July 5, 2009

 Marking 40 Years of Occupation

Prisoners: The Hidden Faces of the Occupation

peace signs through the bars

Key Facts & Figures


# of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons


# of Palestinians detained in 2006


# of Palestinians detained in 2005


# of Palestinian prisoners sentenced by Israeli military tribunals

4,430 (43%)

# of Palestinian prisoners who have not undergone trial

4,575 (44%)

# of Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention

950 (9%)

# of Palestinian children being held in Israel prisons


# of Palestinian women being held in Israeli prisons


# of members of the Palestinian legislative Council being held in Israeli prisons


# of Palestinians who have died in prison since 1967


% of Palestinians reporting having being subjected to various forms of torture whilst in Israeli prisons


# of Palestinians assassinated following their arrest


# of Palestinians who have spent more than 25 years in Israeli prisons


Background: Palestinian Prisoners in Israeli Detention

arrest at huwarra checkpoint

10,400 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel.[1] This forms just over 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), making Palestinians the population most subjected to incarceration in the world.[2]  As the majority of those detained are male, the number of Palestinians detained forms approximately 40% of the total male Palestinian population in the OPT.  As such, “hardly a family in Palestine has […] been untouched by the Israeli prison system.”[3]

As of 17 April 2006, more than 45,000 Palestinians had been arrested since 28 September 2000 when the second Intifada began.[4]

Of the 10,400 Palestinians currently in Israeli detention:

–         86% are from the West Bank


palestinian prisoner

7% Gaza Strip

–         7% from Jerusalem

The arrest and detention of Palestinians living within the OPT is governed by a wide-ranging set of military regulations that pervade every aspect of Palestinian civilian life. There are approximately 1,500 military regulations governing the West Bank and over 1,400 governing the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military commander of the region issues military orders, and the issuance of new orders often remains unknown and only becomes apparent when they are implemented, as the military commander may issue new military regulations at any moment.[5]

Palestinians are tried within Israeli military courts located within Israeli military centres in the OPT. These military tribunals are presided over by a panel of three judges appointed by the military, two of whom often do not have any legal training or background. These tribunals rarely fall within the required international standards of fair trial.[6]

Prisons and Detention Camps

IDF soldier waits next to blindfolded Palestinian

There are approximately 24 Israeli detention centres in which Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli custody, run between the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) the Israeli military.  Most of these are located within the 1948 borders of Israel, while some lie inside the OPT.  Palestinians from the OPT can be held in Israel in:

–         5 interrogation centres

–         7 detention/holding centres

–         3 military detention camps

–         9 prisons

The location of prisons within Israel and the transfer of detainees to locations within the occupying power’s territory are illegal under international law and constitute a war crime.  Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly states that “Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein”.[7] There are only two military detention centres and one military detention camp located within the OPT.

As a result of an arbitrary permit system which governs Palestinians movement within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, and to and from the 1948 borders of Israel, family visits to detainees are often not possible, extremely infrequent, or impossible. Since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000, family visits have been prevented as virtually no permits have been issued to families from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Under Israeli military regulations, a Palestinian can be detained for up to 12 days without the Israeli military informing the detainee of the reason for his/her arrest and without being brought before a judge. Between April and June 2002, this period of time was increased to 18 days by Israeli Military Order 1500. Following or during the 12 days of detention, a detainee is sent to an interrogation centre, charged with an offence, given an administrative detention order, or released.

Interrogation and Torture

My friend, ashraf, before they shot him in the leg for no reason

69 Palestinians have died as a result of torture whilst under Israeli detention since 1967

Israel continues to practice torture and other forms of mistreatment against Palestinian detainees including severe beatings, being tied in painful and contorted positions for long periods of time, psychological abuse, long periods of solitary confinement, and pressure to collaborate with the Israeli military.[8] 

 A Palestinian detainee can be interrogated for a total period of 180 days, during which he/she can also be denied lawyer visits for a period of 90 days. During the interrogation period, a detainee is often subjected to some form of torture ranging in extremity, whether physical or psychological. The use of practices that constitute torture during interrogation was legalised within the Israeli judicial system by a ruling on 6 September 1999[9] and permitted in individual cases in which the General Security Service deems a detainee a threat to state security or a ‘ticking bomb’. 

evidence of torture

 Up to 183 Palestinian detainees have died while in custody as a result of torture since 1967:

 –         72 assassinated following their arrest

–         69 died due to torture whilst in detention

–         42 died as a result of medical negligence[10]

 60 Palestinians have died while in custody since the beginning of the second Intifada on 28 September 2000, 48 of whom were assassinated following their arrest.[11]

 95% of Palestinian detainees have reported being subjected to forms of torture:

 –         60% were placed in the ‘freezer’.

–         89% were subjected to the ‘shabeh’ torture position.

–         42% were held in standing positions for a prolonged period of time, often lasting several consecutive days.

 Confessions extracted through torture are admissible in Israeli court.

