Number of Palestinians in Detention Without Trial in Israel Hits 5-year High

There are currently 579 Palestinians in administrative detention and over the past month 19 detention orders were issued against Israeli citizens, 2 of whom are Jewish

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
Israel's Ofer Prison, located in the West Bank, in 2019.
Israel's Ofer Prison, located in the West Bank, in 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

The number of Palestinians in administrative detention – detention without trial – in Israel reached a five-and-a-half year high over the weekend.

According to data supplied by the Israel Prison Service to Haaretz, there are currently 579 Palestinians in administrative detention.

This is the highest figure since October 2016, when the estimated figure was 610, according to prison service statistics provided to the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual. The Israeli military and the Shin Bet security service justify administrative detention as being necessary to thwart terror attacks.

By comparing the data provided to Haaretz and the statistics obtained by Hamoked, it appears that between March and April of this year, the number of administrative detainees increased by 109. The last time that such a leap was recorded was between May and July of last year – amid the war between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza and widespread riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities. Despite the increase then, the absolute number of administrative detainees was lower than it is now.

In addition to Palestinians under detention without trial, 19 administrative detention orders were issued against Israeli citizens over the past month, 17 of whom are Arab and the other two Jewish. The past month saw a number of terrorist attacks in Israel, some carried out by Arabs with Israeli citizenship who identified with the Islamic State.

Most administrative detention orders are issued for periods of between three and six months, but they can be extended without limitation. The orders are issued without filing charges following the approval of the commander of the Israeli army’s Central Command. The prisoner’s lawyer receives a “paraphrased” explanation of the reasons for the order based on a few sentences describing the grounds for the detention in general terms.

In January, administrative detainees began boycotting court hearings in protest of their detentions – after the Palestinian prisoner administration in Ramallah announced a month earlier that the prisoners and their lawyers would boycott the hearings in which their detention orders are approved. Lawyers have reported that the boycott has not had an impact on the rulings or on detention orders. Attorney Jamil Sa’ada of the Palestinian prisoner administration quipped that it has only made things easier for the courts.

Since the protest, Sa’ada claims the court clerk’s office has also begun requiring that lawyers representing administrative detainees provide a power of attorney document from their clients if they are to obtain court decisions on their client’s detention.

Another lawyer, Bilal Sbihat, who represents administrative detainees before Israel’s High Court of Justice, said that there are currently no petitions being filed with the High Court on such cases – in the absence of prior hearings in military court, there is no basis for the filing of a High Court petition.

“We condemn the wholesale use of administrative detention for Palestinians from the occupied territories, a detention that can be endlessly extended without a trial or effective judicial oversight,” Hamoked executive director Jessica Montell said. “We need to immediately release all of the administrative detainees or file charges against them.”

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