Explainer: Why are so many Palestinians in Israeli jails and how many are currently detained?
As the war rages on between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Hamas, the militant group has expressed its intention to exchange the Israeli civilians and soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The Hamas militant group have captured dozens of Israelis, including officers of the armed forces, back to Gaza strip following their unprovoked attack on Israel on Saturday. Several video footages viral on social media have shown Hamas gunmen taking Israelis in trucks, vans, motorbikes, etc. as hostages even as Israel declared war against the Palestinian militant group. As the war rages on between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Hamas, the militant group has expressed its intention to exchange the Israeli civilians and soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
But how many Palestinians are currently detained?
It is often argued that the entire Gaza Strip effectively serves as an open-air prison, where 2.2 million people are blockaded by Israel within this small coastal enclave. However, the number of Palestinians who have actually spent time in Israeli jails is also substantial. Since Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank in 1967, it has arrested an estimated one million Palestinians, as reported by the United Nations last summer.
According to reports, one in every five Palestinians has faced arrest and charges under the 1,600 military orders governing various aspects of life under Israeli military occupation. This rate doubles for Palestinian men, with two in every five having been arrested. The Palestinian Prisoner rights group Addameer has characterized the Israeli prison system as a "complex of monstrous machinery in form, laws, procedures, and policies...designed to liquidate and kill."
According to a report in Al Jazeera, as of today there are 5,200 Palestinians behind Israeli bars, including 33 women and 170 children. When tried, Palestinian prisoners face prosecution in military courts.
Since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, over 12,000 Palestinian children have been reportedly detained by Israeli forces. According to Al Jazeera, every year, at least 700 Palestinian children under the age of 18 from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted through Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated, and detained by the Israeli army.
Addameer characterizes the arrest and imprisonment of children as a systemic aspect of a collective punishment campaign. The most common charge against these children is throwing stones, which carries a maximum punishment of 20 years. Child rights groups report that these children often endure physical and psychological torture, are interrogated without the presence of a parent or lawyer, and are exploited by Israel for their detention to gather information and extort their families through hefty fines.
Why are there so many Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails?
Two months after Israel's occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories in the 1967 war, the Israeli government issued Military Order 101, effectively criminalizing civic activities under the pretext of "hostile propaganda and prohibition of incitement." This order, which is still in use in the occupied West Bank, prohibits participation and organization of protests, printing and distributing political material, displaying political symbols, and any activities expressing sympathy for organizations deemed illegal under military orders.
Three years later, the Israeli government issued another military order (378), which established military courts and essentially labeled all forms of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation as "terrorism." Since then, hundreds of other military orders have been issued and implemented to suppress Palestinian civic and political expression.
How many Israeli prisons are there?
There are 19 prisons located within Israel and one inside the occupied West Bank that house Palestinian prisoners. This transfer of an occupied population from the occupied territory is considered unlawful and cruel under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Amnesty International has previously condemned this practice, highlighting its devastating consequences for the imprisoned individuals and their families, who often endure months or even years without seeing their loved ones.
What is administrative detention?
Currently, there are 1,264 Palestinian administrative detainees, individuals held indefinitely behind bars without trial or charges. This practice, a holdover from the British Mandate era, can be extended indefinitely based on "secret evidence," subjecting detainees to months or years of imprisonment without formal charges. While Israel argues that this procedure allows authorities to hold suspects while gathering evidence, critics and human rights groups assert that the system is widely abused and denies due process.