ISRAEL: Palestinian prisoners' study funds frozen

The Israeli prisons authority has frozen the education funds of nearly 280 Palestinian prisoners enrolled with the Hebrew Open University until further notice, according to a statement from the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs.

The move follows a decision to block the right of Palestinians to pursue higher education in prison, which was adopted on 20 July by the Israeli Prisons Administration in response to a decision approved by the interior committee of the Israeli Knesset.

According to press reports, the decision along with other measures was based on a June order from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reduce the "advantages granted" to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, in an attempt to pressure the Palestinians to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by militants in a raid on an Israeli army border position in 2006.

To implement the decision, Israel is terminating the higher education programme conducted for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, and they will not be allowed to continue their degree studies.

The prison authorities seized books and academic papers delivered to the prisoners through the International Red Cross, and the government is also preventing them from applying to study at Arab and Palestinian universities, according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Centre.

Minister of Prisoner Affairs in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, Issa Qaraqe, said Israel was totally disregarding human rights and international law.

According to the Palestine News and Information Agency, he said the ministry would appeal the decision to the Israeli High Court. It would also demand the return of tuition fees paid by his ministry for prisoners. He considered withholding the money "illegal".

Last month, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights strongly condemned Israel's decision and called on the international community to put pressure on the country to abide by international law and end the "inhumane and degrading treatment of more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails".

According to an April 2009 report of the UN Human Rights Council, education for people in detention should be guaranteed and entrenched in constitutional and-or other legislative instruments, should be adequately resourced from public funds and should comply with standards set out in international law.

The report concluded that with a worldwide prison population of close to 10 million, authorities in charge of public education should make it available to all detainees, whether sentenced or in remand, as denying the right to education poses a double obstacle for prisoners and ex-prisoners who strive to live life with dignity.

Of 280 prisoners studying for degrees through the Hebrew Open University at the end of last year, only 60 were criminal prisoners. Criminal prisoners have been allowed to study in Israeli prisons since 1978. Security prisoners were granted the right in 1994, following a hunger strike in 1992, according to the newspaper Haaretz.

For security reasons, and due to lack of facilities, prisoners cannot study life sciences, exact sciences or computer science. The most popular courses are the modern history of the Middle East, genocide, international relations, Israeli Arab Society and the history of Islam.