Israel/OPT: surge in arbitrary detention of West Bank Palestinians, with torture rife
Israeli authorities currently holding more than 2,000 Palestinians without charge or trial
Mounting evidence of torture, with detainees stripped, beaten and humiliated
Some detainees made to sing Israeli songs, and to praise Israel and curse Hamas
‘Administrative detention is one of the key tools through which Israel has enforced its system of apartheid against Palestinians’ - Heba Morayef
The Israeli authorities have dramatically increased their use of the arbitrary administrative detention of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, said Amnesty International today.
They’ve also extended emergency measures that facilitate inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, and failed to investigate incidents of torture and death in custody during the past four weeks.
Since 7 October, the Israeli authorities have detained more than 2,200 Palestinian men and women, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club. And according to Israeli human rights organisation HaMoked, between 1 October and 1 November, the overall number of Palestinians held - without charge or trial - in administrative detention has risen from 1,319 to 2,070.
There have been numerous reports of torture. Amnesty has for decades documented widespread torture by the Israeli authorities in places of detention across the West Bank. However, over the past four weeks videos and images widely shared online show gruesome scenes of Israeli soldiers beating and humiliating Palestinians while detaining them blindfolded, stripped and with their hands tied in a particularly chilling public display of torture and humiliation of Palestinian detainees.
Amnesty researchers interviewed 12 people, including six released detainees, three relatives of detainees and three lawyers working on recent arrests. Researchers also reviewed testimony shared by other released detainees and analysed video footage and images.
The mounting evidence points to multiple incidents of the severe beating and humiliation of detainees - including by forcing them to keep their heads down, to kneel on the floor during inmate counts, and to sing Israeli songs. In one image analysed by Amnesty, three Palestinian men - blindfolded and stripped of their clothes - can be seen beside a soldier wearing a green olive uniform such as those worn by Israeli ground forces. A Haaretz investigation published on 19 October found that the image was taken in Wadi al-Seeq, a village east of Ramallah, on 12 October.
One of the three victims shown in the photograph told Amnesty that he’d initially been held and beaten by settlers but two hours later an Israeli military jeep arrived. He said:
“One of the Israeli officers who came, approached me and kicked me on my left side, then jumped on my head with his two legs pushing my face further into the dirt and then continued kicking me as I was head down, into the dirt, with my hands tied behind my back. He then got a knife and tore all of my clothes off except for my underwear and used part of my torn clothes to blindfold me. The beating to the rest of my body did not stop, at one point he started jumping on my back - three or four times - while yelling ‘die, die you trash’ … in the end before this finally stopped, another officer urinated on my face and body while also yelling at us ‘to die’.”
Amnesty also spoke to two women who were arbitrarily detained for 14 hours at a police station in occupied East Jerusalem where they were humiliated, strip-searched, mocked and asked to curse Hamas. They were later released without charge.
In a video first published on social media on 31 October and analysed by Amnesty, nine detained men, who based on identifiable accents are Palestinian, can be seen, some stripped naked and others half-naked, blindfolded and handcuffed, surrounded by at least 12 soldiers wearing olive green uniforms and equipped with either M4A1 or Tavor X95 assault rifles. The uniforms and weapons are standard-issue equipment for Israeli ground forces. One soldier is seen kicking a detainee in the head. Another video uploaded to platform X on 31 October and analysed by Amnesty, shows a blindfolded person - likely to be a Palestinian - along with an Israeli army sergeant mocking the prisoner and dancing around him.
A recently-released Palestinian detainee from occupied East Jerusalem who spoke to Amnesty on condition of anonymity, described how Israeli interrogators subjected him and other detainees at the Russian Compound (al-Maskoubiyeh), a detention centre in Jerusalem, to severe beatings which left him with multiple bruises and three broken ribs. He said Israeli police interrogators beat them continuously about their heads, shouting at them to always keep their heads down while ordering them to “praise Israel and curse Hamas”.
