Israel has placed Palestinians in 'open-air prison', UN official says

Special rapporteur Francesca Albanese says Israeli policies have 'criminalised ordinary acts of life'

Israel police arrest a Palestinian youth outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in October 2021. AFP
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Israel's policies towards Palestinians have left them living in an “open-air prison”, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories said on Tuesday.

Francesca Albanese said Israel has “criminalised ordinary acts of life” like expressing opinions, gathering and making political speeches or attempting to do so, after she released a report on deprivation of liberties in the occupied territories.

“Palestinians are presumed guilty without evidence, arrested without warrants and detained without charge and trials, and often brutalised in Israeli custody,” Ms Albanese said.

Israel has also created a physical and bureaucratic infrastructure that “complements beyond bars, the arbitrary deprivation of liberty that happens behind bars” through permits and bans, as well as digital surveillance that is “intertwined” with the physical and bureaucratic barriers, she said.

“There is no other way to define the regime that Israel has imposed on Palestinians – which is apartheid by default – other than an open-air prison.”

Israel has arrested more than one million Palestinians, most of them near settlements, since it seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War, Ms Albanese said.

Israel's building of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, which has been stepped up under the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is considered illegal under international law.

On Tuesday, Israeli authorities evicted a Palestinian family from their home in East Jerusalem after a 45-year legal battle over their right to live there.

The Sub Laban family said Israeli police forced open the door before removing them from the rented two-bedroom apartment in the Old City where they had lived in for 70 years.

Activist group Free Jerusalem said police arrested 12 people demonstrating against the eviction, which came after the Sub Laban family's appeal was rejected by Israel's Supreme Court earlier this year.

Ms Albanese criticised the slow pace of investigations by the International Criminal Court into Israel's treatment of Palestinians, contrasting it to the court's issuing of arrest warrants in recent months over the war in Ukraine following Russia's invasion last year.

“This not only confirms that justice delayed is justice denied but also reinforces implementing of double standards by the international community,” she said.

“Protecting the rights of Palestinians also ensures a present and future peace for the Israelis because they're trapped by the same settler colonial system that brutalises the Palestinians,” she said.

“I don't know if the two-state solution will happen at some point. The current reality goes in the opposite direction, and had international law been respected, we wouldn't be here.”

Updated: July 11, 2023, 4:40 PM