Administrative detention should be banned (1/2)

Palestinians with relatives in Israeli jails demonstrating in the front of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza city demanding the release of all Palestinian prisoners June 21, 2005. (MAANnews/Wesam Saleh)

Israel has a long history of detaining people without trial, quite often for long periods, based on an administrative instead of judicial order based on secret evidence. Such orders may be issued at the initiative of a military commander, in accordance with Military Order Number 1229 of 1988.1

Based initially on the British Mandate Defence (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, the Israeli government uses administrative detention as a tool to silence and oppress Palestinians. Due to international criticism in the 1970s, the measure was temporarily suspended. However, in 1985 Israeli Defence Minister Rabin started to use the measure again in the framework of his “iron fist” policy.

Some Palestinians have spent over five years in detention without trial.

Administrative detainees are held both in military detention facilities as well as in facilities run by the prison service. In August 2005, 596 Palestinians from the Occupied Territories were held in administrative detention according to the IDF’s own statistics. Since February 2005, the Prison Service has refused to provide Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem with reliable figures on detainees and prisoners held in its facilities.

Administrative detention in the occupied territories

In 1970, Israel issued its first military order authorizing the military commander of the region to issue administrative detention orders. In 1988, further additional military orders were issued in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to extend the policy of administrative detention. These orders authorize the issuing of administrative detention orders without designating a maximum period of time for the detention. The NGO Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ support and human rights organisation, reports that the first paragraph of the latest military order states:

“If a Military Commander deems the detention of a person necessary for security reasons he may do so for a period not in excess of 6 months, after which he has the right to extend the detention period for a further six months according to the original order. The detention order can be passed without the presence of the detainee …”2

Amnesty International describes administrative detention in Israel as “… a procedure under which detainees are held without charge or trial. No charges are filed, and there is no intention of bringing a detainee to trial. By the detention order, a detainee is given a specific term of detention. On or before the expiry of the term, the detention order is frequently renewed. This process can be continued indefinitely.” 3

Administrative detention is a measure that is overwhelmingly targeted at Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. Over the years, only nine Israeli citizens from settlements in the West Bank have reportedly been detained for periods up to six months. Use of administrative detention increased almost 300-fold in a single year between 2001 and 2002. Each year since has seen hundreds of administrative detention orders being issued against Palestinians.4

According to Addameer, the total number of prisoners was 8,324 at the end of 2004, including 117 female prisoners and 344 children. 4,400 were held in Israeli prison service facilities and 3,924 in military detention camps, of which respectively 277 and 798 were administrative detainees.5

Reporters without Borders write that in 2002 “… more than 20 Palestinian journalists (were) arrested since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian towns and cities began on 29 March”.6 In 2003, the same organisation reported that “at least 13 journalists had been imprisoned (and) a total of 954 cases of administrative detention were recorded by human rights groups”.7

The number of prisoners keeps growing as the result of daily ‘casual’ arrests and nightly premeditated arrests of Palestinians by the IDF and the General Security Services.

Israel has claimed that it uses administrative detention as a necessary security measure and is only used when normal legal measures or less severe administrative measures are not sufficient to ensure security.

The panic night

Ahmed (not his real name) shared his experience of administrative detention with us, confirming that the security agencies have used the ruse of ‘security’ in order simply to suppress critical views amongst Palestinians. What he experienced was dehumanising.

Ahmed first took a deep breath, in order to bring the memory back. “I don’t know why I was in the detention. They told me I am there because I am social activist. That’s all they said,” he tells.

He describes the night he was arrested as “the panic night”.

“They arrested me from my house in 2002 at 2 o’clock in the morning. The door of my house was detonated and then shooting was heard very loudly inside the house and in the street. At that moment I thought that I am dead, me and my family. Then they used the speakers to demand us all get out of the house, otherwise they will explode the house on our heads.

“They tied my hands behind my back, and covered my eyes. Then they led me into a vehicle. I was on the ground. Most of the time they were kicking me all over my body. After a time the vehicle stopped and they took me to somewhere that I don’t know. Later I discovered that the trip was just a ‘vacation’ compared with the next.

“After several long hours sitting on stones I got help from a guy there who took off the cover from my eyes and released my hands from that plastic band. I remember that I spent almost 24 hours without drinking a drop of water or eating anything. Even if I wanted to pee it took over two hours to allow me, in a mobile bathroom - very dirty one, no water source in it.”

Ofer jail

“After three nights sleeping on the stones they took me to Ofer Jail near Ramallah by special bus.”

Ahmed continues: “The jail was divided into 11 sections. Each section held 120 prisoners, distributed into 6 tents. The facilities in each section include 6 bathrooms constructed with zinc sheets, distributed into 2 showers and two bathrooms for urine and another two for a sink. There was just a little channel coming out of the bathrooms. The ground of the jail and in all the tents was asphalt. The beds were made of wood sticks over a mattress without a pillow and with two sheets. These didn’t save the prisoner from the cold in the winter at all. The prisoners spent the nights during the winter wearing their jackets to bed. Otherwise they would freeze from cold. Every prisoner has an ‘account’ managed by the jail. Money is paid in by a member of the prisoner’s family.”

Ahmed then spoke about the food, which almost never included meat - protein usually came in the form of an egg at dinner. It is possible for teenage prisoners to purchase extra items such as chocolate with their ‘account’, but only at prices much higher than what a person would pay in the West Bank.

“The security counting began at 6 o’clock am, which meant that all the prisoners should sit on their knees in front of their tent to be counted. The prisoners kneel ten in every row, then a soldier comes to count the prisoners, accompanied by the representative of the section. This took place three times a day. If you look at any guard’s face directly you will punished with one day in isolation, or to pay a fine from your ‘account’.

