The group plays a key role in servicing, equipping and running Israeli prisons, torture centres and detention facilities.
Campaigners say over 750,000 Palestinians (roughly 40% of Palestinian men) have been imprisoned by Israel at one point. About 100,000 Palestinians have been held by Israel in “administrative detention” (the equivalent of Apartheid South Africa’s “Detention without trial”).
In the last 11 years alone, more than 7,500 Palestinian children have been detained in Israeli prisons and detention facilities (including being held in solitary confinement) with Muhammad Daoud Dirbas, at the age of six, being the youngest Palestinian child to have been detained by Israeli soldiers – such practices are considered illegal under international law.
As of October 2013, there are over 5,000 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel; 137 of them are being held under Israel’s “administrative detention” and 180 of them are children.
On Monday activists in South Africa launched the “Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Political Prisoners” campaign at the historic Robben Island.
The event kicked-off with a signing of the “Robben Island Declaration” in support of the “Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Political Prisoners” campaign. The declaration was signed in the former prison cell of Nelson Mandela in B Section of Robben Island. Some of the initial signatories were former Robben Island political prisoners, Ahmed Kathrada and Kwedie Nkalipie; the wife of Marwan Barghouti, Fadwa Barghouti; South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) and the campaign group BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel] South Africa.
Marwan Barghouti, 54, is widely known as the ‘Palestinian Mandela’ and was one of the first (and most popular) Palestinian Members of Parliament arrested and imprisoned by Israel. He was abducted in 2002 by the Israeli army and thereafter tried, convicted and sentenced to five life sentences. At his trial in 2002, Barghouti refused to participate in its proceedings maintaining that his abduction and the Israeli trial were illegal and illegitimate.
In 2011 the international Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) found that Barghouti’s abduction, arrest and transfer to Israeli territory was in violation of international law. The IPU, together with other international human rights organisations, have subsequently called for his immediate release.
Subsequent to the launch of the campaign, an international High Level Committee including 5 Nobel Peace Prize laureates was announced. Two of the members that form part of the High Level Committee who will coordinate the “Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Political Prisoners” campaign are Ahmed Kathrada and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In a written message, Archbishop Tutu said:
“I am proud to associate myself with the global campaign for the freedom of Marwan Barghouti and other Palestinian political prisoners. As it was in South Africa, so it is in Palestine. When we call for Marwan Barghouti’s freedom, we are calling for the freedom of all [Palestinian] political prisoners and resolution of all injustice in Palestine and Israel. I would particularly like to welcome Mrs Fadwa Barghouti’s presence in the campaign. It reminds us of the brave role Winnie Mandela played in keeping the memory of Mr Mandela and the struggle alive.
“I add my voice to those of Mr Kathrada’s and Mrs Baghouti’s – and all the others around the world – who are calling on Israel to step back from the precipice of division and prejudice, and free [Palestinian] political prisoners. Their liberation will also liberate you.”
As a part of its launch address, BDS South Africa focused on the controversial security company G4S and its role in Israel. According to Kwara Kekana (Campaign’s Coordinator for BDS South Africa):
“The international security company, G4S, was contracted in 2007 to provide and maintain security equipment at Israeli prisons. The equipment includes monitoring systems, cameras and control rooms in which Palestinians are detained without trial and subjected to torture. G4S provides security systems to Israel’s Ketziot, Damon and Meggido prisons, as well as Israel’s Russian Compound (Al-Moskobiyeh) and Kishon (Al-Jalameh) detention and interrogation centers. G4S is responsible for the control and monitoring systems of these Israeli prison facilities, in addition to visitation systems and CCTV systems. G4S also provides security systems and a central control room in Israel’s Hasharon-Rimonim prison. Israel’s Al-Moskobiyeh and Al-Jalameh interrogation centers, serviced by G4S, are notorious for their use of torture, including of children. For instance, earlier this year, Palestinian detainee Arafat Jaradat died as a result of torture endured at the hands of Israeli interrogators at Israel’s Al-Jalameh interrogation center. Palestinian “administrative detainee” Loai Ashqar had three of his vertebrae broken due to torture sustained in Israel’s Al-Jalameh interrogation center in 2005, permanently paralyzing his left leg.
“In addition G4S installed and operates a central command room and peripheral defence system in Israel’s Ofer Prison in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which also houses the Israeli military courts that issues “administrative detention” orders (the equivalent of Apartheid South Africa’s “Detention without trial”). All of the Israeli prisons and detention centers serviced by G4S house and have housed Palestinian “administrative detainees”. As of 1 March 2013, there were 70 Palestinian administrative detainees in Israel’s Ketziot, 56 in Ofer, and 27 in Megiddo. Israel’s policy of holding Palestinian political prisoners from the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza in Israeli territory is illegal under international law, specifically Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of prisoners from occupied territories. G4S also provides equipment and services to Israeli checkpoints and Israel’s illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.”
G4S is facing increasing criticism and pressure for its activities in Israel. Earlier this month the Norwegian trade union, Industri Energi, terminated its contract with G4S as “an act of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.” This was followed in the UK, by the East London Teachers Association (ELTA) which passed a motion condemning G4S’s complicity in Israel’s prison system, “unlawful detention and torture [of Palestinians]” which it termed as “profoundly unethical”.
The University of Oslo, Dundee University Student Union, the UK energy company Good Energy, several businesses, various human rights organizations and the European Union itself have all recently also cut ties with G4S due to the company’s complicity in Israel’s illegal settlements, illegal detention and torture of Palestinian political prisoners.
Last year the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Professor Richard Falk, in his 2012 UN General Assembly report, specifically singled-out G4S as one of the companies complicit in Israeli human rights abuses and subsequently called for sanctions against such companies that profit from Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.