Every year on April 17, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is observed to commemorate the freedom of prisoners and support for their rights. The Palestinian National Council approved this date in 1974 as a national day dedicated to the cause. It marks the release of prisoner Mahmoud Bakr Hijazi in the first prisoner exchange between the Palestinians and Israel. In 2008, the 20th Arab Summit held in Damascus approved the adoption of this day in all Arab countries in solidarity with Palestinian and Arab prisoners detained by Israel.
According to the Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees, there are currently 4,900 prisoners being held in Israel, including 31 women and 160 children. Among them are approximately 1,000 prisoners placed under administrative detention, which means they are held without trial, and any “evidence” against them is withheld from them. There are also more than 20 prisoners who were arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993. The longest-serving one, Muhammad al-Tus, has been behind bars since 1985.
The conditions in Israeli prisons have long been criticized by Palestinians. According to the Commission, 236 people have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, with hundreds of others dying after their release from diseases that struck them while they were incarcerated. The suffering of sick detainees is among the main humanitarian concerns, with more than 700 prisoners afflicted by various diseases, including at least 24 who have cancer and require intensive healthcare.
In the past year, there have been near-daily arrests in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as Israel steps up its raids. Since the beginning of 2023, prisoners’ institutions have recorded 2,300 arrest cases, including 350 children, most of them from Jerusalem, and 40 women and girls.
Human rights groups and prisoners’ organizations say that conditions inside Israeli facilities are harsh. They cite the denial of visits, psychological and physical torture, and medical negligence, with sick prisoners unable to receive proper treatment. In addition, the policy of solitary confinement has escalated significantly since 2021, with approximately 35 Palestinian prisoners now in solitary, including sick ones suffering from chronic diseases.
The Israeli prison service has defended its treatment of Palestinian prisoners, saying its policies are fully legal. However, Israeli authorities continue to ban family visits for some prisoners, with a particular focus on ones from Gaza.
Over the course of February and until March 22, Palestinian prisoners carried out a series of protests against Israeli prison policies after a new set of measures were announced by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. The measures heavily restricted the lives of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including by limiting the amount of water they can use, the hours they can shower, and their access to bread. The protest eventually ended when the detainees reached an agreement with the Israeli prison service.
In conclusion, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is a day to remember those who have been imprisoned and to support their rights. The conditions in Israeli prisons have been criticized by Palestinians and human rights groups for their harshness and lack of proper medical care. The policy of solitary confinement has also escalated significantly in recent years. Despite protests and criticism, Israeli authorities continue to defend their treatment of Palestinian prisoners.