On February 24, 2013, Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian father of two, died suddenly in an Israeli jail cell. As Jodi Rudoren and Khaled Abu Aker of the New York Times wrote earlier this week, Israeli doctors reported that Jaradat had suffered a heart attack, but a Palestinian physician who attended his autopsy claimed that his body showed signs of torture. His ribs were broken, his nose bloodied, his chest bruised. Despite Israel’s insistence that this pattern of injuries was consistent with efforts to resuscitate a man whose heart had stopped, senior Palestinian officials publicly accepted the torture explanation, and hundreds of people poured into the streets to protest Jaradat’s death. On Tuesday, a rocket fired in revenge landed on an empty stretch of road near Ashkelon, breaking a ceasefire that had held since the end of November and stoking fears of escalation in Israel.
Initially, the Israeli government took a rather clumsy and heavy-handed approach to the case. The Times reported that, several days into the crisis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoys conveyed to Palestinian officials his “unequivocal demand to restore quiet.” After Tuesday’s rocket attack, border crossings between Israel and Gaza were closed to normal traffic, further isolating a territory already subject to exceptionally restrictive limitations on the movement of people and goods.
There were, however, hopeful signs as of Wednesday afternoon, when Israeli officials announced that two Palestinian prisoners who have been on a months-long hunger strike will be released from jail this coming May. Jaafar Izzedine and Tarek Qaadan have agreed to end the fast they began late last year to protest their detention without trial, and lawyers are hopeful that they will be able to negotiate release dates for two other prominent long-term hunger strikers imprisoned under similarly questionable legal procedures.
According to the human rights organization B’Tselem, more than 4,500 Palestinian security detainees are currently being held in Israeli prisons, and the numbers of people detained informally for shorter periods at checkpoints and police stations are probably much higher. In the context of numbers like these, it’s likely that the Palestinian men and women marching in protest earlier this week were thinking not only of Jaradat, or of the four hunger strikers, but also of their own brothers, fathers, husbands, and sons.
Israel has shown mercy to Qaadan and Izzedine — how much more might it gain in security and in stability if it revised its prison policies to ensure greater transparency, greater accountability, and greater respect for the human rights of its prisoners?