JERUSALEM (Aug. 21)
The exact circumstances under which two inmates were killed remain unclear, a week after the riots at the Ketziot detention camp in the Negev.
Representatives of two international human rights organizations have visited the camp, one before and one after the incident, and in their subsequent condemnation of Israel have issued accounts of conditions in the camp and the rioting that differ from the version given by camp officials.
Ketziot was set up as a detention camp for Palestinian rioters and activists last March, as existing detention facilities in the territories and in Israel proper were filled to capacity.
The intense heat of the desert camp and its remoteness from population centers have made it into the most infamous prison in Israel and the territories.
“This is a place I would not wish the worst of my enemies to spend time at,” a released prisoner told a Jewish Telegraphic Agency reporter a few weeks ago.
In deploring last Tuesday’s violence, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said a delegation that saw the early stages of the rioting informed authorities that tension in the camp was “obviously rising.”
Some 1,000 inmates took part in a violent protest, which ended with the killing of two and the wounding of two other prisoners, and perhaps a third one.
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News of the deaths and injuries aggravated the riot, which according to one account, unconfirmed by an Israel Defense Force spokesman, spread to other compounds in the camp, involving some 2,200 prisoners.
The army immediately closed off the area, and would not allow even lawyers or judges to enter the camp. At the same time, the army spokesman said that according to an initial investigation, the soldiers behaved according to regulations when they used firearms to put down the riot.
An officer appointed by the Southern Command, Yitzhak Mordechai, was investigating the incident “in detail, from every angle,” according to an army spokesman.
But on Saturday night, testimony was presented which cast a different light on the events. Michael Posner, director of the New York-based Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, was permitted to interview detainees and prison officers at Ketziot two days after the riot.
His conclusions were that there was apparently no justification for the shooting.
According to Posner, inmates said that after the riot developed, allegedly over the refusal of inmates to clean solders’ quarters, one prisoner, Assad Shawwa of Gaza, refused to return to his tent.
A senior officer then allegedly took an M-16 rifle from another soldier and shot Shawwa in the upper chest. His evacuation was delayed, prisoners said, and he died at Beersheba Hospital.
The circumstances surrounding the death of the second prisoner remains unclear.
(JTA Geneva correspondent Tamar Levy contributed to this report.)