Following an HCJ petition: the military withdraws the sweeping restriction on the number of prison visits by sons and brothers of “security” prisoners המוקד להגנת הפרט
01.06.2014
Following an HCJ petition: the military withdraws the sweeping restriction on the number of prison visits by sons and brothers of “security” prisoners
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Israel incarcerates most prisoners from the OPT in prisons inside its own territory, in breach of international law that prohibits the transfer of residents of an occupied land into the occupying power’s territory. The incarceration of Palestinians inside Israel forces their relatives to seek Israeli entry-permits from the military in order to visit their loved ones in prison. Israel’s policy on this issue is extremely stringent and restrictive.

In the first three years after the second intifada broke out in 2000, Israel did not allow relatives from the OPT to visit prisoners defined as security prisoners, whether held in Israel or in the West Bank. Beginning in March 2013, following legal advocacy by HaMoked, the visits were gradually renewed. The narrow criteria imposed by Israel allow only first degree relatives to visit prisoners – spouses, children, parents, grandparents and siblings.

Until recently, Israel had imposed a blanket restriction on visits by security prisoners’ sons (but not daughters) between the ages of 16-35. Sons in this age bracket were allowed to visit their incarcerated fathers only twice a year. Another blanket restriction was imposed on prisoners’ brothers (but not sisters) between the ages of 16 and 35, who were permitted to visit their imprisoned siblings only once a year. Thus, Israel arbitrarily limited the number of visits by sons and brothers of prisoners in a sweeping manner, without considering individual cases.

On June 6, 2013, HaMoked filed an HCJ petition on behalf of eight brothers and sons of prisoners, asking the court to instruct the military to revoke the restriction on the number of prison visits sons and brothers of “security” prisoners could make. HaMoked argued that the restriction constituted a severe violation of the fundamental right to family life of both the prisoners and their relatives. HaMoked also stated that restriction was indiscriminate, disproportionate and did not serve a proper purpose.

In unofficial conversations, state representatives indicated to HaMoked that staff work had been carried out for some time and that it appeared that the army would be prepared to revoke the sweeping restrictions. However, the state’s response submitted on April 13, 2014, “shortly after the collapse of the peace process”, stated that the defense mininster had decided that “given the political and security circumstances, there is no room to make a decision on the subject at the present time… the issue should be revisited… in the next few months”.

It seems that the “political and security circumstances” changed dramatically in the month that followed the response, as the state’s response of May 20, 2014 indicated that the military had changed its position again, and that the defense minister had approved the recommendations of the staff work.

And so, the military has recently issued the Procedure for Issuing Israeli Entry Permits for the Purpose of Visiting Prisoners. The military stated that according to the new procedure, which was to take effect on June 1, 2014, the blanket restrictions on visits by prisoners’ sons and brothers would be lifted and they would be able to apply for an Israeli entry-permit for the purpose of prison visits immediately after they use the permit they already have, or after it expires.

In practice, prisoners’ sons and brothers are given permits that expire once used or after 45 days. Given that they cannot apply for a new permit before the one they have expires, and given that processing applications for such permits takes 8 to 10 weeks, visitors cannot receive more than four of these permits in any given year.
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