Under international law, torture and other ill-treatment committed against protected persons in an occupied territory is a war crime. The detention of protected persons outside the occupied territory, as is the case with prisoners from the occupied Palestinian Territories being held in Israel, is also a violation of international humanitarian law as it amounts to forcible transfer.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:
“Over the last month we have witnessed a significant spike in Israel’s use of administrative detention - detention without charge or trial that can be renewed indefinitely - which was already at a 20-year high before the latest escalation in hostilities on 7 October.
“Administrative detention is one of the key tools through which Israel has enforced its system of apartheid against Palestinians.
“Testimonies and video evidence also point to numerous incidents of torture and other ill-treatment by Israeli forces, including severe beatings and deliberate humiliation of Palestinians who are detained in dire conditions.
“The summary killings and hostage-taking by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October are war crimes and must be condemned as such, but the Israeli authorities must not use these attacks to justify their own unlawful attacks and collective punishment of civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip and the use of torture, arbitrary detention and other violations of the rights of Palestinian prisoners.
“The Israeli authorities must immediately reverse the inhumane emergency measures imposed on Palestinian prisoners and grant them immediate access to their lawyers and families. All Palestinians arbitrarily detained must be released.
“We urge Israel to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct urgent visits to prisons and detention facilities, and to monitor conditions for Palestinian detainees.”
Deaths in custody
According to the Israeli authorities, since 7 October four Palestinian detainees have died in Israeli detention facilities in circumstances that have not yet been impartially investigated. Two of the four were workers from the Gaza Strip held incommunicado in military detention centres, whose deaths were only made public by the army after an inquiry by Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The Israeli Prison Service has told human rights group HaMoked that as of 1 November it was holding 6,809 Palestinian prisoners. On 31 October, the Israeli authorities extended by a month the “state of emergency in prisons” which grants Israel’s National Security Minister virtually unrestrained powers to deny sentenced prisoners access to visits by lawyers and family members; to hold detainees in overcrowded cells; to deny them outdoor exercise and to impose cruel collective punishment measures such as cutting off water and electricity for long hours, effectively allowing for the intensification of cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees.
The International Committee for the Red Cross has confirmed that Palestinian prisoners have been denied contact with their families and lawyers since 7 October. Sanaa Salameh, the wife of terminally-ill Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqah, told Amnesty that since 7 October neither she nor Daqqah’s lawyer has been allowed to see him or receive information about his health. “I don’t know if he is receiving the medical care he needs. I have absolutely no contact with him, I don’t even have a scrap of information to comfort me,” she told Amnesty.
Palestinian lawyer Hassan Abadi, who has been visiting at least four detainees every week since 7 October, told Amnesty that Palestinian detainees have been denied their right to outdoor exercise and that one of the forms of humiliation to which they are subjected during inmate counts is being forced to kneel on the floor. He added that detained Palestinians have had all their personal belongings confiscated and at times burned, including books, diaries, letters, clothes, food and other items. Palestinian women prisoners in al-Damon prison have had their sanitary pads confiscated by the prison authorities. According to Abadi, a client he represents told him that when she was blindfolded and detained at Kiryat Arba police station near Hebron an officer threatened her with rape.
Large increase in administrative detention during 2023
Israel’s administrative detention of Palestinians has been increasing throughout 2023, reaching 1,319 on 1 October 2023, according to HaMoked. As of 1 November, this figure had increased to more than 2,070 Palestinians held in this fashion. Palestinians classified by Israel as “security inmates” are often held without charge or trial, mostly under administrative detention orders that can be renewed indefinitely every six months. Under administrative detention, people are detained based on secret security grounds that the defendant and their lawyer cannot challenge, contrary to international law. Amnesty has found that Israel has systematically used administrative detention as a tool to persecute Palestinians, rather than as an extraordinary and selectively-used preventative measure.
The Israeli authorities have also implemented the “Unlawful Combatants” Law - a category not recognised under international law - to indefinitely hold without charge or trial at least 105 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who entered Israel during the Hamas-led attack on 7 October. It remains unclear how many of these are held in connection with the attack. The Israeli authorities have also subjected thousands of Palestinians from Gaza with permits to enter Israel, mostly workers, to another form of arbitrary detention where they were held incommunicado for at least three weeks on two military detention bases in Israel and the West Bank. Many have since been released. However, there is no transparency from the Israeli authorities concerning how many are still detained.