Since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). This number constitutes approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the oPt and as much as 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population. It also includes approximately 10,000 women jailed since 1967, as well as 8,000 Palestinian children arrested since 2000.
As of 1 of December the number of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees is 5,033, spread around 17 prisons, four interrogation centers and four detention centers. All but one of the prisons are located inside Israel, in direct contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an Occupying Power must detain residents of occupied territory in prisons inside the occupied territory. The practical consequence of this system is that many prisoners have difficulty meeting with Palestinian defense counsel and do not receive family visits as their relatives are denied permits to enter Israel on “security grounds”. Out of the total number of political prisoners detained in Israel, 16 are female and 173 are children (16 of whom are from the age of 16). This figure also includes 14 Palestinian Legislative Council members, 145 administrative detainees, held without charge or trial and 395 prisoners from the Gaza Strip who until relatively recently were largely denied access to family visits since June 2007.
The arrest and detention of Palestinians living in the oPt is governed by a wide-ranging set of military regulations that govern every aspect of Palestinian civilian life. These military orders provide for a wide range of offenses divided into five categories: “Hostile Terrorist Activity”; disturbance of public order; “classic” criminal offenses; illegal presence in Israel; and traffic offenses committed in the oPt. The practical implication of these broadly-defined offenses is the criminalization of many aspects of Palestinian civic life. For example, the political parties that comprise the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are still considered “illegal organizations” even though Israel has been engaged in peace negotiations with the PLO since 1993. Carrying a Palestinian flag is also a crime under Israeli military regulations. Participation in a demonstration is deemed a disruption of public order. Pouring coffee for a member of a declared illegal association can be seen as support for a terrorist organization.
Interrogation, torture and ill-treatment
A Palestinian detainee can be interrogated for a total period of 90 days, during which he/she can also be denied lawyer visits for a period of 60 days. During the interrogation period, a detainee is often subjected to some form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, whether physical or psychological, and ranging in extremity.
The forms of torture and ill treatment employed against Palestinian prisoners include the following: beatings, tying prisoners in “stress positions”, interrogation sessions that last up to 12 consecutive hours, depriving prisoners of sleep and other sensory deprivation, isolation and solitary confinement, and threats against the lives of their relatives.
Palestinians from the West Bank who are arrested by the Israeli military and charged with security violations (as defined by Israel) and other crimes are prosecuted by two Israeli military courts located in Ofer and Salem in the oPt. Not all Palestinians who are arrested are prosecuted in the military courts; some are released while others are administratively detained without trial (see administrative detention below). Of those who are charged, approximately 99 percent are convicted, and of these convictions, the vast majority is the result of plea bargains.
Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold detainees indefinitely on “secret information” without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. In the occupied Palestinian West Bank, the Israeli army is authorized to issue administrative detention orders against Palestinian civilians on the basis of Military Order 1651 (Art. 285). This order empowers military commanders to detain an individual for up to six-month renewable periods if they have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” On or just before the expiry date, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can be continued indefinitely. As of 1 December 2013, there were approximately 145 Palestinians held in administrative detention by Israel including 10 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
One practice utilized routinely by Israel that combines physical and mental abuse is isolation. Every year, dozens of Palestinian prisoners and detainees are held in isolation, for reasons of state, prison or the prisoners’ security. Approximately 58 prisoners are currently held in isolation out of personal choice or for health and other reasons. An unknown number of prisoners are presently held in solitary confinement. Isolation can be ordered by the courts, and by security authorities such as the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), but is most frequently levied by prison officials. The length of time in isolation that prison officials may order can extend from 12 hours to up to longer periods of six to 12 months, with court approval. The courts may order that a prisoner be isolated for up to 12-month renewable periods, and the ISA may order isolation for similar periods when citing security concerns.
Prisoners held in isolation are held in a cell alone or with one other prisoner for 23 hours a day and are only allowed to leave their cell for a daily one-hour solitary walk. Isolation cells in the various Israeli prisons are similar in size—typically from 1.5 by 2 meters to 3 by 3.5 meters. Each cell usually has one window measuring about 50 cm by 100 cm, which in most cases does not allow in sufficient light or air from the outside.