 Administrative Detention

behind the bars

 950 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

 Administrative detention, which is arrest without charge or trial, has been used as a form of collective punishment by the Israeli military against Palestinians, and is illegal in this form under international law. During the period of March 2002 to October 2002 for example, the Israeli military arrested over 15,000 Palestinians during mass arrest campaigns, rounding up males in cities and villages between the ages of 15 to 45. In October 2002, there were over 1,050 Palestinians in administrative detention.

 Administrative detention is indefinitely renewable under military regulations. A detainee may be given an administrative detention order for a period of between 1–6 months, after which the order may be renewed. Administrative detention is based on secret evidence brought forward during military tribunals, to which neither the detainee nor his/her lawyer have access to. One of the longest Palestinian administrative detainees remained in custody for over 8 years, without ever being charged.

women holding picture of their son in prison

 Over the years, Israel has held Palestinians in prolonged detention without trying them and without informing them of the suspicions against them.  In many cases, Palestinians are detained for their political opinions, non-violent political activity or work with civil society.  While detainees may appeal the detention, neither they nor their attorneys are allowed to see the evidence. Israel has therefore made a charade out of the entire system of procedural safeguards in both domestic and international law regarding the right to liberty and due process.[12]


child arrests by IDF

 376 Palestinian children under the age of 18 are currently being held in Israeli prisons

IDF takes child from parents

 More than 5,000 Palestinian children have been arrested since the start of the second Intifada.  Under military regulations in force in the OPT, a child over the age of 16 is considered an adult, contrary to the defined age of a child as under 18 in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory. In practice, Palestinian children may be charged and sentenced in military courts beginning at the age of 12.

IDF wrestles boy

 –         Between the ages of 12-14, children can be sentenced for offences for a period of up to six months – meaning that a child accused of throwing a stone can be sent to prison for six months.

–         After the age of 14, Palestinian children are tried as adults, in violation of international law.
There are no juvenile courts and children are often held and serve their sentences in cells with criminal prisoners and are often not separated from adults, also in violation of international law.

IDF arrests child

 In a 2006 report on Palestinian child political prisoners, Defence for Children International reports that:

"Brave" IDF soldier

 In 2006, Israel continued its policy of arresting and imprisoning Palestinian children.  Some 700 Palestinian children (under 18) were arrested by Israeli soldiers over the course of the year.  Of these, around 25 children were held on administrative detention orders, imprisonment without charge or trial.  The overwhelming majority of those arrested in 2006 were boys; there were 8 girl child prisoners who served sentences at different points during the year.  Of these, 4 had been arrested.[13]


woman prisoner

118 Palestinian women are currently being held in Israeli prisons 

Photo: Addameer

Since 1967, an estimated 10,000 women have been detained by the Israeli military.  Since the beginning of the second Intifada, some 600 women have been detained.  Of these, 118 are still in detention, 5 of whom are less than 18 years of age, and 3 of whom have given birth in prison.

blindfolded women

Most Palestinian women political prisoners were previously housed with the general Israeli prison population in Neve Terze prison where drug addicts, prostitutes, and other hardened prisoners were held. After hunger strikes, most were transferred to Tel Mond prison. Some, however, including several administrative detainees, remain incarcerated at Neve Terze.

A few Palestinian women are raising very young children in prison.  For most others, contact visits with children and other family members are permitted once every six months.  However, as a condition for the visits, women are required to submit to full body searches in the nude. This is a condition most have rejected.

Prison guards have stormed Palestinian women prisoners’ cells, and searched and confiscated their personal effects without reason, beating the women prisoners in the process. Denial of medical services has been used to punish those who protest the conditions of their incarceration.

 Prison Conditions

woman with picture of her son in prison

 42 Palestinians have died as a result of medical negligence whilst in Israeli detention since 1967

 Prison conditions in Israeli military detention camps are often inhumane. Detainees are held in overcrowded prison tents that are often threadbare and do not provide for adequate shelter against extreme weather. Prisoners are not provided adequate food rations, neither in quantity nor quality, nor provided with clean clothes or adequate cleaning supplies. Many of the detainees currently being held in military detention camps were injured during their arrests and have not been provided with the necessary medical attention.

 Up to 42 Palestinian prisoners have died while in Israeli detention since 1967 due to medical negligence.  Currently, an estimated 1,000 are suffering from chronic diseases, while 200 are suffering from serious health conditions.

 Access to Lawyers

Woman with picture of her son in prison

 Palestinian lawyers from the OPT are not permitted any special travel privileges in order to defend their clients. They are subjected to the same travel restrictions as all Palestinians in the OPT. Those lawyers who are able to access their clients are often subjected to strip searches and humiliating treatment when visiting their clients.

What International Law says about Prisoners

line of blindfolded palestinians

Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949[15]

Article 49

Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons[16] from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.

Article 71

No sentence shall be pronounced by the competent courts of the Occupying Power except after a regular trial.

