Relatives let into Israelis' jail of death

Robert Fisk reports on Khiam prison, in southern Lebanon, where many inmates are held in underground cells

The gates of Israel's notorious Khiam jail in southern Lebanon have swung briefly open to allow a handful of Shia Muslim prisoners to see their families for the first time in 10 years. The Israeli decision to allow family visits - co-ordinated by the International Red Cross - came after the death of yet another Lebanese inmate, who had spent a decade in the prison without trial. Haitham Dabaja, 28, died in Marjayoun hospital - three miles from the prison inside Israel's occupation zone - although the authorities there have refused to comment.

In December two prisoners from Khiam - Salim Awada and Ali al-Goul - died in Beirut within days of their release. Another freed prisoner, Mustapha Ramadan, said 80 per cent of Khiam inmates suffered from cardiac and nervous disorders because of the humidity in their cells, many of which are underground. Mr Ramadan had just spent six years in detention and was released on grounds of "ill-health" - he was 85. This week's visitors included a girl of nine who had never seen her father. She was not allowed to embrace him but had to see him through a glass screen. About 260 Lebanese prisoners, including women and several youths of 14, are held at Khiam; Israel has hitherto refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit the jail, whose inmates have given consistent accounts of electrical torture by Lebanese militiamen paid and armed by the Israelis.

It now seems likely the ICRC will at last be allowed to inspect the prison; the Israelis have agreed that 20 prisoners a week may be visited by their families. The change follows a growing - if tardy - realisation by Israel that its policy of isolating prisoners in harsh conditions in the hope of preventing further attacks on its occupation troops in southern Lebanon has failed.

Amnesty International has accused the Khiam authorities of using electricity to extract information from newly-arrived inmates. Some prisoners were captured during attacks on Israeli troops and their militia allies in the occupation zone; others are friends or relatives of men the Israelis believe to have been involved in the ``Islamic Resistance'' movement.

Yet UN officers in southern Lebanon say fewer prisoners are being taken by the Israelis after attacks on their occupation forces. Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas believe Israeli and ``South Lebanon Army'' militiamen now routinely kill all attackers when they surrender. SLA men were seen shooting a prisoner near Shebaa last year, which prompted a protest to Israel by the United Nations commander in southern Lebanon. Last month seven members of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command - in the first open joint attack of its kind - were killed during an ambush on an Israeli convoy. A day later, it emerged that three more guerrillas in a second Hizbollah-PFLP-GC attack had all been killed in southern Lebanon.

Israel has in the past promised to release some or all of the Khiam prisoners in return for captured SLA men and its own missing air force navigator, Ron Arad, who was captured after a bombing raid on Sidon in 1986, but the Hizbollah - his presumed captors - have shown no interest in such a swap. The ICRC is now also allowed to visit all but two of the 70 Lebanese prisoners held inside Israel itself; they have not yet been given access to Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid and Mustapha Dirani, both kidnapped by Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. Mr Dirani was Mr Arad's original captor.

Even before the Red Cross visits, details of life in Israeli jails have leaked out whenever inmates are freed. Lebanese prisoners have arrived in Beirut with extraordinary accounts of the conditions in which they have been held. In Ashkelon jail, for example, secular and Islamist prisoners from the PFLP, the Democratic Front, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah - some in near-open conflict with each other in the occupied West Bank and Gaza - have formed a prisoner Revolutionary Committee and elected a joint leadership to negotiate with the Israelis for better conditions.

This system was recognised by the Israelis almost 10 years ago, when the head of the prison administration there, Rafi Suissa, negotiated with Palestinian inmates after a food strike. Freed prisoners say he was later sacked but that Palestinians at Ashkelon later heard that prisoners in other Israeli jails were allowed to watch three hours of television a day - and returned to their hunger strike until their own privileges were ``matched'' with those at other prisons.

Suggested Topics
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?