What you need to know about the harsh reality of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails

Dina Samak , Wednesday 8 Nov 2023

The Palestinian prisoners are again in the spotlight after Hamas captured more than 100 Israelis in the past two days, some of whom are military and police personnel, including high-ranking officers.

Marwan Barghouti
File photo of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti taken in May 2004. REUTERS - Reuters Photographer

 

While Hamas insists that they will only accept the release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, negotiations are underway for a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, primarily focused on releasing Israeli women and elderly individuals in exchange for Palestinian children and women.

What do we know about the prisoners in Israeli jails?
 

Since 1967, Israel has detained approximately one million Palestinians in the occupied territories, including tens of thousands of children. Currently, there are 5,000 Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons. Among them, 160 children and around 1,100 detainees are held without charge or trial, according to a UN report

Many of these prisoners have been convicted through processes that involve violations of international law, such as discrimination, persecution, and breaches of due process, often for mundane activities and the exercise of legitimate civil and political rights. This arbitrary deprivation of liberty forms an integral part of the subjugation of Palestinians.

According to Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli confinement was 5200 in September, among them 33 women and 170 children. The breakdown of prisoners includes 1,264 administrative detainees, 150 from the 1948 territories, 300 from Jerusalem, 200 from Gaza, four members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, 22 prisoners detained before the Oslo Accords, 559 serving life sentences, and 472 serving sentences longer than 20 years, the NGO established in 1991 documents.

Furthermore, the Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine has reported cases of medical negligence within detention facilities, causing the suffering of approximately 700 Palestinian prisoners, including 24 individuals diagnosed with cancer.  

What is administrative detention?
 

Administrative detention is a process employed by Israeli occupation forces to indefinitely detain individuals based on classified information without filing formal charges or granting them the right to a fair trial. Neither the detainee nor their legal counsel can access the confidential information or evidence used against them. Furthermore, these administrative detention orders can be extended without limit. Initially, a court issues an administrative detention order for a maximum of six months, but it can be renewed. 

Administrative detention is intrinsically tied to the political dynamics in occupied Palestine, and it is used as both a punitive measure and a political tool reflecting the official Israeli policy against Palestinians. Despite international law prohibiting the widespread and systematic use of administrative detention, Israel continues to utilize it as a method of collective punishment against Palestinians.

Administrative detention orders have been imposed on various segments of Palestinian society, including human rights activists, university students, lawyers, mothers of detainees, and businesspeople.

Administrative detention has been applied to Palestinians since the onset of the Israeli Occupation in 1967 and even earlier during the British Mandate. Although the number of administrative detainees has fluctuated over time, it increased significantly during the second intifada in September 2000. According to Amnesty International, administrative detentions of Palestinians hit a 14-year high in 2022/2023.

Why are there children in Israeli prisons?
 

Children under 18 from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted through Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated, and detained by the Israeli army. One of the most common charges against children is stone-throwing, a crime punishable under military law by up to 20 years in prison. There are no special interrogation procedures for children detained by the Israeli military, and there are no provisions for an attorney or even a family member to be present during their interrogations. Most children report experiencing ill-treatment, including physical and verbal abuse and forced confessions during interrogations. Despite recommendations from the UN Committee against Torture in May 2009 to video record interrogations, such provisions have not been implemented.

Who are the most famous detainees in Israeli prisons?
 

Israeli prisons house detainees from various Palestinian factions. One of the most prominent figures is Marwan Barghouti from Fatah. Barghouti was arrested in 2002 for his significant role in the second intifada. Despite serving five life sentences, Barghouti continues to wield considerable influence even from his prison cell. During negotiations for exchanging Palestinian prisoners for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Hamas insisted on including Barghouti in the deal, but Israel was unwilling to agree to that demand.

There is also Ahmad Saadat, the Secretary-General of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Saadat, who was arrested in 2006, is currently serving a 30-year sentence for his role in the assassination of Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.

Kayed al-Fasfous is a 34-year-old Palestinian man on an open-ended hunger strike since August 3, 2023, to protest his administrative detention without charge or trial. He is a former prisoner who had spent approximately seven years in Israeli prisons.

Al-Fasfous was arrested on May 2, 2023, and placed under administrative detention. He has not been charged with any crime, and the Israeli authorities have not disclosed the evidence against him.

His hunger strike has sparked international concern, with human rights groups and international governments calling for his release. The Palestinian Prisoner's Society (PPS) said that al-Fasfous's health condition is deteriorating rapidly and that he may die.

On October 4, 2023, hundreds of Palestinian administrative detainees held in Israeli jails carried out a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with al-Fasfous. 

What is the most famous prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel?
 

The Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, signed on October 11, 2011, was a historic deal between Israel and Hamas. Shalit's captivity was marked by isolation and uncertainty about his condition, causing immense anxiety for the Israeli side.

In the exchange, Israel agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit's freedom. Shalit was freed on October 18, 2011.

Hamas's negotiating team was led by Khaled Meshaal, the group's exiled political leader, and the negotiations were held through several intermediaries, including Egypt, Germany, and Qatar.

What are the latest measures taken by the Israeli government against Palestinian prisoners?
 

The Israeli government has recently implemented measures against Palestinian prisoners that elicited condemnation from human rights groups and international bodies.

Last September, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir reduced family visits for Palestinian security prisoners from once a month to once every two months.

In addition to limiting family visits, additional steps were taken, including extending solitary confinement for longer durations and minor infractions, reducing the types of shampoo available to inmates, restricting access to some television channels, and cutting back on time allowed for prisoners to walk in the prison yard and move from one prison to another.

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