Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel

Overview: On 17 April 2006, Palestinians in the Occupied Territory marked Palestinian Prisoners Day with rallies and protests in solidarity with the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, an annual commemoration that began 1974. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 9,400 Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons. The number includes 369 Palestinians who were jailed before the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, which was meant to start a new chapter in Palestinian-Israeli relations.

The Numbers

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 40,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the start of the September 2000 Al-Aqsa intifada. Currently 9,400 Palestinians remain jailed in 30 prisons throughout Israel.

Of the total number of prisoners, 555 Palestinians (approx. 6 percent) were arrested before the start of the intifada; 186 were arrested after the Oslo Accords but before the intifada; 369 remain in prison since before the 1993 Peace Process. Seven prisoners have spent more than 25 years in jail; 421 have been in jail for more than ten years.

Between February 2005 and March 2006, after the so-called “calm period” was announced, Israel arrested 4,000 Palestinians. During that same period, Israel also detained hundreds of students for several hours or for a few days at checkpoints and detention centers.

Approximately 500 Palestinian women were arrested during the intifada of whom 120 remain in jail. Five of the women are under the age of 18. Sixteen are mothers. The majority of the female prisoners (110) reside in the West Bank. Six are from Jerusalem and four are from the Gaza Strip. Women make up 1.3 percent of the total Palestinian political prisoner population.

The Bureau found that since the start of the intifada, more than 4,000 Palestinian children have been arrested. Currently, 330 children are held by Israel. According to the Bureau, 70 children are ill due to the lack of basic medical attention. The majority (309) of the incarcerated children are from the West Bank. Children make up 3.5 percent of Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel.

According to Israeli military orders, Palestinian children age 16 and older are treated as adults and are tried and sentenced by Israeli military courts as adults. Israeli military orders are applied to Palestinian children, even as juvenile legislation defines Israeli children as age 18 or younger.

Furthermore, Palestinian children receive the same treatment as adult prisoners. They are subject to torture, solitary confinement and/or overcrowded cells. They are deprived of sleep, adequate education, medical treatment, family visits and recreational programs.

Defense for Children International and Save the Children have stated that Palestinian children are being "physically and mentally abused." They confirm Palestinian accusations that children are denied access to their families and legal representation during interrogation and are held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

According to the Mandela Institute for Human Rights, 855 Palestinians are being held in administrative detention. Israeli law allows its military to hold Palestinians under administrative detention for up to six months without charge or trial. Israel routinely renews the detention orders and may do so without limitation, thereby holding Palestinians indefinitely without charge or trial. Mandela has documented 117 Palestinians who are held solitary confinement.

In the 2006 Palestinian legislative election, 13 Palestinian political prisoners were elected to the Palestinian Parliament in absentia. The two most well-known jailed Palestinian lawmakers are Marwan Barghouthi, the popular leader of the Fateh party, and Ahmed Saadat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In March 2006, Israel kidnapped Saadat from a Palestinian prison under U.S. and British supervision in Jericho and moved him to Israel for a retrial.

According to an official in the Palestinian Ministry of the Interior, there are 80 Palestinian political prisoners in Palestinian jails.

Deaths in Detention

Since September 2000, 60 prisoners have died while in Israeli custody. According to the Bureau of Statistics, 48 of the 60 were killed immediately after their arrest. The Bureau found that since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, 183 prisoners have been killed while in Israeli custody due to torture, assassination or lack of medical attention.

In its 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the U.S. Department of State reported that "some" members of Israel’s security forces abuse Palestinian detainees. However, according to the Israeli Human Rights group B’Tselem, in Israel, "for years, torture was commonly used by Israel’s General Security Service [GSS] interrogators. Since 1987, the GSS interrogated at least 850 Palestinians a year by means of torture. The methods included violent shaking, binding the detainees in painful positions, and covering their head with a foul-smelling sack. All governmental authorities–”from the Israeli army to the Supreme Court–”took part in approving torture, in developing new methods, and in supervising them."

In 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that only "some" methods of interrogation used against Palestinian detainees were illegal and unacceptable. By not fully banning torture, the Israeli Supreme Court has legally condoned some forms of torture, which is in violation of international law. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) provide that no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This principle was ratified by the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Israel insists that it will not release Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis. However, in most cases, Israeli courts fail to prove a detainee’s direct responsibility for the death of Israelis.

According to B’Tselem, "Security is interpreted in an extremely broad manner such that non-violent speech and political activity are considered dangerous…. [This] is a blatant contradiction of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of opinion guaranteed under international law. If these same standards were applied inside Israel, half of the Likud party would be in administrative detention."