Almost 800 Palestinians held by Israel in ‘unlawful’ detention, claim rights groups

Palestinian political prisoners walk at the yard of Megiddo Prison where administrative detainees are held (AFP)

Bel Trew

The Independent  /  October 15, 2022

That is the highest number in over a decade and among those detained include children, say the rights organizations.

Israel is holding nearly 800 Palestinians, including seven children, without trial or charges, the highest number in almost 15 years, according to rights groups and United Nations officials who have claimed the practice is unlawful and “amounts to serious and degrading treatment”.

Israeli rights group HaMoked, which regularly gathers figures from Israeli prisons, told The Independent that Israel was holding 798 Palestinians in administrative detention, the highest number since May 2008.

Among the prisoners – who can be held indefinitely without trial, sometimes for years – are two women and seven minors, the youngest aged just 16, the group added.

Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights organization whose own field researcher has been in administrative detention since March, also confirmed the numbers and said they have doubled in recent years.

Israel’s military told The Independent that administrative detention is only used “where the security authorities hold reliable and well-founded information that indicates the detainee poses a real threat to the security of the area, and in the absence of other alternatives to remove the threat”.

The military did not comment on the exact figures as statistics are logged by Israel’s prison service but added “the number of detainees currently in administrative detention is a result of the security threat posed by each of the detainees”.

However, Israel’s use of administrative detention has been repeatedly denounced and even declared unlawful by UN experts and rights defenders.

This is because detainees can be held for “indefinite” periods of time without an arrest warrant or charge or trial, largely based on evidence withheld by Israeli intelligence, said Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special rapporteur for the Palestinians.

She added that it has also been used “extensively” against children, some as young as 12, and has involved “substantial breaches” of the Geneva Conventions and international law. Some inmates are so desperate they have resorted to hunger strikes.

“Technically you could be under administrative detention your whole life. This creates unconscionable psychological consequences,” she told The Independent adding that in an upcoming report on the practice she would examine if it amounts to torture.

She said “the widespread and systematic” recourse to administrative detention often amounts to arbitrary detention “as it involves substantial breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and breaches of International Human Rights Law”.

“What’s critical is that it appears to be used as a deterrent to prevent activism as well as opposition to the occupation,” she continued.

“This is particularly concerning with regards to children and students, human rights defenders, political activists and political figures.

“This is why it must be investigated thoroughly,” she said.

You could be under administrative detention your whole life. This creates unconscionable psychological consequences – Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special rapporteur for the Palestinians

According to the UN, international law allows a state to use administrative detention but only in emergencies, and “if a fair hearing can be provided where the detainee can challenge the allegations against her or him”.

In an occupation, Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention only permits an occupying power to employ administrative detention “for imperative reasons of security”.

Israel captured and occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention has examined numerous cases of administrative detention of Palestinians and concluded that its use was arbitrary.

Israel has repeatedly defended the practice saying it uses administrative detention to impede attacks and stop dangerous militant groups.

“Administrative detention is decided individually for every situation and is based on well-founded information regarding each detainee, that takes into account the security situation in the area,” the military said in a statement to The Independent.

“In every case where an administrative detention warrant is issued, a judicial review procedure is conducted by the Military Court. During the review, the information underlying the administrative detention warrant is examined. The decisions of the Military Court are subject to review by the Military Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.”

HaMoked said the surge in administrative detentions began last spring following a series of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that killed 19 people.

Subsequent Israeli raids have killed over 120 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2015. Israel said many of those killed have militants but local youths protesting against the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence.

That has only flared in recent days.

On Friday the Palestinian health ministry said the Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid into the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army confirmed it was operating in the Jenin refugee camp, without immediately elaborating.

Hundreds have also been arrested, many of them ending up in administrative detention.

Jessica Montell, executive director of HaMoked that gathered the latest statistics, said that the number was “outrageous” and that Israel was making “wholesale use of this detention without trial.”

She added that they are held on the basis of “secret evidence and with no effective judicial review”.

Administrative detention is decided individually for every situation and is based on well-founded information – The Israeli military

Palestinian rights group Addameer whose researcher, prominent Palestinian-French human rights lawyer Salah Hamouri has been in administrative detention since March, said it in many circumstances would amount to torture as inmates have no way of knowing when it will end.

“At least when you are charged, you know how you can defend yourself and you will know how long you will be sentenced for and when you have finished your sentence,” said Sahar Francis, director of the Ramallah-based group.

“They also regularly release detainees for one or two months and then re-arrest them. It is very worrying that Israel is able to use this policy without any accountability for decades.”

The Israeli military has said in previous statements it detained Mr Hamouri on suspicion of activity in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel’s western allies.

Bel Trew is International Correspondent for The Independent based in Beirut