Administrative detainees on hunger strike; B’Tselem: Israel must stop illegal use of administrative detention

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On Thursday, 24 April 2014, Palestinian administrative detainees held by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) announced a hunger strike to protest the Israeli security establishment’s use of administrative detention. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, more than ninety administrative detainees went on hunger strike that day, with another six joining them a week later. On 2 May, twenty ill or elderly administrative detainees joined the strike for one day, as a sign of solidarity. On 8 May, some 25 administrative detainees and several “security” prisoners joined the strikers, who now amount to approximately 130 persons. The IPS took punitive measures against the strikers: administrative detainees on strike in Ofer Prison were transferred to Ramle Prison and placed in isolation, and the strikers in Ketziot Prison were placed in isolation in tents.

Monthly data that B’Tselem receives from the IPS regarding the number of Palestinians held in Israel indicates that, since August 2013, there has been a rise in the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention. Before that, the figures show a steady decline in numbers, reaching the lowest number in years in July 2013 with only 134 administrative detainees. At the end of April 2014, 191 Palestinians were being held in administrative detention.

Administrative detention is detention without trial, officially intended to prevent a person from committing an act that is liable to endanger public safety. Unlike a criminal proceeding, administrative detention is not intended to punish a person for an offense already committed, but to thwart a future danger. The entire procedure is secret: administrative detainees are not told the reason for their detention or the specific allegations against them. Although detainees are brought before a judge to approve the detention order, most of the material submitted by the prosecution is classified and not shown to the detainee or his attorney. Since the detainees do not know the evidence against them, they are unable to refute it. The security establishment uses the confidentiality of the process to illegally exploit administrative detention, using it also to hold persons for offenses they have allegedly committed in the past so as not to expose evidence against them.

The detainees also do not know when they will be released: although the maximum period of administrative detention is six months, it can be renewed indefinitely. Over the years, Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention for periods ranging from a few months to several years. The state has also administratively detained a number of Israelis, including settlers, for periods of a few months. There were times during the second intifada that Israel held over a thousand Palestinians in administrative detention.

According to IPS data, some 28 percent of administrative detainees held at the end of April 2014 had been held for six months to one year, and some 20 percent from one to two years. Four had been in administrative detention continuously for over two years.

Under international law, it is permissible to administratively detain a person only in exceptional cases, to prevent a grave danger that cannot be prevented through less harmful means. Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly breaches these rules.

Moreover, nearly all the detention facilities where Palestinians are held are located inside Israel, a violation of international law, which prohibits imprisoning residents of an occupied territory outside that territory. Holding administrative detainees within Israel entails further violation of their rights, including denying some of them the right to visits as the security establishment refuses to issue entry permits into Israel to family members. The government of Israel must release all administrative detainees or prosecute them, in accordance with due process.

Today (11 May 2014), the Ministerial Committee on Legislation is supposed to decide the government’s position on the bill to force-feed prisoners proposed by the Defense Ministry following previous hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners and detainees. At present, there is a broad consensus in international law and in the global medical community that force-feeding a prisoner on hunger strike against his will is forbidden, as it violates the prisoner’s right to autonomy over his body and to dignity, as well as breaching fundamental rules in medical ethics. The proposed bill is also unacceptable in that it enables force-feeding of inmates for reasons of state security and public safety, even when the grounds for the decision are based on confidential evidence. Such considerations must not affect decisions concerning medical treatment; these decisions must be based solely on the medical condition of the hunger striker, possible danger to his life, and his wish to receive treatment.