Israeli authorities responsible for prisoners regularly neglect their duties to provide medical support for Palestinian prisoners in their care, as required by the Geneva Conventions. Medical problems are widespread, and range in severity from chest infections and diarrhea to heart problems and kidney failure. Treatment is often inadequate and is delivered after substantial delays. Often medication is limited to over-the-counter pain killers.
Denial of Family Visits
Family visits are routinely, and often arbitrarily, restricted or cancelled. Moreover, many Arab-Israeli, West Bank prisoners and Gaza prisoners are denied their visitation rights completely. This is in complete contradiction with Israel’s responsibility, as the Occupying Power, under international law. The right to family visits is an entrenched right in international law, expressly provided for in the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, the European Prison Rules, and, in relation to child detainees, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Israel detains Palestinians from the oPt in detention centers outside 1967 occupied territory. This practice is illegal under international law and poses significant challenges to Palestinian prisoners’ ability to receive family visits as they must acquire permits to enter Israel in order to visit their relatives in prison.
As of 1 December 2013, there were 16 female Palestinian prisoners held by the IPS in Hasharon prison in northern Israel. Female prisoners are also often held in Damon prison, and in interrogation centers throughout Israel.
Both Damon and Hasharon prisons lack gender-sensitive approaches. This is to the detriment of female Palestinian prisoners’ health and hygiene. A study conducted by Addameer in September 2008 revealed that approximately 38% of Palestinian female prisoners suffer from treatable diseases that go untreated. For instance, those suffering from diseases such as asthma, diabetes, kidney and eye diseases, sickle cell anemia, cancer, and seizures have little to no access to medical services. Long delays in providing substandard medical treatment are typical. Although all prisons include a medical clinic, physicians are on duty irregularly and specialized medical healthcare is generally unavailable.
Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children under the age of 18 are prosecuted through Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army.
As of 1 December 2013, there were 173 children held in prisons by Israel. Of these, 16 are under the age of 16, a policy that is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which defines a ‘child’ as “every human being below the age of eighteen.” The policy is also duplicitous since Israel’s own civilian court system (applying to Israeli citizens) defines the age of legal majority as 18, whereas the age of majority in military legislation prior to 27 September 2011 was 16 (applying to Palestinians). On that date, OC Central Command signed an amendment to raise the age of Palestinian minors in the military court system from 16 to 18 years. However, the amendment also contains a variety of stipulations that will not necessarily provide Palestinian minors with increased protection under the law, including a provision that states that minors over the age of 16 may still be held in detention with adults, which is contradictory to the requirements of international law. Furthermore, children are still sentenced on the basis of their age at sentencing rather than when they committed the offense, again in contradiction to the sentencing policy of Israel’s civilian courts when dealing with Israeli citizens, who are sentenced according to age when the alleged offence was committed.
Human Rights Defenders
In light of Israel’s non-compliance with the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the construction of the Annexation Wall issued on 9 July 2004, Palestinians in villages affected by the Wall have adopted a number of strategies to oppose its constructionand Israeli land annexation, including petitions to the Israeli High Court of Justice, non-violent resistance and weekly demonstrations, and increased international advocacy efforts. In response to these strategies, Israel has adopted a policy of arrest, detention, intimidation, threats and, at times, collective punishment. Leading Palestinian human rights activists, prominent figures, such as mayors and teachers, and members of the Popular Committees, who are instrumental in coordinating weekly protests and advocacy efforts including legal cases, are often personally targeted and arrested in an attempt to sideline them from organizing the protests, or to discredit them and their efforts. Local cameramen and photographers, as well as members of the press, are also targeted.
Palestinian Legislative Council Members
Although according to international law and Israeli courts no one can be detained for their political opinions, in practice Palestinian political leaders are routinely arrested and detained as part of an ongoing Israeli effort to suppress Palestinian political processes – and, as a necessary result, political sovereignty and self-determination.
In recent years, this process has focused particularly on members of the PLC. Following the capture of an Israeli soldier on 25 June 2006 by Hamas at the Kerem Shalom Crossing on the Gaza Strip border, Israeli forces seized dozens of leaders and activists associated with Hamas in coordinated raids across the West Bank, including PLC members. The latter were either placed in administrative detention or charged with offenses based on their membership of the “Change and Reform List”, which the Israeli authorities allege is affiliated with Hamas, an illegal party according to Israeli military legislation.