Israeli government decision to deduct allocations to prisoners and families of martyrs is collective punishment and violates human rights

 

Israeli government decision to deduct allocations to prisoners and families of martyrs from Palestinian clearance revenues is collective punishment and violates the rights of large segments of Palestinian society

 

The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) deplores the Israeli government’s decision to begin enforcing the Israeli Law on the Deduction of Allocations to Palestinian Prisoners and Families of Martyrs from Palestinian Clearance Revenues. Approved by the Israeli Knesset in mid-2018, the law allows the Israeli government to seize amounts of the Palestinian clearance revenues collected and transferred by Israel to the Public Treasury of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The deduction is equal to the allocations the PA pays to the families of prisoners and martyrs. This means that as much as NIS 502 million (US$ 138 million) of tax transfers, or 7 percent of the Palestinian government budget, are withheld. Israel claims that these amounts promote what it calls “terrorism”.

This measure is illegal and runs counter to the Israeli government’s obligations under agreements signed with the PA. It deals a death blow to the Palestinian government’s 2019 budget, constraining its ability to ensure economic and social rights, provide public services, and fulfil obligations towards Palestinian citizens. The deduction further affects the rights of many parts of Palestinian society and impinges on the right of prisoners and their families to a decent life.

PA’s commitments and payment of allowances to the families of martyrs and prisoners is among the most important responsibilities of the State of Palestine towards its citizens’ and their rights. These are a key pillar of the social protection system in the State of Palestine. The Israeli action serves a serious blow to the Palestinian economy and jeopardises the PA’s capability of meeting its obligations towards Palestinian citizens, including a commitment to timely payment of monthly salaries to public sector staff. This is of particular concern given the escalating arbitrary Israeli policies, violation of fundamental Palestinian human rights, restriction of public freedoms, tightened siege on the Gaza Strip for 12 years in a row, settlement expansion, land confiscation, control over natural resources, and forced displacement of the Palestinian population.

Article 22 of the Palestinian Basic Law regulates the welfare of the families of martyrs, prisoners and injured citizens: “Maintaining the welfare of families of martyrs, prisoners, the injured and the disabled is a duty that shall be regulated by law. The National Authority shall guarantee these persons education, health and social insurance.” To pay monthly allowances to released prisoners, the Palestinian government is guided by the Law by Decree No. 19 of 2004 on Prisoners and Released Prisoners, amended by Law by Decree No. 1 of 2013. Article 3 of this Law by Decree lay out the means of, and the PA role in, achieving goals of the Law by Decree.

Article 1 of the 2004 Law by Decree on Prisoners and Release Prisoners defines the released prisoner as “every prisoner who is released from the prisons of the Israeli occupying authorities.” Article 2 provides that released prisoners are “a struggling group and an integral part of the fabric of Arab Palestinian society. The provisions of the Law ensure a decent life for them and for their families.” Welfare of the families affected by Israel’s occupation is a legal, regulatory and administrative component of the Palestinian political system. Welfare of prisoners’ families is governed by the Law No. 19 of 2014 and Law by Decree No. 1 of 2013 Amending the Law on Prisoners and Released Prisoners.

The State of Palestine is responsible for providing social security to the families of prisoners and released prisoners. This obligation lies within the scope of an international legal norm, which provides for giving special attention to affected families, regardless of the actions of a relevant family member, in order to maintain social stability in society. Given that they are victims of Israel’s occupation, both prisoners held in Israeli places of detention and released prisoners benefit from PA services, ensuring the capacity of these persons to enjoy a decent standard of living. 

The 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War ensures that detainees have the right to receive financial assistance from their respective states. To this avail, Article 98 of the Convention prescribes that “[…] internees may receive allowances from the Power to which they owe allegiance, the Protecting Powers, the organisations which may assist them, or their families, as well as the income on their property in accordance with the law of the Detaining Power.” Article 98 also provides that “[t]he Detaining Power shall open a regular account for every internee, to which shall be credited the allowances named in the present Article, the wages earned and the remittances received, together with such sums taken from him as may be available under the legislation in force in the territory in which he is interned. Internees shall be granted all facilities consistent with the legislation in force in such territory to make remittances to their families and to other dependants. They may draw from their accounts the amounts necessary for their personal expenses, within the limits fixed by the Detaining Power.”

