8.5 C
New York

What We Know About Palestinians Detained in Israel


More than 9,000 Palestinians imprisoned under Israel’s military and national security laws are being held in Israeli detention facilities, the highest figure in more than a decade, according to rights groups, who say that many of the detainees are being held without charges and have been abused while in custody.

The number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons has swelled since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza. In Gaza, Israeli troops have arrested hundreds of people in the search for fighters, the Israeli military says, while security forces in the occupied West Bank have conducted an enormous crackdown that they say is intended to root out militants.

But rights groups say that the arrests of Palestinians are often arbitrary, that the conditions in which they are held can be inhumane and that the spike in the number of reported deaths is concerning. Israel says the imprisoned Palestinians, who include avowed senior militants convicted of brutal attacks, are treated in accordance with international standards.

The detainees are a focus of one of the war’s most watched issues: negotiations for a cease-fire in Gaza. Hamas has made the release of thousands of prisoners, many of them convicted on terrorism-related charges, a condition for a cease-fire and for the exchange of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza.

According to HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group, more than 9,000 Palestinians are currently in Israeli prisons. Many were detained in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military says, where Israeli forces have conducted large raids since Oct. 7. An unknown number of Gazans are being held in military facilities.

More than 3,500 Palestinian detainees are being held without formal charges, according to HaMoked. That practice, known as administrative detention, was in place before the war, but Israel has increased its use. Before Oct. 7, about 1,300 Palestinian administrative detainees were held in Israel, according to data provided by Israel’s prison service to HaMoked.

Activists say the practice effectively annuls due process, while Israel calls it a necessary tool to detain those it says pose an imminent threat to national security. The Israeli military said it had been operating “several detention facilities” for people apprehended during the Oct. 7 attacks and the ground invasion. It said that after questioning, detainees “found to be unrelated to terrorist activity” would be returned to Gaza.

Israel says its arrest campaign has picked up senior members of organizations like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But Israeli forces have also detained children and women whose families deny their involvement in armed groups.

As of this month, an estimated 200 minors and 68 women accused of militancy are in Israeli prisons, according to Qadura Fares, a Palestinian official who heads the Ramallah-based Commission for Detainees and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs.

Imprisoned Palestinians are generally split into two groups. Palestinians from the West Bank are funneled into Israel’s civilian-run prison system, which is overseen by a person nominated by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister.

Many hundreds of Gazans have been sent to at least three detention facilities run by the Israeli military, according to Israeli officials. Those prisoners include hundreds detained during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack, as well as many others arrested in Gaza during the war. Images of those battlefield captures, in which men are often seen blindfolded and bound at the wrists, have generated international outrage.

The Sde Teiman military base is the closest known military detention site to Gaza at roughly 18 miles from the border. Information about the base is scant: Prisoners are held incommunicado, cut off from the outside world, said Tal Steiner, who directs the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a rights group.

After the war began, the Israeli government extended the time during which some detainees could be held without having access to a lawyer and being brought before a judge.

Rights groups, the United Nations’ Palestinian refugees agency and external U.N.-appointed experts known as special rapporteurs are all looking into accusations of abuse inside Israeli facilities.

An unpublished investigation by the main United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees accuses Israel of abusing hundreds of Gazans captured during the war with Hamas, according to a copy of the report reviewed by The New York Times.

UNRWA researchers gathered testimonies from released detainees who said they had been beaten, stripped, robbed, blindfolded, sexually abused and denied access to lawyers and doctors. Such treatment, the report concluded, “was used to extract information or confessions, to intimidate and humiliate and to punish.”

The report was compiled by UNRWA, the United Nations agency that is the focus of an investigation after accusations that at least 30 of its 13,000 employees in Gaza participated in the Oct. 7 attack.

The Times was unable to corroborate the entirety of the accusations in the report, but parts of it match the testimony of former Gazan detainees interviewed by The Times. Palestinian detainees from Gaza have been stripped, beaten, interrogated and held incommunicado for several weeks, according to accounts by nearly a dozen of the detainees or their relatives interviewed by The Times.

UNRWA confirmed the existence of the report but said that its wording had not been finalized for publication.

The Israeli military’s top lawyer, Maj. Gen Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, also wrote in a letter circulated among commanders in late February that her office had encountered instances of “the use of operationally unjustified force, including against detainees.” She said military justice officials would examine each instance and determine whether to press charges.

Dozens of Palestinians are believed to have died in Israeli custody since Oct. 7, according to the Israeli military and rights groups, although the circumstances of their deaths are murky and many of their identities are unknown.

The Israeli military said it was aware of the deaths of 27 Palestinians in its custody. And at least 10 Palestinians, mostly from the West Bank, died in Israel’s civilian prison system since Oct. 7, according to the official Palestinian prisoners’ commission and Israeli rights groups, including Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, whose doctors attended some of the autopsies.

“Since the beginning of the war, a number of detainees held in the detention facilities have died, including detainees who arrived at the facility with injuries or who suffered from a complex medical condition,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that military justice officials were investigating the deaths.

Israeli doctors who attended preliminary autopsies of two Palestinian prisoners from the occupied West Bank found signs of physical trauma such as multiple rib fractures on their bodies, according to postmortem reports that were shared with their families and reviewed by The Times. In both cases, the physicians were unable to establish definitively whether an assault had caused the prisoners’ deaths.

Former detainees reported incidents of sexual abuse or harassment, according to UNRWA’s unpublished report.

Some male detainees said they had been beaten on their genitals, the report said. Some women said they had experienced “inappropriate touching during searches and as a form of harassment while blindfolded,” according to the document. It added that some detainees reported having to strip in front of male soldiers during searches and being prevented from covering themselves up.

Separately, the U.N.-appointed rapporteurs said last month that they had received information that two Palestinian women were raped in Israeli detention. Others were threatened with sexual assault and strip-searched in a humiliating manner by male soldiers, they said. The rapporteurs, who are not United Nations staff members, have not made public detailed accounts, any evidence or their sources. The Times could not verify those accusations, and the Israeli government has accused the experts of bias.

“Israel forcefully rejects the despicable and unfounded claims” that the rapporteurs made, according to a statement by the country’s United Nations delegation in Geneva. It added that one of the experts had recently “legitimized the massacre of Oct. 7 in which more than 1,200 people were murdered, executed and raped, and another who publicly doubted the testimonies of Israeli victims of gender-based and sexual violence.”

Mr. Fares, the head of the Palestinian prisoner commission, said that his organization had not confirmed these reports of rape and that the rapporteurs had not shared their evidence. But he said that accounts of the humiliation of female prisoners were commonplace even before Oct. 7.

Related articles

Recent articles