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Israel must end its illegal detention policies

Israel is holding nearly 6,000* Palestinians as political prisoners.

  • 291 of the political prisoners are children under the age of 18.
  • 442 of the political prisoners are being held in administrative detention, without being charged or standing trial. 
  • Human rights defenders, including journalists, lawyers, and NGO workers, are targeted with arrest and detention.

Israel’s detention policies and practices violate international law.

  • Israeli authorities routinely transfer political prisoners from occupied territory into Israel, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
  • Ill-treatment and torture are systematic and widespread in Israeli detention and interrogation centres, a violation of the universally binding prohibition on torture.
  • The UK government has an obligation under international law to ensure that the Fourth Geneva Convention is respected by other signatories, including Israel. The UK also has ‘third state responsibility’ to take action when a state breaches the universally binding principles of international law.

The UK government must press Israel to end its illegal detention policies.

*Statistics as of June 2018. For updated statistics, see: http://www.addameer.org/statistics

More info

Background info

Palestinian children in detention

An average of 500-700 Palestinian children (under 18 years old) from the occupied Palestinian territory are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli military each year. The most common charge against children is throwing stones, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

There are no special interrogation procedures for children detained by the Israeli military, nor are there provisions for an attorney or even a family member to be present when a child is questioned. A majority of children report being subjected to ill-treatment in Israeli detention. Forced confessions are often extracted this way, and children are often compelled to sign confessions in Hebrew, a language most of them don’t know.  

Israel’s arrest and detention of Palestinian children violates numerous international conventions and treaties designed to protect the rights of children.

Over 120 UK MPs signed an EDM about Palestinian children in Israeli military detention in November 2017, and many spoke out in a debate in February 2018 on the issue.

In our briefing to MPs, we recommend that the UK government should support a delegation of UK lawyers to examine Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in military detention as a follow-up to an FCO supported report on the topic from 2012. The UK must take active steps to ensure that its own outlined process of accountability is followed, and supporting a follow-up delegation is a minimal first step to take.

Administrative detention

Israel holds 427 Palestinians in administrative detention. Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold detainees on ‘secret evidence’ without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. Administrative detention orders can last for six months, but are renewable indefinitely. Administrative detention orders are frequently renewed on or just before the expiry date.

Administrative detention was first used in Palestine by the British colonial authorities in 1937. When Israel declared statehood, it adopted some of the British legal code, including the laws around administrative detention, adjusting them to fit the new colonial reality.

International law permits the use of administrative detention in emergency circumstances. However, Israel uses it systematically and as a punitive measure.

Israel’s excessive use of administrative detention is a violation of international law. The UK government has expressed concern over the consistently high number of Palestinians held in administrative detention by Israel, but the use of administrative detention has persisted.

Human rights defenders

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders defines them as individuals who play an important role in furthering the cause of human rights through activities such as: the documentation of violations; providing support and assistance to victims seeking remedies; combating cultures of impunity; and mainstreaming human rights culture and information on an international and domestic level.

Palestinian human rights organisation Addameer reports that hundreds of human rights defenders are being held by Israel. This includes one of Addameer's field researchers, Salah Hammouri, who is being held in administrative detention since August 2017. Other members of Addameer’s staff, along with dozens of other journalists, lawyers, and other human rights workers have been specifically targeted by Israel.

Palestinians who organise and participate in demonstrations against the illegal Apartheid Wall and settlements, such as the Tamimi family from Nabi Saleh, are widely recognised as human rights defenders, due to their efforts to engage civil society in peaceful methods of resistance aimed at ending Israel’s violations of human rights and international law.

Human rights defenders in the occupied Palestinian territory face various types of harassment and rights violations by the occupation forces. Israel has adopted a policy of arrest, detention, intimidation, threats and, at times, collective punishment against communities who take part in weekly demonstrations and other non-violent actions against the occupation.

The European Union has a set of guidelines on how member states should protect and advocate for human rights defenders, which includes monitoring and reporting violence against them, and providing support and visible recognition to their work. However, since 2014, Israel's attacks on human rights defenders have increased, prompting the UN to voice special concern over this repression.

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