beat me up. At first, I thought they were just hoodlums… but they were the police. No one said why they were arresting me. They put me into their car and drove to an isolated area outside of the city, to a sort of shed without windows. It wasn’t a police station. For more than twelve hours, they beat me and screamed questions at me. After this ‘kidnapping’, I was taken to a special centre where I was forced, whilst I was being hit, to sign an affidavit saying that I was not beaten or harassed during my arrest. I remained in that interrogation centre for almost thirty days. During the interrogations and this so-called inquiry, my abusers carried out all kinds of physical and psychological torture on me.
The interrogations could last more than 30 hours at a stretch.
** I was made to sit on a chair with hands tied behind my back, which were connected to my ankles with a rope; a very painful position. A huge air conditioner blew very cold air straight onto my face. They also made me starve. When the interrogation was over, they locked me up in a completely dark room. I stayed in that room blinded for almost 30 days, except when I was regularly taken out for more violent interrogations.**
Some were locked up in that room, where you can’t tell if it is day or night, for more than three months… If I wanted to go to the toilet, I had to ask a guard to take me there. I could only stay there for 60 seconds, not a second more, or the guard would open the door for me to leave.
To support his testimony, Mahmoud al Weesi shows a video of the interrogation of Ahmed Manassa, a young 13 year old boy, which is on the Internet.
Did you ask for a lawyer?
According to Israeli law, investigators have the right to prevent a detainee from seeing a lawyer for 21 days. During that time, they can do anything they like. It was only after 21 days of ill-treatment that I could meet with a lawyer. My family was only informed about my arrest one week later. I could only see them for a few minutes.
What was the nature of your detention, was it an administrative detention?
No, it was not an administrative detention, it was an irregular detention. They kept accusing me and saying that they had proof that I was guilty, but they had no proof. My lawyer told me that they wanted to sentence me to 10 years in prison. He bargained with them and they proposed 7 years… I accepted. But there are prisoners who don’t go through the court. They are in administrative detention, but since there is no trial, nothing can prove that they are being detained. Under administrative detention, the detainee’s lawyer has no access to any documentation, as it is supposedly secret and available only to investigators.
Were you able to get medical care during your detention?*
There is no medical care in prison! Izmir Chaddate was in prison for ten years and had stomach problems. He continually asked to see a doctor, but he was instead given paracetamol, which did not help. After two years, he finally underwent some tests which revealed he had cancer. For two years he was taking paracetamol for cancer… After his diagnosis, he did not receive much treatment and his cancer spread. He is now critically ill.
** When I was detained, some one-hundred prisoners went on a hunger strike demanding their rights for: family visits, sufficient food and to be treated with dignity…**
The special Masada unit, responsible for handling special situations in correctional facilities — to suppress and punish the prisoners—, came into force. Some one thousand of their members, covered in vests and gas masks, charged into the prison in the middle of the night. Through the small window of the cell, which I shared with 10 others, they threw in a type of gas which made us feel like we couldn’t breathe and made us fear that we could die. Then, they fired an electronic bomb which completely paralyzed us. We couldn’t move, not even a finger. Then they came into our cell and took us out, stripped off our clothes, and left us on the floor in our underwear until the next day. When we were on the floor, we were insulted and hit, and one of my friends has his tooth broken.
How frequently are visits allowed?
Every two weeks, but Palestinian families have to come by Red Cross bus, which only runs once a month.
Do Palestinians living in Israel have the same detention conditions as those of Israeli Jews?
The law states that Palestinians who live in Israel must receive the same treatment as Israeli Jews. But the reality is that Jews in prison are treated differently. Palestinians with Israeli nationality are detained in the same conditions as those of Palestinian nationality. Israelis live alone, can call their wives, and have unrestricted visits from families and friends. Palestinians can only receive visits from their immediate family. After three months, Jews can ask for a break in their sentence for leave, something which is not available to Palestinians. It is a fact that sentences for Palestinians of Israeli nationality are very different to sentences for Israeli Jews.
Yoham Sckolneck, a Jewish soldier, was arrested in 1993 for killing an immobilized Palestinian during an arrest. The court sentenced him to life, before commuting his sentence to 11 years in prison. On the other hand, Samir Tsatsahoui, a Palestinian of Israeli nationality who received a life sentence in 1988 for firing a small bomb into a marketplace, where no one was killed, is still in prison. There are many similar examples.