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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before