Accused persons who are prosecuted by the Occupying Power shall be promptly informed, in writing, in a language which they understand, of the particulars of the charges preferred against them, and shall be brought to trial as rapidly as possible.

Article 76

Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein. They shall, if possible, be separated from other detainees and shall enjoy conditions of food and hygiene which will be sufficient to keep them in good health, and which will be at least equal to those obtaining in prisons in the occupied country.

They shall receive the medical attention required by their state of health. They shall also have the right to receive any spiritual assistance which they may require.

Women shall be confined in separate quarters and shall be under the direct supervision of women.

Proper regard shall be paid to the special treatment due to minors.

Protected persons who are detained shall have the right to be visited by delegates of the Protecting Power and of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in accordance with the provisions of Article 143.

Article 85

The Detaining Power is bound to take all necessary and possible measures to ensure that protected persons shall, from the outset of their internment, be accommodated in buildings or quarters which afford every possible safeguard as regards hygiene and health, and provide efficient protection against the rigours of the climate and the effects of the war. In no case shall permanent places of internment be situated in unhealthy areas or in districts the climate of which is injurious to the internees. In all cases where the district, in which a protected person is temporarily interned, is in an unhealthy area or has a climate which is harmful to his health, he shall be removed to a more suitable place of internment as rapidly as circumstances permit.


Israeli border policemen detain Palestinian youths during an military raid on the West Bank city of Nablus, 26 February 2007 (REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini) 

The premises shall be fully protected from dampness, adequately heated and lighted, in particular between dusk and lights out. The sleeping quarters shall be sufficiently spacious and well ventilated, and the internees shall have suitable bedding and sufficient blankets, account being taken of the climate, and the age, sex, and state of health of the internees.

Internees shall have for their use, day and night, sanitary conveniences which conform to the rules of hygiene and are constantly maintained in a state of cleanliness. They shall be provided with sufficient water and soap for their daily personal toilet and for washing their personal laundry; installations and facilities necessary for this purpose shall be granted to them.

Showers or baths shall also be available. The necessary time shall be set aside for washing and for cleaning.

Whenever it is necessary, as an exceptional and temporary measure, to accommodate women internees who are not members of a family unit in the same place of internment as men, the provision of separate sleeping quarters and sanitary conveniences for the use of such women internees shall be obligatory.

Palestinian man released, hugs his children


[1] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).  16 April 2007.  Press Release on the Occasion of Palestinian Prisoners Day.  http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/e-Prisoners_Day2007.pdf.

[2] Institute for Middle east Understanding (IMEU).  23 August 2006.  FAQ on Palestinian Prisoners.  http://www.imeu.net/news/article002597.shtml

[3] Professor John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, in his report to the Human Rights Council on 29 January 2007.  http://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/b59fe224d4a4587d8525728b00697daa?OpenDocument

[4] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).  16 April 2007.  Press Release on the Occasion of Palestinian Prisoners Day.  http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/e-Prisoners_Day2007.pdf.

[5] ADDAMEER.  http://www.addameer.org/resources/reports/factsheet.html.  16 April 2007.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War Adopted on 12 August 1949.  http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/92.htm.  

[8] Addameer & Sumoud.  June 2004.  Status of Palestinian Political Prisoners In Israeli Prisons, Detention and Interrogation Centres.  http://www.addameer.org/resources/reports/addameerSumoud.html

[9] Supreme Court Judgment Concerning the Legality of the GSS- Interrogation Methods, 6 September 1999.  The text of the ruling can be read at http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Law/Legal%20Issues%20and%20Rulings/Supreme%20Court%20Judgment%20Concerning%20the%20Legality%20of

[10] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).  16 April 2007.  Press Release on the Occasion of Palestinian Prisoners Day.  http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/e-Prisoners_Day2007.pdf.

[11] Ibid.

[12] B’Tselem.  Administrative Detention.  http://www.btselem.org/English/Administrative%5FDetention/.  16 April 2007.

[13] DCI – Palestine Section.  4 March 2007.  Palestinian Child Political Prisoners 2006 Report.  http://www.dci-pal.org/english/doc/Reports/2007/ChildPrisoners2006.doc

[14] Information on women prisoners has been drawn from the following sources:

Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).  16 April 2007.  Press Release on the Occasion of Palestinian Prisoners Day.  http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/e-Prisoners_Day2007.pdf.

Women’s Organization for Political Prisoners (WOFPP).  April 2006 Newsletter.  http://www.wofpp.org/english/april.html.

Institute for Middle east Understanding (IMEU).  23 August 2006.  FAQ on Palestinian Prisoners.  http://www.imeu.net/news/article002597.shtml

Sumoud.  March 2005.  Factsheet No. 5: Palestinian Women Prisoners.  http://fr.freeshell.org/sumoud/pdf/tour/facsheet.women.5.pdf.

[15] Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War Adopted on 12 August 1949.  http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/92.htm.  

[16] Under Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, protected persons are defined as “those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.”  http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/92.htm


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