Payment of allowances or salaries to the families of prisoners and released prisoners is not inconsistent with the provisions of International Law and International Humanitarian Law. Affected families are fully dependent on their relative prisoners to maintain their livelihoods and provide a decent standard of living. Families of prisoners and released prisoners have the right to these allowances, which must be duly paid to them. This is particularly the case of prisoners who have been behind bars for years and lack adequate professional rehabilitation, as well as those who are not able to work, with a view to empowering them to work, living with dignity, supporting and providing a decent standard of living for their families.

The Israeli decision is in violation of the Paris Protocol, signed within the framework of the Oslo Accords between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel in 1994. Accordingly, on a monthly basis, Israel should collect and transfer to the PA taxes on goods transported via Israel’s border crossings to the Palestinian territory. The Paris Protocol provides explicitly that “Israel shall not have the right to deduct any amount of the clearance revenues.” Deduction is also in clear breach of the Palestinian-Israeli interim agreements signed in 1995.

Israel continues to violate International Law rules and United Nations resolutions, target Palestinian prisoners, and aggravate their suffering. To begin with, Palestinian prisoners are held inside Israel, violating International Law norms. In addition to encroaching on their rights, Israel has approved, and effectively enforced, the law on the deduction of allocations earmarked to Palestinian prisoners and families of martyrs from PA clearance revenues.

According to statistics released by the Palestinian Monitoring Group of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, in 2018 alone, Israel killed 307 Palestinians and injured 8,355 others. The Palestinian Commission of Prisoners and Released Prisoners reported that there were approximately 6,000 Palestinians, who were held in Israeli prisons, towards the end of 2018. These included 250 children, 54 women and girls, eight members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, 27 journalists, and 450 others held in administrative detention (arrest without charge or trial).

Palestinian economists estimate that the State of Palestine spends nearly NIS 1.2 billion a year (a monthly average of NIS 100 million) on families of martyrs, prisoners and injured citizens. This is equivalent to 15 percent of almost NIS 800 million (US$ 221 million) of monthly clearance revenue transfers to the PA.

Israeli measures are part of continuous pressure on Palestinian society from across the spectrum. These are designed to force Palestinians to accept deals, which do not meet the bare minimum of the Palestinian people’s rights enshrined in International Law. Israel attempts to alter Palestinian society’s national perceptions of lawful struggle, take retaliatory action against their support to the issue of prisoners and prisoner’s families, and impose collective punishment on Palestinians. Israeli measures are a link in the chain of persistent violations of Palestinian human rights, particularly those of the families of martyrs, prisoners and injured citizens. Against this background, the ICHR:

  1. Calls on the State of Palestine to address sponsors of the Oslo Accords and Paris Protocol and prepare a file of Israeli violations of these accords with a view to placing pressure on Israel and reconsidering the said agreements.
  2. Calls for addressing the United Nations and international community to exert pressure on Israel to put an end to collective punishments against the Palestinian people, suspend enforcement of the law on the deduction of allocations to prisoners and families of martyrs from PA clearance revenues.
  3. Calls for supporting the PA position to continue to pay the allowances earmarked to prisoners, released prisoners and families of martyrs inasmuch as this is their lawful human right.
  4. Calls on member states of the European Union to put into effect Article 2 of the European Union-Israel Association Agreement, which stipulates respect for human rights to achieve economic cooperation with Israel.
  5. Calls on international human rights organisations to follow up on the issues of, and abuses against, Palestinian prisoners. These should intervene with their governments to place pressure on Israel and bring an end to arbitrary practices against prisoners as well as to various pressures on the State of Palestine.