What is Palestinian Prisoners’ Day?

Marked every year on April 17, the event is dedicated to the centrality of prisoners to the Palestinian cause.

Palestine prisoner
Thousands of Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons [File: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images]

Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is commemorated every year on April 17 – a date approved by the Palestinian National Council in 1974 as a national day dedicated to the freedom of prisoners and support for their rights.

The date was chosen as it marked the release of prisoner Mahmoud Bakr Hijazi in the first prisoner exchange between the Palestinians and Israel.

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In late March 2008, the 20th Arab Summit held in the Syrian capital, Damascus, approved the adoption of the day in all Arab countries, in solidarity with Palestinian and Arab prisoners detained by Israel.

According to the Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees, 4,900 prisoners are now being detained in Israel, including 31 women and 160 children.

Also included are approximately 1,000 prisoners placed under administrative detention, which means that they are held without trial, and any “evidence” against them is withheld from them.

There are also more than 20 prisoners who were arrested prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993. The longest-serving one, Muhammad al-Tus, has been behind bars since 1985.

Palestinians have long criticised Israel for the conditions in its prisons. According to the Commission, 236 people have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, with hundreds of others dying after their release from diseases that struck them while they were incarcerated.

The suffering of sick detainees is among the main humanitarian concerns, with more than 700 prisoners afflicted by various diseases, including at least 24 who have cancer and are in need of intensive healthcare.

Arrests this year

The last year has seen near-daily arrests in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as Israel steps up its raids.

Since the beginning of 2023, 2,300 arrest cases have been recorded by prisoners’ institutions, including 350 children, most of them from Jerusalem, and 40 women and girls.

Inside the prisons

Human rights groups and prisoners’ organisations say that conditions inside Israeli facilities are harsh. They cite the denial of visits, psychological and physical torture, and medical negligence, with sick prisoners unable to receive proper treatment.

In addition, the policy of solitary confinement has escalated significantly since 2021, with approximately 35 Palestinian prisoners now in solitary, including sick ones suffering from chronic diseases.

The Israeli prison service has in the past defended its treatment of Palestinian prisoners, saying its policies are fully legal.

Israeli authorities continue to ban family visits for some prisoners, with a particular focus on ones from Gaza.

Prisoner protests

Over the course of February, and until March 22, Palestinian prisoners carried out a series of protests against Israeli prison policies, after a new set of measures were announced by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The measures heavily restricted the lives of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including by limiting the amount of water they can use, the hours they can shower, and their access to bread.

The protest eventually ended when the detainees reached an agreement with the Israeli prison service.

Source: Al Jazeera