“If any prisoner complains of any kind of disease or sickness, anything like high blood pressure or flu or any infection, the medicine is always one tablet of Paracetamol. For any kind of emergency, a response from the jail administration could happen after one day, if you are lucky.”

“In Ofer jail, no one interrogated me. They just sent me to a tent with another 19 persons, but the tent was barely enough for 6-8 persons. After three weeks there, the administration of the jail called me to a military court.”

Military court

Ahmed recalls: “The sentences of administrative detention are made in a ‘court’, which is a hall of 7 metres by 5 metres in the jail. There is a military judge, the intelligence officer, the lawyer and translator. It is just a fake court to tell you that there is secret evidence that no one could know, even the judge himself, on advice from the intelligence officer to the judge. This is in order to punish a prisoner with six months’ administrative detention or to extend his period to another three to six months.

“When it is done, the prisoner does not know the prison is going to ask for an extension until just a few hours before his release time. After that, within two weeks he will be led to the court to hear this from the judge. This always caused me a serious depression.”

Harsh conditions

Israeli lawyers handling administrative detention cases validate Ahmed’s experience. They are all too familiar with the harsh living conditions (and worse) of detainees in the military jails.

“While most prisoners are accommodated in tents, at times (they are) overcrowded and as a rule furnished with wooden planks (boards) and covered with rather thin mattresses to sleep on. Occasionally, boxes serve as tables and/or cupboards. A prisoner’s plank (is) about 1/2 meter from his neighbour’s and is what he has as his individual living space. Barbed wire and a wall surround several tents forming a section. There are showers and lavatories inside each section and a small space is left for exercise …”8

Contacts with family members and legal representatives are also highly restricted.

“Prisoners are not free to communicate with family and friends … During often-imposed sieges and special closures and always during the Jewish holidays the visits are suspended. …The visitors and the visited undergo meticulous, humiliating strip searches. During the visit prisoners are separated from the families by a double mesh, all physical contact, even with babies, is forbidden. Proper conversation is impossible. The prisoners are not allowed to communicate by phone - not even with their lawyers.”9

“A living hell”

Most of the Palestinians in administrative detention are held in Ofer Military Camp in the West Bank, the Ansar 3 / Ketziot Military Camp in the harsh Negev desert, Beituniya and Kfar Yuna Military Prison camps. Another Palestinian who was detained there, and who shared his experiences with us, described the notorious Ansar 3 prison as “… a living hell … living amongst the snakes and the scorpions”.

The fact that detainees are held in tents and subject to extreme weather conditions without appropriate protection creates a highly dangerous situation. Ex detainees from Ansar 3 / Ketziot expressed to the authors the difficulties of dealing with the extreme temperatures in the desert, where the days are unbearably hot and the nights can be extremely cold. This summer it was reported in the press that 18-year old Jawad abu Mgheisib died in detention in the Negev, reportedly from medical neglect.10

Already in 1998, Amnesty International reported that “… in Megiddo Military Detention Centre Marwan Ma’ali who was arrested in August committed suicide in September. Psychiatrists in the detention centre had reportedly diagnosed him as depressive with suicidal tendencies and recommended his release or hospitalisation. An Israeli human rights organisation had described his isolation cell as ‘unsuitable for habitation for any human being’. Nevertheless, his administrative detention had been extended for five months shortly before his suicide.” 11

Systematic and routine

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights deals with 150 to 300 cases of torture per year. According to this organisation there are also clear patterns that an institutionalised process of routinely holding people under administrative detention exists. The Center further reports that the vast majority of the Palestinian detainees are exposed to torture and humiliation. Beatings and forced stress positions are widely used, as well as suffocation practices. Even electric shock treatment is reportedly still practised.12

Last year a Palestinian ex-prisoner spoke at a conference in London about his experiences:

“Having spent 14 and half years in jail … I could provide you with thousands of stories of torture and maltreatment. Normally when we think of torture we imagine brute physical force being applied to naked flesh, but today I will tell you a different story, something which happened to me.

“Having been deprived of sleep for 2 or 3 days, a tin bucket was placed on my head. I was made to stand still. My interrogator then turned on a shower tap above my head, the water dripped out slowly. I was then left by my interrogator and watched by a guard for several hours. You feel like you are losing you mind. After several hours my interrogator returned to mock me, was I ‘having fun enjoying being clean for once’ … In such circumstances, whilst others are having similar things done to them in nearby rooms, the stress become unbearable. Many crack and begin hallucinating.” 13

Imad Sabi, director of a Palestinian NGO in Ramallah encouraged people to boycott the 1996 Legislative Council elections. He was arrested by Israeli troops in December 1995, shortly before the Palestinian Authority was to take over in Ramallah and was held in administrative detention. On 5 March 1997, from Megiddo Military Jail, he wrote the following:

“Your number will come up one day. Not to go home, but so that you are informed of yet another extension. Extensions are, I surmise, a subtle and malicious form of psychological torture. One can almost see the gleeful smile on the ‘invisible’ face of the man in the shadows putting this signature on the next extension order. ‘Another four, three, two…. His life is mine!’, he says. My life is mine! My life is Reem’s, is Deena’s.”

Adding to countless personal stories and the well documented reports handled by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Palestinian Prisoners’ Association, Hamoked, B’Tselem, Amnesty International and others is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who has routinely documented numerous cases of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.14 These cases confirm that there is a systematic pattern of arbitrary detention, torture and/or inhuman and degrading punishment or treatment.

In the next part, we discuss how Israel’s policy on administrative detention leads to grave violations of international law.

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