Report from protest organizers, Inminds. All photos via Inminds: On Friday 5th August 2016 Inminds human rights group protested outside the UK Mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross in London to demand it restore the twice-monthly family visits for Palestinian political prisoners which were cut last month to just once monthly.
Inminds chair Abbas Ali said “These cuts by the International Committee of the Red Cross steal the valuable few minutes Palestinian families have with their imprisoned loved ones and are tantamount to collaboration with the Israeli occupation in denying Palestinian political prisoners the right to family visits that is enshrined in international law as part of the Fourth Geneva Convention which the ICRC is mandated to uphold. The ICRC should be ashamed of themselves acting as an arm of the occupation.”
Many members of the Red Cross came out of the building to show their support for our protest, shaking our hands to thank us. Others didn’t know of this shameful decision and were shocked to learn that ICRC cuts were targeting the most vulnerable.
We were invited inside to meet with Mona Sadek, the deputy head of mission for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the UK. We handed her a letter from Neimeh Shamlawi, the mother of a Palestinian child prisoner Ali Shamlawi, who is being denied the right to visit her son by the ICRC.
Three years ago her son Ali, 16 years old at the time, was falsely accused of throwing stones. He was tortured and then sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. She explains how her daughter who has not been able to see her brother for 7 months has finally been given permission by the Israeli occupation to visit her brother this month but due to ICRC cuts she will miss the visit because the dates stipulated in the visitation permit falls outside the new once a month ICRC visit schedule. If the ICRC had maintained their twice-monthly visits then she would have been able to visit her brother but now she may have to wait another 6 months for a permit from the Israeli occupation to visit her brother.
Mona Sadek said that having seen our alert for the protest she had already contacted ICRC offices in Palestine with a view to resolving the “special case” of Ali Shamlawi so that his sister could visit him. We welcomed her intercession but explained that it was not a “special case” but just one of thousands of families that will suffer due to ICRC’s decision.
Unfortunately whilst she empathised with their plight she could not offer a solution, saying that cuts were needed as the ICRC was over-stretched due to other factors in the region (Syria) and their figures showed that uptake on the second monthly visit was not great. We pointed out that it was unfair as their figures measured the results of the success of Israeli occupation policy of depriving prisoners of family visits by placing insurmountable barriers to prevent families from visiting, starting by placing the prisons outside the West Bank across a border in Israel, in breach of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, so that families after having waited months for permits still cannot visit without being escorted by the ICRC across the border; then the 12-14 hour round trip journey elderly parents have to endure in the heat for a 45 minute visit; and the humiliation they suffer at the hands of the occupation at each step of the journey from the soldiers at the checkpoints to the prison guards who often demand strip searches before they can see their loved ones. The ICRC action was rewarding the occupation on the success of this policy rather than providing support for the victims. The right to have two family visits per month was something Palestinian prisoners fought hard to achieve through many sacrifices, including enduring hunger strikes. Now the ICRC had taken that right away from them and delivered the Israeli occupation a victory in helping it fulfil its illegal policy of denying family visits to Palestinian political prisoners.
Prof. Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Ambassador for the UK, joined the protest to show his solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners which he said were treated “like animals” by the Israeli occupation. He was disappointed by the ICRC decision, saying he was there to show “our dissatisfaction, our indignation against the Red Cross.. [The Red Cross] if not controlled, is pressured by the Israelis.. they are becoming helpless.. they should be more aggressive in trying to expose the naked truth of the Israeli jailers..”
NEIMEH SHAMLAWI’S LETTER
I am Neimeh Shamlawi, mother of Ali Shamlawi who is now in Al-Naqab prison. My son has spent more that 3 years in prison and I used to visit him twice monthly, but from July the Red Cross decided to reduce the visits to 50%. The Israeli government deprived me from my son, and it was a chance to see my son twice a month, but now the Red Cross wants to prevent even this chance. The Red Cross must help us, not help the Israeli occupation in its crimes against us. Without the help of the Red Cross, we will suffer and face many difficulties in trying to visit our children in Israeli prisons.
Apart from the exorbitant cost of around $250 to arrange a visit, we also have to contend with the impossibility of negotiating with the Israeli military to achieve such a feat. The decision to cut family visits to once a month will have terrible repercussions.
One example is that my daughter was finally given permission to visit her brother whom she misses terribly, the permit is for one visit and is only valid between 10th July to 23rd August. I had visited my son Ali on July 6th, with the next scheduled Red Cross visit being on August 24th. It means that my daughter will not be allowed to see her brother and the permit which was very difficult to get will be wasted. She may not get another permit for at least 6 months. If there was 2 visits in a month (like it was before the Red Cross decision) then she could have visited her brother Ali.
We hope that the Red Cross will reconsider and stop this unfair decision, , and remain the humanitarian organization it is supposed to embody.
BILAL KAYED – 52 DAYS ON HUNGER STRIKE
The protest also demanded freedom for the Palestinian hunger striker Bilal Kayed who has been without food for 52 days.
Bilal Kayed was imprisoned by the military occupation in 2001. He completed his 14.5 years sentence on 13th June 2016. But instead of being released as scheduled, to meet his waiting family at the military checkpoint, he was re-arrested without charge or trial and ordered to indefinitely-renewable 6 months administrative detention.
To demand his freedom Bilal Kayed went on hunger strike. The protest marked day 52 of his hunger strike. Health experts have said Kayed could die any moment as he is imminently vulnerable to cerebral haemorrhage, heart attack or stroke due to the physical strain on his body. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have joined Kayed in open hunger strike.
There are around 750 Palestinians being held indefinitely without charge or trial, with no way to defend themselves, under Israel’s illegal use of administrative detention. 127 administrative detention orders were issued just last month in July 2016.
A letter written by Bilal Kayed in prison on day 48 of his hunger strike was read out at the protest.
Inminds chair Abbas Ali said “The caging of Bilal Kayed without charge or trial after he has already served his 14.5 year sentence sets a very dangerous precedent for all Palestinian political prisoners and must be vigorously challenged by human rights activists around the world. His imprisonment today represents the imprisonment of all Palestinians tomorrow. We demand his immediate freedom!”.