Two of the four re-arrested Palestinian political prisoners have told their lawyers they are being subjected to physical and mental abuse and torture by Israeli interrogators, in the first meeting they had with them since being taken into custody last week.
Lawyers Khaled and Ruslan Mahajneh from the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Commission of Detainees Affairs defence team met separately with Mohammed and Mahmoud al-Ardah on Wednesday, after Israeli intelligence services lifted the ban on the prisoners’ access to their lawyers five days after their re-arrest.
Khaled Mahajneh gave an emotional interview to Palestine TV as he left Jalama Detention Center after seeing his client Mohammed al-Ardah, who he said is being deprived of food, sleep and medical care while enduring intensive rounds of interrogation.
“Mohammed has undergone, and is still undergoing, a very difficult journey of torture,” said Khaled. “Upon his rearrest, Mohammed was taken to the Nazareth interrogation centre, where he was interrogated in a very ugly way.
“There were about 20 intelligence interrogators in a very small room who stripped him of all his clothes, including his undergarments, and forced him to remain naked for several hours. They gave him a shawl later to cover his genitals, and then transferred him to Jalama interrogation centre.”
The lawyer said Israeli forces beat Mohammed during his arrest. “His head was beaten to the ground and he is now injured above his right eye. He has not received the medical treatment he needs until this moment. He suffers from cuts and scratches all over his body, due to the escape attempt and the Israeli forces’ manhunt for him and Zakaria Zubaidi.”
Israeli authorities announced the rearrest of Mahmoud Abdullah al-Ardah, 46, and Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri, 49, on the southern outskirts of Nazareth late on Friday. Zakaria Zubeidi, 46 and Mohammed al-Ardah, 39, were arrested nearby early on Saturday, in the Palestinian village of Shibli-Umm al-Ghanam. The four are being held and interrogated in Jalama.
They were among six men – along with Ayham Nayef Kamanji, 35, and Munadel Infaat, 26, whose whereabouts remain unknown – who broke out of Israel’s Gilboa prison at dawn on September 6.
Khaled Mahajneh said six Israeli interrogators stood behind Mohammed al-Ardah, whose arms and legs were shackled, during their meeting. The lawyer said he repeatedly asked for the shackles to be removed from Mohammed’s arms at least, but the officers refused.
According to Khaled, Mohammed was not given food until four days after being rearrested and has not slept for more than 10 hours because of consecutive rounds of interrogation.
“He has been undergoing round-the-clock interrogation since Saturday… He is being interrogated in the late night and early morning hours,” said Khaled. “He does not see the sun, or light, or the wind. When I met with him, he asked me whether it was afternoon – he didn’t know it was midnight.”
The lawyer said Mohammed is being held in a cell “that does not exceed 2 by 1square metres”, lives “under 24-hour surveillance”, and is being “interrogated by 10 officers every day”.
In a separate interview, lawyer Ruslan Mahajneh, who met with Mahmoud al-Ardah the same night, said the detainee told him he was undergoing round-the-clock interrogation.
And, according to a statement by the PA Commission, lawyer Avigdor Feldman met with Zakaria Zubaidi at noon on Wednesday.
“It was found that the prisoner Zubaidi was beaten and abused during his arrest with the prisoner Mohammed al-Ardah, causing him a broken jaw and two broken ribs,” the Commission said.
Zubaidi, the statement continued, “was transferred to an Israeli hospital and was given painkillers after the arrest” and he “suffers from bruises and scratches all over his body as a result of the beatings and abuse”.
While the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed the use of torture in 1999, interrogators – particularly the intelligence services – have continued to use violence against Palestinian detainees, which courts have retroactively sanctioned. The four prisoners are undergoing interrogation by the Israeli intelligence services in cooperation with the Lahav 443 unit of the police, which lawyers say could last for up to 45 days.
The prisoners appeared separately on Saturday before the Israeli Magistrate Court in Nazareth, which decided to extend their detention until September 19 to “complete the investigation”.
At the court hearing on Saturday, according to the PA Commission, several initial charges were presented against the four: “Escape, aiding and abetting in an escape, conspiracy to commit an attack, and membership in a hostile organisation and providing services to it.”
Khaled Mahajneh told Al Jazeera after the hearing that authorities refused to provide information about the “conspiring to commit an attack” allegation, claiming the file is secret.
In his interview with Palestine TV, Khaled said Mohammed al-Ardah is “fully rejecting the security allegations that the intelligence is trying to place on him”. Mohammed reportedly told Khaled he “could have done anything in the five days” he was free, but he “sought for freedom, and sought to walk on the streets of occupied 1948 Palestine.”
Under international law, a prisoner of war who escapes from prison “shall be liable only to a disciplinary punishment”, meaning no additional years should be added to their initial sentence, even if it is a repeated attempt.
In previous incidents where Palestinian prisoners escaped from Israeli prisons and were re-arrested, several faced punitive measures such as long periods in solitary confinement but did not receive longer sentences, according to lawyers.
Most Palestinians view detainees in Israeli prisons, which number 4,650 Palestinians including 200 children and 520 administrative detainees held without trial or charges, as political prisoners who are in detention because of the Israeli military occupation or their resistance to it.
Before breaking out of the prison, four of the six prisoners had been serving life sentences, while two were being held in detention awaiting military trial.
Those sentenced were arrested between 1996 and 2006 and had been convicted of carrying out attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. Five of them are affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, while one is a senior member of the armed wing of Fatah, a Palestinian group that dominates the PA.
After the prisoners escaped through a tunnel that opened up a few metres beyond the prison wall, Israeli forces launched an enormous manhunt to search for them and arrested some of their family members.